Fiona Murch, head of programs at BBC’s “Correspondent” was on the main Jury at the One World Human Rights Film Festival in Prague this April.

Anette Olsen
Script writer, webfilm producer in Safran Film and journalist based in Denmark. Former editor of DOX Magazine (2001-02 and 2004-05).
Fiona Murch

Fiona Murch,is convinced that television should broadcast human rights films because people want to know what is happening around the world.

AO: You are on the jury this year and you’ve seen a lot of films. Were there any that you would have liked to commission or buy for your “Correspondent’” strand?

FM: There are a couple of films that I’ve seen that I would be proud to have on my strand. But because it is a current affairs strand, I would probably have liked to alter slightly the nature of the film, the structure.

AO: What is the profile of the programs that you commission, buy or co-produce?

I have 36 programs a year, 45-minute, single subjects, all foreign current affairs, and the strand is broadcast at 19.15 on Sundays. So it’s a very privileged position in a way.

What I look for is not just the situation in the country but some individual story that illustrates a bigger picture. Because one thing that I’ve learned is that it is not good enough just to show people things/situations; they have to be entertained. And a way to get them is by what I call a Shakespearean theme, a universal theme. What I call universal is love, hate, death, illness – all these things – and if you can build a narrative attention into something, then you have to entertain as well as inform. It is vital. People don’t watch anymore unless they want to know what happens.

AO: So are you looking for character-borne stories with an individual approach?

FM: Well, yes. I mean, not just interesting filming styles, but also something that can make the audience connect. And an easy way to make them connect is via a character, an individual. But sometimes an investigation will hold them.

What we discovered is that audiences don’t like to watch issues that don’t give results. What they want is the bad guys to get caught in the end. And it’s nice when you can do that, but it doesn’t always happen that way.

We just broadcast a film about a pedophile priest in Ireland. He was protected by his bishop, and in the end of the film we went to challenge the bishop on behalf of the victims. And the bishop just ran away; he ran into his palace and shut the door. The film was broadcast in Ireland two weeks ago and the bishop has resigned. So there is a result.

But I don’t think you should intend to do something like that; that’s not the purpose of it. But first give a voice to the voiceless, let them have their say and then let the public decide.

The bishop resigned because of the widespread public outcry in Ireland, because people saw what had happened. Naturally you’re happy when you can say at the end, ‘Well, it changed something.’

AO: Do you think a festival like One World has an impact on a higher level by showing human rights films to the public?

Unfinished Symphony by Bestor Cram and Mike Majoros

FM: Yes, I think it does. It raises awareness within a country enormously. Igor [Blazevic, the director of the festival – *ed.] was telling me that audiences have gone up year after year, and he wouldn’t have thought that 20,000 people would come to watch. I mean it’s an effort, it’s not like watching TV; you’re going out of your house, making your way to the cinema, paying the ticket, going in. So, it seems to me that if people will do that, really TV should be broadcasting these films because there is definitely an audience.

AO: Is there such a thing as a human rights film genre?

FM: There is, clearly there is, and what is interesting even in competition is that the variety is extraordinary. At the start, the jury were discussing that we ought to have some criteria to determine how we judge the films. What is a human rights film, what are we looking for? And hopefully when we make the choice that will be announced. It will give people an idea of what we think that should be. One of the things that we felt very strongly was that it ought to be something that connects to everybody. There are stories which are localized horrors, localized traumas which one should know about, but a bigger film will also provide insight into similar incidents all around the world that transcends a crisis in just one particular place. And the audience can say “Well, yes. Now that I’ve seen that. I understand why something else is happening in Somalia or Rwanda or why genocide happens.”

AO: Are documentary films better at showing conflicts, or can feature films achieve the same results?

FM: I think the advantage of feature films is that they can distort the perspective. It’s a little bit like a Van Gogh painting: drama can cheat the picture so that it keeps the audience and the fundamental truth. There was a film called *Warriors, a film about Bosnia. A very powerful drama and it brought something to the audience that documentaries couldn’t, only movies with actors could. So the audience went away thinking they had learned something. But you have to be careful. BBC is moving very much down the line and is showing drama documentaries. This is the new genre. Which is fine, but these documentaries have to be absolutely informed and reconstructed by journalists. They can’t just be made by drama people.

The jury awarded the prize for Best Documentary to Unfinished Symphony by Bestor Cram and Mike Majoros (Northern Light Production, USA, 2000, 60 min.)

Composed of archive material and constructed in three movements like a symphony using Henryk Gorecki’s 3rd symphony as a narrative foundation, Unfinished Symphony tells the story of citizen dissent in the American democracy during the Vietnam Era. Extraordinary footage from the 1971 antiwar demonstrations in Lexington, in which Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) one by one throw away the medals they earned for ‘murdering civilians’, revives the Vietnam War era. Unfinished Symphony evokes the bitter echoes resounding in the conscience of a whole nation.

 


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