When I was contacted and asked to be a reviewer for the One World Human Rights Film Festival, I gladly agreed. However, when the opening sequence of Mama Illegal, my chosen documentary began, I couldn’t prevent the following thought flitting across my brain.
“Riots. Protests. A statue of Lenin and some geese.”
“Oh God. What have I done?”
Clearly I overdosed on old episodes of Sex and the City during my recent convalescence.
I was asked to write about this particular film because I am a migrant. It feels odd to use that word to describe myself though because I’m a very privileged one. I’m a university educated, native English speaker with an EU passport. I don’t have to worry about being deported and I’m fortunate to do a job that I enjoy which has some social status attached to it – being a TEFL teacher might not carry much kudos in some circles but it beats cleaning toilets.
Compare the situation of most expats based here in Prague to that of the Moldovans featured in Mama Illegal. Once the bread basket of the Soviet Union, Moldova is now the poorest country in Europe; in rural areas the unemployment rate is 80% and the average monthly income is a mere 100 euros. The film follows the story of three village women, who head to wealthier countries like Austria or Italy where they work illegally in menial jobs to send money home. Having no valid visa means that they cannot access healthcare or travel freely; one hasn’t seen her children for six years.
I also appreciated the fact that the filmmakers followed both women for almost a decade so it was possible to see how their lives developed rather than just being shown a brief snapshot. We already know that surviving as an illegal worker must be tough; we also know these people are invisible and exploited but a documentary like this grants a human face to the otherwise faceless statistics.
It’s fun to zone out in front of the erotic antics of Carrie Bradshaw et al sometimes, but an event like One World gives you the chance to learn more about the human rights situation in seventy-three different countries and also serves as a reminder of how fortunate and privileged we are to live in an affluent place. If you need a break from the anodyne Hollywood trash served up in the cinema these days, check out the festival’s programme. The event kicked off a few days ago but continues until Thursday March 15th. In case you needed further persuasion, it’s worth mentioning tickets are a super reasonable 80kc.