by Gabriele Ottaviani
Nicolas Blies and Stéphane Hueber-Blies direct Zero impunity, a movie, an animated artistic documentary, a necessary invitation to awareness: Convenzionali is honored to interview them.
Why did you decide to make this movie?
We first became aware of this issue through conversations with our producer Marion Guth, who has long been committed to working on women’s issues. Marion had the opportunity to go to Rwanda, where she met with survivors of the genocide and victims of sexual violence. During this meeting, they said something that really touched her: if they had the courage to tell their stories, they said, it was because they knew that they would be listened to and heard.
And that their stories would help other women to speak up as well.
This conversation really touched us as well. We starting thinking about creating a project that would allow the voices of victims to ring out in public spaces, thus awakening hearts and consciences. This aspiration makes up the very DNA of Zero Impunity.
How did you become aware of Dr. Mukwege’s story?
We were invited by the University of Angers in France 2 years ago to speak about sexual violences in war zone. This conference was also the opportunity to honor the Dr Mukwege an alumni of this University for his work in the Panzi Hospital and his holistic approach. We have immediately see that Dr. Mukwege is an important figure to support in his fight. So 2 years after this event we decided to make it concret. Our film, our project was done to support such initiative or such personality.
Why did you decide to use animation?
We worked with a lot of different sources, who were in different situations. Some were whistleblowers, while others were survivors. Quite a few of them wanted to remain anonymous for security reasons. That was the case for Nora, a young Syrian girl, and her mother, Fatima. Animation also made it possible for us to illustrate the events that our sources recounted.
We are also convinced that animation is the perfect medium to represent a political or social reality with beauty. This aestheticization, so dear to [French philosopher] Edgar Morin, helps generate more empathy. Moreover, the fact that we used animation to illustrate our investigations differentiates that content from the rest of the film. For example, we filmed the parts of the documentary that show activism and citizen shows of support.
Only animation allows us to make fun of the powerful, to make them speak, to move beyond the inevitable political speech that we would have had if they were standing in front of our cameras… [the aim is] to find the hidden truth.
Finally, and importantly, our use of animation demonstrates our commitment to showing sexual violence from a new, different angle. Sexual violence doesn’t have a color or a flag.
Which is the most important message of your movie?
Showing to the world that listening is as important as speaking. In order for a voice to exist, it must be listened to. It’s a basic social mechanism. We wanted to highlight the role that we can all play– we can provide a listening ear and empathy. By refusing to listen to those who speak up, we become complicit in impunity.
On the other hand, by listening actively, each of us can take part in spreading the messages of those who speak up and making their words resonate. In their own way, everyone can participate in increasing pressure to move the political and social trends.
In their own way, everyone can participate in increasing pressure to move the political and social trends.
Do you think that politicians in all the world are really making something of real to stop violence?
Sexual violence is the perfect crime because it binds people to silence. Considering the taboos associated with sexual violence, survivors often become prisoners of a social and political context where it is impossible to speak up without risking your life.
Sexual violence is a personal, intimate violation-which is why it is so powerful. Often, victims are rejected by their families or communities. That’s why we often describe it as a radioactive crime. Silence settles in and makes it impossible to gather testimonies or material proof. That makes it impossible to render justice. There is impunity for the perpetrators because it becomes impossible to speak freely.
It’s complicated for victims to speak out because they are often isolated and people question their credibility.
And governments want to protect their soldiers– soldiers who are often considered to be national heroes. Or soldiers who are involved with complicated, international missions that officials don’t want to jeopardise.
This impunity is also institutionalized at an even higher, international level. For the most part, people don’t see the advantages of talking— they don’t want to put a dent in the reputations of institutions.
There may be political reasons they are keeping quiet. They also might have personal reasons to keep their mouths shut, especially if they are hoping to advance in their career. What’s the benefit in sabotaging your own career or that of a colleague?
Considering the context, you can really appreciate the strength and courage of the survivors and whistleblowers who do speak out, often in situations that both dangerous for them and their friends and family.