Sunday, March 20, 2011

Prague and Thessaloniki Premieres for Our School

A young audience in the old Olympion theater in Thessaloniki. Photo credit: Edwin Rekosh (c) Sat Mic Film, LLC
We had back-to-back premieres in the Czech Republic and Greece, synchronized with the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers Review of the implementation of European Court of Human Rights  judgments on segregated education for Roma. That's a mouthful. Let's back up a bit from the jargon here and explain: 

In the mid-1990s, Roma rights activists discovered that Roma children were routinely and in large numbers placed into inferior schools or classes, or even schools for children with intellectual disabilities. They began documenting this widespread pattern, writing reports, campaigning, and also doing something else: Building legal cases so that they could methodically and strategically attack states that permitted this practice before Europe's highest human rights court - the European Court of Human Rights based in Strasbourg, France. In 2007, their efforts bore fruit: the Court found the Czech Republic guilty of unfairly placing large numbers of Roma children in special schools intended for children with mental disabilities. Two more judgments followed, in rapid succession: One that found Greece guilty of placing Roma children in a separate facility, and one that condemned Croatia for not allowing Roma children whose Croatian was less than perfect to study in the same schools as majority children. Taken together, these three cases are, in many ways, Europe's Brown vs. Board of Education moment. 

But change on the ground is slow to come - we're hoping that our film can contribute to understanding why. Activists are extremely frustrated. The Czech Government has promised action on segregation for over three years now - but has done nothing in practice. The Greek Government hasn't even bothered to promise anything. Croatia isn't faring any better. Those governments who were not directly targeted by the Court's judgments are even less likely to find their zeal for school integration. And ethnic tensions continue to rise against the backdrop of economic crisis and renewed extremist nationalism. 

So the body that oversees the implementation of the Court's judgments on behalf of the Council of Europe is trying take a hard look at what is happening and what needs to actually happen to make school integration a reality - as is everyone else. Activist colleagues on the ground are trying new tools for making their case and raising awareness. We're hoping that Our School can be a good tool to untangle the web of cultural practices, structural barriers, and long-standing prejudice that keeps Roma children from having an equitable start in life and the same opportunities as the rest of us.

We're partnering with Amnesty International not only to launch the film on the festival circuit, but also to put it in the hands of those who want to use it. We're grateful to the One World and Thessaloniki documentary festivals for the opportunity to premiere there - and we're honored to be included in their excellent programs. This is just the beginning - but it's a very good one.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Our School's Editor Is the First Karen Schmeer Fellow!

Editor Erin Casper. Photo credit: Tanya Braganti
Our wonderful editor, Erin Casper, was awarded the inaugural Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship, named after the late, extraordinarily talended Karen Schmeer, who edited fantastic documentaries such as The Fog of War, Sketches of Frank Gehry, Sergio and Bobby Fisher Against the World before her premature death early last year. The press announcement says:
Erin Casper is a rising talent in the documentary editing world. Having worked as an assistant and associate editor on a variety of documentary films including Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love, Erin recently completed her first feature as lead editor, Our School, a verité documentary directed by Mona Nicoara about school segregation of the Roma (‘Gypsy’) children in Romania. “Erin has been a joyful and formidable collaborator,” says Nicoara. “I have learned to fully trust her instincts and to listen very carefully when she stands her ground on issues of emotional structure and stylistic choices. The film fully reflects her quirky sensibility, emotional intelligence, and profound understanding of documentary ethics.”

Nearly 100 applications were received for the initial year of the fellowship from a diverse and talented group of editors across the country. Ms. Casper impressed the fellowship committee with her dedication, love of editing, humility, humor, curiosity and remarkable ability to shape a story as demonstrated in Our School.
We're thrilled for Erin! Her tremendous talent deserves all the recognition in the world. We're just glad the world took notice of what we've known all along.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Spring Festivals Update

Springtime in Targu Lapus. Photo credit: Ovidiu Marginean (c) Sat Mic Film, LLC
We're rolling out Our School this spring - beginning with synchronized launches in the Czech Republic and Greece, two of the countries found guilty of segregating Roma children in schools at the European Court of Human Rights, and then going a national premieres in Switzerland and our North American premiere at the 10th edition of the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Here is the schedule: 

One World Prague, March 8-17, Prague, Czech Republic
Thessaloniki Dok Fest, March 11-20, Thessaloniki, Greece
Visions du Reel, April 7-13, Nyon, Switzerland
Tribeca Film Festival, April 20-May 1, New York, USA

We're honored to be in these great festivals, and quite excited at the chance to finally present the story of Alin, Beni, and Dana before audiences in Europe and America!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Human Rights Commissioner: No Progress on Segregation in Czech Republic

As we prepare for the premiere of Our School at the One World Prague Film Festival and at Thessaloniki Doc Fest, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, issued a report on his recent visit to the Czech Republic, highlighting segregated education as a main concern:

“Deeply-rooted anti-Gypsyism and hate crimes as well as continued segregation in education and housing are the main obstacles to inclusion that Roma face in the Czech Republic [...] Three years after a landmark judgment of the European Court of Human Rights which found that the Czech Republic had discriminated against Roma with respect to their right to education, little has changed on the ground. It is necessary to take resolute and urgent action. Tangible progress for transfers of children from special to ordinary education and overall desegregation of the school system should be made already in the next school year.”

A nuanced story about what it  truly takes to give whole generation of Roma children a real chance in life, Our School intends to contribute to the ongoing conversation on Roma education all over Europe. By telling a compelling human story that is part of a broader rights movement, Our School seeks to mobilize new energies at a moment that is ripe for change.