I never had the intention to become another human rights advocate. And over the past year I have tried not to become one. To stay ‘objective’. Because that is what a documentary maker is supposed to stay. But in the end it proved impossible. The breaking point was reached when I got the news about the women on hunger strike in the refugee camp that I have been able to visit frequently earlier this year.
I still think that I am objective on the issues regarding the exiles (refugees is not a very good word because of the passiveness that it pushes upon the people) from Bhutan who have been living in these horrendous camps in the south east Terai in Nepal. Sure, these camps are in some ways not worse than poor rural communities in Nepal but it is the lack of freedom, the barbed wire and Armed Police Forces presence, food rationing and impossibility of integration with the surrounding Nepali society that is so connected through historical ties that bothers me. Visiting a refugee camp in Nepal is an experience unforgettable in a persons life. And for some a life changing event.
My life has changed in the last year. I set out to write a book and became a film maker. And even that might very well prove to be just another stop along the road. Because when I realized that people who are not only an exile but also are being disregarded by the government of the country they fled to and by the international community which is present at the scene by the UNHCR representative I also realized that for me it is impossible to be a bystander. Hence, there is no way not be some sort of activist.
My activism is not translated into street protests or other types of public protest. I choose to be the artist activist who uses art to convey a message. Mostly to the general public but sometimes dedicated to politicians, human rights organizations or other NGO’s. I prefer to keep communicating on the personal level. This website is my main channel for that but there are many more ways to advocate human rights. My film Headwind and the connected photo exhibitions, my novels and opportunities for presentations and lectures are all ways for me to advocate the rights of the people I am concerned with. It is a task that I’ve taken on only because I could not prevent myself to do so. Simply because I would not like to look into the mirror and see the face of someone who bailed out when things became complicated or intense.
Does that make me a good person? I don’t think so. I prefer to understand that it makes me a human being. Because in the process of becoming more and more activist in my work I had to let go of those things that are in my views dehumanizing most other people. Things like wealth and possessions, things like status in society and other crap that consumes people attention. They are all preventing us to live for real. So I guess that deciding to take the activist route as a writer / film maker is in essence selfish.
What does this all mean? Well first of all shifting priorities. Shifting in a sense that surviving western culture which is now some sort of daily struggle is only instrumental to be able to do what really matters to me. It means that I obviously need to travel a lot in the coming years so getting attached to a domicile is not smart. So I won’t do that. It also means living a rather minimal life in terms of things and stuff. So I reduced that. It also means that having good equipment available is key to my work. And good equipment means good computers and cameras. Computers for the writing, photo and film production and managing my work. A good digital photo camera but also a good analogue camera to make more artistically challenging photos and above all a great videocam for shooting good quality footage. It took me a few years to obtain all that an get my travel kit in order. The last one in the oldest also: a great analogue camera with a 4.5×6 large film format.
On a different level a choice like this means that friendships get to another level. I can only work with others if there is a friendship bond and I am so lucky in that. My best friends know me and I suppose they understand me. They are not average, they are special to me. Even more now since there might be longer times that we can’t see each other. It doesn’t make them less important for me but rather more important. Doing what I do and living the life I do means that true friends are key. They are the ones that keep me on my feet when times are hard and morale low. They inspire me.
Alls of this also means that I am slowly getting the understanding that doing what I do means running it all like it is a business. With planning, much and sometimes complicated communication, risks and risk mitigation and a lot of seemingly unrelated activities that are in the end important to get the results I want to get. It forces me to become more and more a world citizen and less a Dutch citizen. Because my playfield has expanded outside that small country in Europe. My work brings me everywhere on the globe if necessary. It is a way of living that I am learning that. And the more I dive into it without hesitation, the better is gets. I know that it makes me politically vulnarable and mediawise visible. Well, so be it. And as of today, there is this bag standing in my room. Packed with the essentials because I am ready to go.
In a kind of shorthand way this pretty much describes it: http://www.wikihow.com/Become-an-Activist-Journalist
Alice © 2011