During December 2011 and January 2012, PRI hosted four film festivals in Belarus, Jordan, Kazakhstan and Tbilisi on the abolition of the death penalty and its alternative sanction of life imprisonment. The film festivals were held with the financial assistance of the European Union under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) and with the financial assistance of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
The aim of the PRI film festivals was to provide a platform to challenge society’s attitudes in relation to the effect and efficacy of the death penalty and to increase public awareness toward abolition. The film festivals created a forum for documentaries produced by PRI to be showcased, along with the work of other film-makers. The film festivals brought to life the human face of those who have been or are to be executed, those on death row and those serving life imprisonment through storytelling in a way that challenges each individual to empathize and demand justice for all people, even those convicted of committing the most serious crimes.
The production of documentary films and the hosting of PRI film festivals allowed PRI to enable courageous individuals on both sides of the camera to empower audiences with the knowledge that those who commit a crime do not forfeit their basic rights to human dignity. It also provided a public platform for debate and dialogue, bringing together members of the public, government officials, parliamentarians, civil society and journalists.
In Jordan, the British Ambassador, Peter Millett, opened the PRI film festival on The Right to Life and the Arab Spring: Prospects for Abolition the Death Penalty
on 8 December 2011 in Amman. The film festival was part of a five-day event organised in conjunction with the KARAMA
Human Rights Film Festival. 130-150 participants attended including human rights activists, NGOs, journalists, parliamentarians, former ministers, students, and other members of the public. Speakers came from Algeria, Jordan, Libya, Syria and Yemen. The Jordan film festival screened a PRI documentary that reflected the impact of the death penalty on society. It focused on the impact for those on death row, prison guards who carry out executions, the family of convicted offenders, and the family of victims. The documentary also reflected on the Arab Spring and how it would impact the fight against the death penalty in the region.
In Kazakhstan, PRI Executive Director, Alison Hannah, opened the film festival on Human Rights Day, 10 December 2011, at the Sary-Arka cinema in Astana. The aim of the festival was to raise awareness of the damaging impact that life imprisonment has on prisoners, their families and the staff who run the prisons themselves. Three films were shown on different aspects of the right to life. This included a new PRI film called “Forgotten” which focused on the conditions of life and long-term imprisonment in Central Asia. Other films focused on the death penalty and long-term imprisonment in India and the USA. PRI undertook a number of activities to promote the film event, including a facebook
page, a radio and television advertisements, and billboards in Astana. Approximately 120 members of the public attended. PRI will show their film “forgotten” on national television in February 2012.
On 15 December 2011, the film “Behind Bars” was shown in Tbilisi, Georgia. “Behind Bars” focused on specific individuals sentenced to life imprisonment in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, paying close attention to prison conditions and treatment for lifers. The aim of the documentary was to present a human face to those serving a life sentence in the South Caucasus region. The PRI film festival in Georgia was picked up by all the major Georgian TV channels.
In Belarus, PRI hosted a film festival on 27 January 2012 in Minsk. Five films were shown. Two focused on Belarus, including a new film, “Major Action”, produced by PRI on the independence of the courts and the protection of human rights for those charged with a capital offence. Two specific death penalty cases were highlighted in the course of the film, humanising the way the sentence is implemented in practice. Participants at the film festival included parliamentarians, government officials, members of the judiciary and legal profession, academics, local civil society and journalists. Other documentaries looked at the application of the death penalty and its alternative sanction of life imprisonment in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia.
This was the first time PRI had ever held a film festival. This new unique platform enabled PRI to facilitate constructive and lively dialogue and debates on the fight against the death penalty. It is hoped that the PRI film festivals will have an impact not just on the public, but will influence decision-makers to adopt reforms which will restrict and reduce the application of the death penalty leading to its ultimate abolition.