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Going Dutch at the SR Film Festival New York: documentaries from Holland offer up jolting realties

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 30/03/2016 Christopher Atamian
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Two Dutch documentaries that I recently viewed at the SR (Socially Relevant) Film Festival in Chelsea were riveting for very different reasons. The 2015 Dance Iranian Style, written and produced by Nafiss Nia and directed by Farshad Aria, was actually shown as part of the narrative film screenings and has made waves since it premiered at the Cambridge Film Festival in September for crossing boundaries between fiction and non-fiction. The film opens with a short interview scene of refugees from different countries who have been denied permission to stay in the Netherlands. After her refugee claim is denied Roya, a young Iranian girl, enters an illegal life on the streets of Amsterdam: the film crew follows Roya at a distance, though it is sometimes hard for them not to intervene and cross the filmmaker-subject line. Formal considerations and perhaps exaggerated comparisons to Abbas Kiarostami aside, the film is a jarring experience and a particularly apt one at this time when millions of Syrian refugees continue to struggle northward and deal with governments who either will not or cannot welcome them into their countries. By the end of the film, you actually feel the cold of the streets that has Roya slept on and get an incredibly intimate view into the lives of refugees--people who may or may not share one's religion or ethnicity but who are all human, and in the end just want to be treated as such. The film is listed in several places as a mockumentary but I don't like the term--the events and themes described here are too powerful and jolting.

The cleverly titled All Meshed Up is an entirely different type of documentary, a classic behind-the-scenes investigative report in the best tradition of 60 minutes and other television-inspired films in the same genre. Simply put, the film is an in-depth look at the almost nonexistent process that the EU uses to certify even the most sensitive medical implants--the type of devices that can cause chronic pain and even kill you if something goes wrong. A simple "EC" stamp is all one needs to market a new medical product in Europe, it turns out. It took the Dutch television program Radar only nine months to uncover the truth behind the approval system by setting up a fake factory and technical report and manufacturing a high-risk vaginal device made from--of all things the mesh packaging used for bags of mandarin oranges. The approval "process" is rather shocking, involving as it does any one of 69 "notified bodies" spread out throughout Europe-- little more than fancy hustlers looking to make money really--who are in charge of approving any new medical device. These organizations in fact don't certify anything at all and do no research--medical or otherwise: they can't even be bothered to google search some of the devices that they're presented with. For everything from hip and breast implants to something as delicate as vaginal mesh--nothing is tested. The documentarians go to their local supermarket and cut mesh from a mandarin orange bag and devise a new vaginal mesh implant with absolutely no medical knowledge whatsoever: they simply copy an existing device and add two arms to the exi six on a Johnson and Johnson design--in fact making their product more dangerous--and off they go to three so-called "Notified Bodies" in Turin, Vienna and Germany. All three organizations all approve their design and manufacturing plan on the spot for the royal sum of $3000. One manufacturer notes that no testing will be done on the product for a full year until it has been on the market. Consumer advocate Erin Brockovich of Julia Roberts Hollywood film fame makes an appearance in the film. Even to an experienced consumer advocate like Brockovich, the evidence is damning: "I'm shocked," says Brockovich, wiping away tears from her eyes: "It's simply criminal."
As different as these two films are, they illustrate what make film festivals such wonderful marketplaces for ideas and creativity. The SR Film Festival was founded three years ago by actress and filmmaker Nora Armani in order to offer an alternative movie-going experience that emphasizes socially relevant film content, and human interest stories. The festival has grown annually to its present size, screening some 157 films from all over the world. It's a worthwhile stop on any film aficionado or distributor's festival calendar, especially if doing good with your creative endeavors is high on your priority list.

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