Students’ Choice for Movies that Matter: ‘Film is a powerful medium for reaching students'

Filmhuis Den Haag and Theater aan het Spui are once again launching the Movies that Matter Festival. At this film festival, directors from all over the world present more than 70 feature films and documentaries about human rights. Fifteen enthusiastic students served as members of the student jury for the film festival and nominated three films for the ‘Students’ Choice Award’. Two of them, Lysaifeni Wout and João Pires from The Hague University of Applied Sciences, looked back on this special time

When Lysaifeni (22), a student in European Studies, and João (26), a student in International Law, heard about the student jury for Movies that Matter, they seized the opportunity. ‘Movies that Matter is a film festival that has to do with a lot of things that are important for me. I love movies, especially ones that cover social issues, and enjoy discussing them with other students. My degree programme also has me involved in international issues,’ said Lysaifeni. Human rights is also an important theme for João in his work as a photographer and film maker. ‘As part of my degree programme, I’m specialising in the legislation related to human rights. When I heard about the festival, I decided to sign up for the student jury then and there,’ he said. ‘There are regimes in this world that violate the rights of their citizens in horrible ways. The only way to fight back is by education and making information available so that as many people as possible are made aware of this. The film festival makes a significant contribution to this.’

Film as a source of inspiration for young people

Nominating films for the Students’ Choice Award that will be presented on Wednesday, 29 March wasn’t a simple process for the students. They met at the Filmhuis Den Haag every week and attended master classes to prepare them for their jury duties. ‘One thing we learned was how to write film reviews. We also got a lecture from a film maker, Jordi Wijnalda. He told us about the role that fiction, symbols and dramatic effects could have on telling a story,’ said Lysaifeni. ‘Film is a powerful medium that you can also use to reach students by telling stories about human rights from surprising angles. If you want these themes to appeal to young people as well as other audiences and make them easier to understand, it’s sometimes necessary to use certain kinds of symbols and images.’The master classes also taught Lysaifeni and João what to look for in being able to evaluate a film properly. João: ‘How is the story told? How is it presented, and what role does music play in it? The photography, the camera angles, the sound and lighting: all of these aspects have an impact on the power of the message and reinforce the viewer’s perception of it. After all, what makes a good story doesn’t necessarily make a good film. You have to tell it in a way that really affects the viewer. Good films create a connection between the audience and the protagonist with whom they can identify.’

From identity to integration

The student jury selected three films as being eligible for the grand prize. One of these was ‘Tamara’, a film telling the story of a lawyer, Teo, who feels he is not a man but a woman. The plot is based on the life of Tamara Adrian, the first transgender politician in Venezuela. ‘This film is about the journey he takes in becoming a woman. You see not only his own struggle in coming to terms with this but also the struggles of his family, parents and friends. It’s about the quest for identity and the influence of others: a theme that many students can identify with,’ said Lysaifeni. ‘The Citizen’ is a film that addresses the refugee issue from the perspective of Wilson, an African refugee. ‘The film is about his struggle for integration into his new homeland, Hungary. He falls in love with his teacher, but their relationship is made more complicated by an illegal refugee who lives in hiding with Wilson. The film shows how integration into society unfolds,’ said João. ‘Tickling Giants’ is a documentary that focuses on freedom of speech. As the Arab Spring starts to bloom in Egypt, Bassem Youssef decides to give up his career as a heart surgeon and start a comedy show. Using humour, Bassem (quickly dubbed the ‘Egyptian Jon Stewart’) challenges the authorities. Lysaifeni: ‘We chose this film because it is still an important issue. It’s an inspiring story told with satire and a lot of humour.’

The audience is the judge in a tough case

The festival programme concludes with a special film event. The ending of ‘The Verdict’ will be up to the audience! This is an exciting courtroom drama in which the audience is the judge confronted with making a tough decision. Is the fighter jet pilot who shoots down a hijacked passenger plane guilty of the deaths of the 163 passengers or should he be seen as a hero for saving the lives of the 70,000 people in the football stadium that was the intended target of the hijackers? The audience can decide by the press of a button and then engage in a discussion.These four films will admit students without charge during the film festival.