News / USA

Sundance Films Examine Social Injustice, Empowerment

The documentary, 'Family Portrait in Black and White,' examines the plight of mixed-race children in Ukraine.
The documentary, 'Family Portrait in Black and White,' examines the plight of mixed-race children in Ukraine.


Penelope Poulou

Three international documentaries recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.  The films shed light on the struggle for empowerment by people around the world and offer a unique perspective on three different societies: Ghana, Ukraine and the United States.

They are expected to be shown in movie theaters and on television around the world, later this year.

An African Election

The documentary, "An African Election," by filmmaker Jarreth Merz, examines the 2008 presidential elections in Ghana. For three months, Merz follows candidates of the two main political parties and documents their struggle for power. The stakes are  high for the people of Ghana. Many suffer from extreme poverty and hope their candidate will change their lives. When the polls open, Ghanaians go, in large numbers.

'An African Election' shows democracy in action during the 2008 presidential elections in Ghana.
'An African Election' shows democracy in action during the 2008 presidential elections in Ghana.

"Ghanaians do not talk in general who they're gonna vote for. It's secret," says Jarreth Merz, the filmmaker who made "An African Election." "They call it the power of the thumb."

The results are disputed. Allegations of stolen ballots and vote rigging excite passions and people threaten to take to the streets. The military stands by ready to quell an uprising. For a while no one knows what will happen.  

"There was live ammunition, people shooting around us," Merz recalls.

But Ghanaians remain calm and order prevails. Merz says his documentary shows that democracy is as strong as its electorate and can take hold if it is nourished.

Black Power

In "The Black Power Mixtape 1967 -1975,"  Swedish filmmaker Goran Olsson presents the black power movement in America from a Swedish perspective.  He uses archive footage of iconic African-American activists of the period, shot by Swedish reporters.

Speaking in Stockholm, Stokely Carmichael, a black power activist, criticizes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for advocating non violence and integration.

"He only made one fallacious assumption. In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience. The United States has none."

'The Black Power Mixtape 1967 -1975' features interviews with iconic African-American figures in the black power movement, such as Angela Davis.
'The Black Power Mixtape 1967 -1975' features interviews with iconic African-American figures in the black power movement, such as Angela Davis.

Accused of being an accomplice to murder, Angela Davis, then a black radical, talks to a Swedish reporter from prison about racism and raising a fist against social oppression.

"You ask me whether I approve of violence? I mean that just doesn't make any sense at all," says Davis. "Whether I approve of guns. I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Some very good friends of mine were killed by bombs. Bombs that were planted by racists."   

According to Olsson, foreign reporters had unprecedented access to the activists.

"When you're an outsider from  a very remote place you could walk into certain communities or rooms and ask silly or naive questions and get really good answers," says Olsson, "because people understand that these Swedes they don't really understand everything. We have to be generous, explain."

Olsson believes his film is still relevant.  

"I think what we've learned from the black power movement, and this resonates today for every ethnic group or minority or gender, is that you're entitled to rights and that you're not supposed to sit down and wait for someone to come along to give you your rights."  

Black and White

"Family Portrait in Black and White,"  directed by Ukrainian filmmaker Julia Ivanova, is a dark film about racism in Ukraine.

The story focuses on a Ukrainian family with 20 children. Many are mixed race. Olga Nenya - which means mother in Ukraine - is their foster parent.

"What difference does it make - black white, yellow?" says Nenya."They are just kids."

But Olga cannot erase the stigma attached to the children's race, or their loneliness in their native country.

"Their parents are Ukrainian girls and students mostly from Africa who come to study," says filmmaker Julia Ivanova.

According to her, most young Ukrainian mothers abandon their newborns in the hospital because they can't bear the stigma of having a child of mixed race.

"I've never heard of anyone adopting a black child," says a Ukrainian woman in the documentary.

Despite the stigma, the children have dreams and aspirations. Some make it to college.

"If I don't study hard, I won't get a good job," says Kiril, a mixed-race Ukrainian child. "Who needs you without a degree?"

Ivanova says her film, aside from indicting racism, is a plea for people outside Ukraine to help these children.

"At 18, they will leave the house of their foster mother and they will become biracial citizens of a country that doesn't look at them as equal," she says.

Like the other documentaries, "Family Portrait in Black and White" is about an underdog who perseveres and survives.

You May Like

Photogallery Strong Words Start, May End, S. African Xenophobic Attacks

President Jacob Zuma publicly condemned rise in attacks on foreign nationals but critics say leadership has been less than welcoming to foreign residents More

Video Family Waits to Hear Charges Against Reporter Jailed in Iran

Reports in Iran say Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage, but brother tells VOA indictment has not been made public More

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Action to Stabilize Libya

Amnesty International says multinational concerted humanitarian effort must be enacted to address crisis; decrepit boats continue to bring thousands of new arrivals daily More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs