The issue of human rights is of central interest in Gul(flower). I see the lack of human rights as the root of most social issues in the world. The power of storytelling lies in its ability to share experiences, educate and provoke thought. It is when people do not question the norm that human rights abuses go unchallenged.
Gul brings to light the question of our own free will in the context of human rights. Often we feel we do not possess the means to stop abuse. While we may not feel empowered to have a direct effect on the actions of others, we do have the ability to choose our own actions. This endearing truth kept me working on this film for years, as a personal statement attesting to the hope that I see in even the most difficult situations. I always had in mind that this piece could tell far more by not being over stated. The mind has an incredible capacity to fill in information as needed to create understanding. I realized that, I could make art that is participatory, rather than passive. At the end of it, I trusted in the audience to engage with the piece at their own level.
I was reassured by the first screening in Seattle to Costa Rica, Romania, Iran, rural villages in India, small towns in Pakistan and beyond at the ability of all kinds of people to interpret art that is challenging and not spoon fed in its consumption. Social workers, parents, children, farmers, activists and all kinds of every day people have shared with me their insights, observations and passion for this film. It has been, and continues to be an amazing and gratifying experience to share it, without lengthy explanation, to be taken as is. A truth understood is far more powerful than one that is told.
In Great Company
Gul(flower) screened at the 2009 Mill Valley Film Festival, with films such as Awakening from Sorrow: Buenos Aires 1997, Soundtrack for a Revolution, The Most Dangerous Man in America and many other hard hitting films about important social issues. Later it screened at the Seventh Annual Patios: New Orleans International Human Rights Festival, while I was in India volunteering. It has screened at numerous festivals, for which I am grateful, but Patios in particular was a big deal for me, as it meant that the work had reached its goal.
Emily Ratner, from the Patios sent me a short bit about the screening that I really enjoyed:
“The screening turned out to be a very interesting and powerful one. We unexpectedly hosted a group of 35 youth of color from a small town about an hour outside of New Orleans, and so one of the organizers (whose also a social worker) used the opportunity to talk with the students about child abuse, metaphor, and how experimental media can tell very real and painful stories. I think your film definitely threw some of the youth for a loop, but on the whole I think they were really into the experience!”
I had similar experiences in India as I traveled through New Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Chandigarh giving flipbook animation workshops to kids at various non profit orgs, an art therapy workshop with an amazing group of HIV/AIDS infected women in Bangalore and wonderful discussions on Gul(flower) and the many emotions and thoughts it evoked throughout. It is a wonderful feeling to create art that encourages a richness of thought and discussion. To see that first hand has been one of the most powerful experiences of making this film.
In Pakistan, I worked with a group of Multimedia Masters students in Lahore, using Gul as an example of the power of developing a concept into a finished piece. In the end, it has been an empowering experience to convey a lot that I have felt inside for a long time, without the use of words, in a way that strives to connect to that commonality of the human experience and the importance of human rights.
Watch the film here.