Acting Together on the World Stage (the documentary and toolkit) – Review

By Juliette Remond-Tiedrez

In 2011, Theatre Without Borders and Brandeis university’s programme in Peacebuilding and the Arts created an Acting Together on the World Stage: Performance and the Creative Transformation of Conflict documentary and toolkit. Combined with a two-volume anthology (which will not be reviewed here), the documentary and the toolkit form part of a project which aims to document the performances and artists who combine art and peacebuilding and help people to organize their own peacebuilding performances. As Creating Rights is also working on these issues I thought it might be worth it to check it out and so I decided to buy the documentary and toolkit.

I first started with the documentary, which seemed natural as it was disk 1. The documentary is a combination of interviews of nine artists from seven different countries: Argentina, Serbia, Uganda, Peru, USA, Cambodia, Australia (there are three additional interviews of artists from the Netherlands, Israel and Palestine in the toolkit). All of those artists try to combine peacebuilding and artistic performances. It is explained that Acting Together decided not to use the term “theatre” as it would exclude traditional rituals, and opted for the term “performance”.

Interestingly the documentary is divided into three acts: Resistance, Rehumanization and Reconciliation. I have to admit that, as I am quite new to this field of combining peacebuilding and arts, I enjoyed that the documentary was organized like that. It was easier to grasp how, concretely, artistic performances could help peacebuilding: they could help by resisting, rehumanizing or reconciliation. In order for the reader to better understand the link between these acts and art and peacebuilding, I will give the following examples from the documentary. 

Act I – Resistance. It was a coincidence that the Dah Theatre was created in Belgrade where the ex-Yugoslavian war started. But when Dijana Milošević, the founder of the Dah Theatre, noticed that the Serbian government was waging war “in the name of the citizens” she, as a Serbian, felt guilty and decided to perform politically engaged plays. For example she expressed her disagreement with the regime in her play The Story of Tea  which campaigned against the persecution of the Muslim population by the Serbian authorities.

Act II – Rehumanization. Ana Correa, a Peruvian actress of indigenous origins never had long hair, the indigenous way, until she had to perform as a peasant in a play staged in communities recovering from war. Since she had short hair, she had to wear fake braids. She decided to grow her hair long, for the play. When she did, her grandmother braided her hair the indigenous way. Correa explains that, in this way, theatre helped her reconnect with and reconstruct her identity.

Act III – Reconciliation. After the Peruvian civil war, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created. The Commission asked the Yuyachkani theatre group to go in rural villages to prepare the population to share their painful testimonies. Yuyachkani decided to perform rituals and short plays on the plazas of those small villages. Augusto Casafranca recounts how, at the end of one performance, the audience did not leave. Spontaneously, he started handing out to the spectators flowers that had been covering a fake grave he used during his play. He recalls how everyone started queuing to get those flowers, and then candles, when he did not have any more flowers, and then leaves. Casafranca explains that the audience saw it as a symbol, as a symbol of mutual reconciliation.

Whether the performance is aimed at resisting, rehumanizing or reconciliation, those performances “have the kind of consequences that mean the audience comes backstage and talks about what they just saw” says Ugandan Charles Mulekwa. Iman Aoun adds that such performances can give a platform to discuss issues that are normally discussed and can even push people to act. After one of her plays in Palestine, a woman whose marriage had been arranged when she was 14, called on the audience to help her own granddaughter whose marriage was currently being arranged. The woman explained that if the audience did not react to her call for help, they would act as if they hadn’t seen the play. As importantly, those performances also enables the audience to cry said a spectator after Catherine Filloux’s play about S-21, an old Khmer Rouge detention centre.

In comparison to the documentary, I find the toolkit of disk 2 more practical. In addition to more videos, which are very much alike to the documentary, the toolkit has a number of PDF documents to help people approach peacebuilding performances. I say “approach” because the documents do not only help one organize such an event but also give advice to policymakers or funders on how to view a peacebuilding performance. To do so, the toolkit offers us a list of questions and recommendations (there are different lists for the different people who would be interested in a peacebuilding performance: artists, peacebuilding practitioners, students and teachers in conflict studies or in art, policy makers, funders and, of course, the audience).

To give a concrete example, the toolkit contains a document called Minimising Risks of Doing Harm. The document sets out recommendations on how to prevent retraumatization, but also on how to keep the artists safe when they could be victims of government repression or paramilitary violence. I found it great that such a document existed in the toolkit because, in the documentary Augusto Casafranca explains that he had to reflect on how important, yet dangerous, his work was. In one of his performances he used firecrackers. When the firecrackers started making noise the audience became afraid because it reminded them of the sound of war. Hopefully, he says, they came back and did enjoy the play but it could have been a possible retraumatization situation for the audience. I therefore appreciate that the toolkit addressed this issue which was raised as a possible problem in the documentary. For me, this shows how complementary the toolkit is to the documentary: the documentary allowed me to have a good overview of what “peacebuilding performances” really meant, and the toolkit helped me understand how we should approach those performances and to what we should pay attention.

To conclude, as a newbie in the field of peacebuilding and arts, I thought Acting Together was very interesting and instructive as it covered a range of themes, issues and links between artistic performances and peacebuilding. However, I was disappointed that we didn’t have access to the full performances but were only able to see small fragments of them during the interviews. The fragments we were able to see acted as trailers and made me curious to see the whole performances.


“Who killed my brother?” The story of Luciano Arruga

By Njomza Miftari 

“Enforced disappearances” is a phrase that is not frequently mentioned in the European human rights context, however, this is not the case in regions such as Latin America where enforced disappearances has dreadfully impacted thousands of families in the last decades. “Who killed my brother?”, is a documentary directed by Ana Fraile and Lucas Scavino which sheds light on the issue by following the story of Luciano Arruga. The story of Luciano Arruga is about a 16-year-old boy who went missing on the 31st of January 2009 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The documentary follows the events carried out by his sister Vanesa Orieta who desperately seeks to find justice for her missing brother. It is evident from the beginning that her fight would not be an easy one but she is a force to be reckoned with. Her support grew stronger throughout the years with friends and families of Luciano joining Vanesa’s cause and together being able to organize collective demonstrations, demanding action by institutions and making sure their voices were being heard. She also travels to Geneva where she meets with Sara Oviedo, Vice-Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in order to bring attention to her case and to discuss the lack of due diligence by Argentina at an international platform. It is an emotional journey but nonetheless a necessary one on her path to justice.

Copyright Pulpofilms

In 1980, the Commission of Human Rights (Human Rights Council) established the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to assist families in determining the fate or whereabouts of their family members who had reportedly disappeared. According to their report in 2009, the number of cases reported to the working group from Argentina from 1980 is 3,449 cases.  According to the Arruga family, although it has been 35 years of democracy in Argentina, the case of Luciano and other cases of enforced disappearances shows that Argentina is having the same practices similar to a once known dictatorship: kidnapping, torture, killings and disappearances. Democracy has been mainly sporadic, or worse, it has come in a wave of segregation and oppression among favela and ghetto areas.

Copyright Pulpofilms

The documentary shows the intense repercussions that remain among the family and friends of the disappeared and more importantly providing better insight to a situation that is yet to be understood by nonnative Argentinians. The lack of transparency from institutions and high level of corruption are some of the factors underlined in this documentary. For instance, Vanessa describes her experience at the police station, when Luciano was initially arrested prior to his disappearance, that, upon her arrival she had heard Luciano yell from the holding cell “Take me out of here, they are beating me to death.”   

On the 31st of January 2019, it was the 10 year anniversary of Luciano Arruga’s disappearance where Vanessa and hundreds of other people (as seen from the picture below) marched in General Paz y Mosconi in solidarity with friends and families of victims who have disappeared.

Copyright Canal Abierto 

The documentary will be screened on the 9th of February 2019, 19:00 hrs at Filmhaus Nürnberg during the Lateinamerikafilmtage in Nuremberg, Germany. Pulpofilms is also looking to partner with any organization who is willing to screen the documentary and raise awareness. For more information, please see the links below:



Lidija Zelović – A private journey through war

By Fiana Gantheret 

Lidija Zelović, a Bosnian journalist and filmmaker from a Serbian/Croatian family, left Sarajevo in 1992 when the war came to her home town. She flew to The Netherlands, leaving behind her brother and parents. They joined her in Amsterdam two years later.

Lidija Zelović has followed the conflicts in former Yugoslavia as a journalist for many years. She lives in Amsterdam, where she teaches filmmaking, writes, produces and directs documentaries (see here). My Own Private War, now in distribution, is an attempt at making “the most truthful and honest movie about the war”.

« And then you loose it. And you wonder : have you lost a part of yourself, as well ? »

An empty Macedonian Mediterranean restaurant in Amsterdam. 11am. Lidija Zelović opens the door for us, and goes behind the counter to prepare coffee. She made this place her office. There is something about expatriates, a way to make a place your own and in turn to be generous with it. In the case of Lidija Zelović, there is also a warm and joyful personality that makes you hug her the first time you meet her. What she reveals of her youth in My Own Private War, the way she felt “invincible”, her self-confidence, her absence of doubt concerning her place in the world, might explain the happiness that emanates from this slender woman. The choice of music in her documentary successfully gives an idea of her point of view on life: ABBA is a cheerful type of music.

This restaurant in Amsterdam is the place where I meet her to talk about her life, her work, her son, her war. Lidija is Bosnian from Serbian/Croatian origin. She was 21 when the war came to Sarajevo, her hometown. Apprenti journalist, she already films everything: people, the fallen autumn leaves on the sidewalk… she has a curiosity for the world that urges her to show it. The world, and all that it contains, good and bad, love and war. In Sarajevo, the words were her weapon. When the war broke out, she left Bosnia. Her father put her in a plane that took her eventually to The Netherlands, after an incredibly complicated journey through Serbia and Croatia. This journey is described in the The Experience, a permanent exhibition at the Humanity House in The Hague. In The Netherlands, she studied filmmaking at the university of Amsterdam. Now in the middle of her life adventure, as she puts it, she tries to make “the most truthful and honest movie about the war”. My Own Private War was made for that purpose: to understand what happened there, in former Yugoslavia, that made her loose her world, a part of herself : « then you loose it. And you wonder : have you lost a part of yourself, as well ? ». How to shape one’s personality in the aftermath of war? Her concern is to disappear into victimhood, and that it becomes her identity. Instead, she captures all the nuances of the experience of war. The truthfulness and honesty she seeks resides in the exhaustiveness of her search. Indeed, Lidija Zelović does not shy away from any aspect of the issue and walks us through legitimate questionings that resonate in today’s world: truth, identity, and sense of belonging.

“You have to belong”

How may Lidija relate to her childhood when her favorite cousin, an important figure in her life, became a sniper in her home town? He picked a side, where he felt he belonged. The need to belong drives people to choose sides, and to assert their identity when feeling provoked. He is marked by his experience. His face shows it, twitching. He wanted to belong, almost as if against his will. He says he never killed civilians.

How do survivors of war act towards the “truth” of what happened, and what is their conception of it? Are they interested in the other side of the story? In the truth of the other survivors? Is it possible to talk about crimes committed by both parties? This is an issue that is familiar to the field of international criminal justice, which Lidija Zelović knows, by force. Without these trials, the world would be madness, she thinks, considering them therefore necessary. However, what is this truth that they pretend to tell in their judgements, and how does it reach the populations affected by the conflict? How does it reach entire families who are struggling with internal discussions concerning their origins, as in the case of her own family? These are complicated issues raised in her documentary, and that she still discusses and reflects upon, like on that day, in Amsterdam, with me.

Similarly, what happened in villages where Muslims and non-Muslims lived in harmony for half-century and then became enemies in the course of five days? Families dig in their ascendance to find their identity, their origins. Last names give away your belonging, and young men were taken away on this basis. Nothing the neighbors could have done about it. Lidija Zelović questions her close family about this period, as well as about their Serbian origin. Each side has their own truth, no less valid than the other one’s. She travels after the wars ended to Kalinovik, where Ratko Mladić, Serb commander, was born. She meets there Snježan, an old friend of hers who is also from a mix family, and a journalist, like her. If asked, he says he belongs to the Serbian group. He followed Ratko Mladić during the war. Lidija suggests the idea of a movie, made together, where both stories could be confronted: the story where Mladic is innocent of the crimes in Srebrenica, and the story in which he should be tried. He refuses: “why would I hear someone else’s version of the truth?”.

And so through resistance from friends and family, Lidija set on this journey to make the most truthful and honest movie about the war. Her truth is to understand what happened. A position that her father envies: defending the victims, without choosing sides. According to Lidija Zelović, if you put your camera down, you are not objective. She went back to Sarajevo after the war, to see it, but through the camera’s lense. A sort of a protection, as well.

Her next movie, Home abroad, will address the issue of being an immigrant: “a permanent temporary feeling, like a holiday that got out of hands”. Another part of her life, another journey.

An account of three Movies that Matter: Freedom of Expression and the State

by Fiana Gantheret

Movies that matter festival

A small entry into often incredibly violent worlds. That is what the Movies that Matter Festival offers. A regular feature in The Hague for some years now, the festival took place this year between 20 and 26 March 2014. This post focuses more particularly on three movies that featured in the selection: Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer by Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin, Viva Cuba Libre: Rap is War by Jesse Acevedo, and Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case by Andreas Johnson.

The focus of these three movies is freedom of expression and its violation by the state apparatus. The main characters fight to speak out, either about the state itself, or at least without any censorship. The latter is of course linked to the former, given that being able to speak without limits in the societies depicted in the movies entails saying Fuck Off to the system. The means to reach that goal: art. Punk music and performance in Pussy Riot; rap music in Rap is War; and conceptual art – photography, sculptures, installations – in The Fake Case.


Pussy Riot is about the trial of three members of the russian punk feminist movement Pussy Riot created in 2011: Nadejda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina, and Ekaterina Samoutsevitch. The three women were arrested after having staged a performance on 21 February 2012 on the soleas of the Cathedral Christ the Savior in Moscow to protest the support of the leader of the Orthodox Church to Vladimir Putin during the elections. They were sentenced on 17 July 2012 to two years imprisonment. On appeal, Ekaterina Samoutsevitch’s sentence was suspended.

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“Our life is a succession of jokes” – Two documentaries explore humor and conflict

By Fiana Gantheret

The Happy Sad Route (and a Comedian) by Linda Hakeboom: a documentary movie about the road trip of a Dutch man in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia. A Dutch stand-up comedian Jan Jaap van der Wal, alias JJ, goes on a journey in the former Yugoslavia to meet with fellow comedians. The trailer can be viewed here.


(No) Laughing Matter (Blagues à part), by Vanessa Rousselot: a documentary film looking at expressions of humor in Palestine. Vanessa Rousselot embarks on a journey in the West Bank to find out what Palestinians have to say about their own sense of humor. The trailer can be viewed here. The English version of the movie can be accessed here.

no maughing matter

The two movies approach situations in which people have experienced or still experience a hard way of life. What are the reactions there when humor is mentioned? What do they joke about? Is humor a necessity or a luxury? Through the themes of laughter and distance, Vanessa Rousselot and Linda Hakeboom deal with sensitive issues in a subtle and profound way. Read more