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Notes From The Reel World, The Executive Director's Column Spring 2019

By Simon Kilmurry

Dear Documentary Community,

Over the past few months we’ve witnessed an alarming uptick of filmmakers and their protagonists under a range of threats, both here in the US and around the world. In Myanmar, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, a filmmaker and co-founder of the Human Rights Human Dignity Film Festival in Yangon, is being held in detention for “insulting and defaming the Army.” In Turkey, filmmakers Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu are being tried for producing “propaganda for an illegal group” in the film Bakur, which follows guerrilla fighters residing in the mountains of northern Kurdistan.

Here in the US, we’ve seen what appears to be targeted retribution against Claudio Rojas by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Claudio participated in the film The Infiltrators, by Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra. It seems as though this higher profile, in a film that calls into question how our immigration system operates, did not sit well with authorities, and now Claudio has been deported to Argentina.

On the US-Mexico border, filmmakers, photojournalists and journalists have been added to a watchlist by Customs and Border Patrol. CBP illegally compiled dossiers on them, and they have been subjected to lengthy questioning and have had their devices examined.

All these examples come from a similar set of motivations: the fear of a free and independent media. These regimes, be they autocratic or democratic, use these high-profile cases not only to control the speech of the specific people targeted; they take these actions to control those of us who may be watching and fearful that we will become the next target. They do it to foster our silence and force us to exercise self-censorship, whether we do that consciously or not.

That’s why we need you working alongside IDA, and in collaboration with such brave organizations like the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the First Amendment Coalition, PEN and many others, to keep these cases in the public eye, to speak up loudly when you see censorship or filmmakers being punished for exercising their free-speech rights.

Life for independent filmmakers is hard. Resources are limited and when these threats rear their heads, it is understandable to want to just turn away. But that is especially dangerous, and we must remain vigilant against pernicious self-censorship.

When you see these injustices, let us know. Reach out to IDA—together we are stronger.

Simon Kilmurry

IDA Executive Director