Disturbing images

Disturbing images McGill University

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McGill Reporter
September 13, 2001 - Volume 34 Number 01
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Disturbing images

Viewer discretion advised: Monica Mak's film, Unwanted Images: Gender Based Violence in the New South Africa, contains scenes of graphic violence and nudity. Ironically, the haunting scenes depicting all forms of gender-based violence are hand-drawn by South African school children.

Photo Graduate student Monica Mak's documentary video earned a prize at the Montreal World Film Festival
PHOTO: Owen Egan

With English singer Jocelyn Pook's mystical voice singing "Blow the Wind Southerly" in the background, alarming drawings made by South African "learners" (students) cross the screen. Two-dimensional women etched in coloured pencil lie bleeding on the floor; men with sticks in hand scream angry words into bubble captions; a naked paper woman frowns, her O-shaped mouth indicating horror as she is "jackrolled" (gang raped). Between images, chilling facts and statistics on gender-based violence in South Africa are flashed on screen. "Before her 18th birthday, one in three South African girls will be sexually assaulted," the viewer is informed.

This is just a sample of the poignant content that makes Mak's documentary so powerful. The nine-minute film earned the McGill PhD student in communications the award for best documentary video at the 42nd Student Film and Video awards section of the Montreal World Film Festival. The citation read: "For making a film with an important subject matter and for poetically expressing modern horror, and through its imagery showing how the horror has affected an entire community."

"It is basically a documentary film," explains Mak, "but it is unorthodox in format because it uses the drawings of children." It is disturbing to experience through the eyes of a child the sort of violence normally found in R-rated films. But as the film points out, the drawings reflect the horrors to which these children have borne witness.

It's hard to believe that the award-winning filmmaker once considered a career in finance. Having completed a CEGEP diploma in commerce, Mak decided she wanted "something more humanistic." During her undergraduate years in the cultural studies program at McGill, she developed her filmmaking skills, creating what she refers to as "short experimental pieces."

Although commerce may have seemed a practical career choice at one point, film was always a passion for Mak. "Since my early teens, I've been a cinephile," she states. "I've gobbled everything from obscure foreign films to mainstream blockbusters."

The film was produced by education professor Claudia Mitchell, director of the Canada-South Africa Education Management Program (CSAEMP), as part of an education campaign.

CSAEMP is a partnership of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), McGill and the National Department of Education in South Africa. The five-year, $6.9-million initiative that began in 1996 is currently in its final year of operation. CSAEMP carries out its objective to facilitate the transition to a democratized South African education system in the provinces of Free State, Gauteng and Mpumalanga as well as at the national level.

CSAEMP focuses its efforts on making South African schools safe and conducive to learning by training principals, teachers and governing bodies. One of the issues CSAEMP has dealt with is gender-based violence in schools. "There were even several cases of teachers abusing female students," says Mitchell.

Mak admits to having little exposure to South Africa prior to joining CSAEMP. Till then, East Asia had been her area of interest. However, within just a year of involvement with the organization, Mak has been involved in the making of two films. Her latest endeavour is a film featuring girl soccer players in South Africa's Petit Gauteng, entitled Scoring the Goal. She and Mitchell co-directed the film.

Unwanted Images is an integral part of an educational package used to train teachers and school management in South Africa to deal with gender-based violence. But as its success at the film festival proves, the documentary has taken on a life of its own. It speaks of a reality that exists throughout the world. Since its launch in November 2000, the film has been shown at many professional workshops and seminars in Canada and the UK as well as in South Africa.

The film concludes on a positive note. Children sit around a table, colouring a giant rainbow as a confident voice extols the merits of anti-violence education and the potential for change in the new South Africa. When asked how making the film has influenced her career, Mak replies, "It makes me hopeful to think that I can possibly move people through film."

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