Today, as the winners of the 2014 Impact Award are announced, is a good day to honour the work of documentary filmmakers everywhere. In particular, their role in documenting, highlighting and explaining human rights abuses and human rights protests even in places that western journalists cannot reach.
The growing availability of cheap small recording devices, sometimes simply mobile phones, over the past five years has been a major development for filmmakers and human rights defenders, allowing stories to emerge even from closed countries.
Four years ago, when I was part of the first Impact Award jury, we gave a special mention to the film Burma VJ. I was struck by the bravery of the Burmese video journalists who were able to capture the striking images of the Saffron Revolution, often recording from streets full of plain-clothes policemen determined to prevent such images being recorded. The film inspired many more video journalists to step forward inside Burma and the film was seen globally, in fact it was the first film ever to be officially screened at 10 Downing Street.
This year, the Impact Award is honouring another film, No Fire Zone, which was also able to document the truth against the odds. The film examines the closing days of the Sri Lankan civil war against the Tamil Tigers. All western journalists and aid workers were ejected from the region, making it possible for the Sri Lankan government to operate without international witnesses, or so they thought. The film team have painstakingly gathered, verified and re-contextualised images captured both by Tamils and government soldiers.
The result is a deeply shocking account of an assault against civilians, which premiered at the United Nations Human Rights Council and played a crucial role in the Council's decision this year to finally order an independent review of the death of 70,000 civilians.
The pen is mightier than the sword and the independent documentary is once again proving itself mightier than the government spin doctors.
This is part of a series of blog posts around the announcement of the winners of the BRITDOC Impact Award, which celebrates annually the documentary films that have made the greatest positive impact on society.