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Fittingly enough, one of the films in the Big Picture festival program is The Missing Picture, Rithy Panh’s unique film in which little clay figurines represent Cambodians slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge in the 70s, including his own family, of whom no pictures or images remain. (The Missing Picture opens commercially on March 20.) Andrew L. Urban reports.

See. Think. Change. That’s the mantra of The Big Picture Film Festival, founded by Rev. Bill Crews, who says in his noted to the program that the festival “is all about showcasing those who have taken a stand. It is about those people who have, and are, making change in our society. It’s about showing how involvement, passion and commitment can bring about positive change; highlighting issues that need changing and encouraging you too get involved.”

That’s another way of saying ‘all that is required for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing’. Good women, too. Some such good men and women are represented in the program of films that open a fascinating window into worlds largely unseen by movie fans. 

Take the film Blood Brother. “Much is made in social justice circles about the power of the individual to affect direct change on a grassroots level, with untold numbers of people the world over doing just that,” writes Big Picture Program Director Eddie Cockrell. 

“A shining and inspirational example of this anonymous army of the committed is Rocky Braat. An affable and intense young man without strong family ties and disillusioned with his life in Pittsburgh, he decides to visit India and is soon taken with a group of HIV-infected children at a rural orphanage. Deciding to make the country his home and their care his calling, “Rocky Anna,” as the kids call him, sets about making a difference and transforming his world.”

Braat’s best friend, director Steve Hoover, this is, first and foremost, a story of love. Blood Brother won the Grand Jury Prize and the audience award at the 2013 Sundance film festival, with all filmmaker proceeds donated to the children and HIV/AIDS initiatives.

Or Miss Nikki and The Tiger Girls. Filmmaker Juliet Lamont received a message from her university friend Nikki May: ‘I’ve just started Burma’s first girl band’. So, as she told the Melbourne International Film Festival, ‘we hid our camera in our luggage and got there before we had any funding, smiling our best tourist smiles’.

"films that make a difference"

Among the documentaries are several feature films, all based on real life, including the opening night feature, Belle. ‘How may I be too high in rank to dine with the servants but too low to dine with my family?’ This is the question posed by Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate bi-racial daughter born in 18th Century Britain to a high-ranking naval officer and a Caribbean slave. It is a dilemma at the heart of this ravishing, revelatory film, for whilst little is known of Belle’s day-to-day life beyond some documents and her appearance in a portrait, this mystery serves as a springboard for screenwriter Misan Sagay to link Belle’s conflict to the notorious and horrific Zong massacre, during which slaves were thrown overboard to save an overcrowded ship. The subsequent trial was ruled on by her uncle, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and was a key moment in the abolition of slavery in England.

This festival acknowledges the deeds of people who ‘do something’ to make a difference, through films that make a difference. 

Gideon’s Army, for instance, is the name now given to the Southern Public Defender Training Centre, where these attorneys can be juggling upwards of 100 cases at once. Questions of equal justice based on race and class become increasingly and uncomfortably obvious, and the barristers place themselves at risk to achieve their goal.

Innocent until proven guilty is the way the American legal process was set up to function, and the way it is supposed to work. But try telling that to the public defenders in Georgia and Mississippi profiled by lawyer-turned filmmaker Dawn Porter in her stirring feature documentary debut.

NOTE: It was the investigative documentary, Shadow of Doubt by Australian filmmaker Eve Ash that galvanised legal and public outrage over the murder conviction of Sue Neill-Fraser, so blatant a miscarriage of justice (no body, no weapon, no witness, no credible motive) you wouldn’t believe it in 21st century Australia. Neill-Fraser was tried and sentenced to 23 years, in 2010, but it wasn’t until Shadow of Doubt was screened on FOXTEL on July 31, 2013 and at special screenings in Hobart, Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra in October & November 2013 that the community stirred. 

See Murder by the Prosecution: Clues in Film

Published March 6, 2014

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Missing Picture

March 19 – 29, 2014
Event Cinemas Sydney City & Liverpool

Full program of films - Website


Half of a Yellow Sun

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