Documentarian Iara Lee: ‘Creativity is my Weapon’

Documentarian Iara Lee: ‘Creativity is my Weapon’

By Lisa Davis-Burnett

Can we rise above seemingly insurmountable odds? Is there hope in the face of poverty and injustice? Will the next generation enjoy the beauty of nature and the biodiversity that we take for granted? These are some of the questions that documentary films address, and in some cases show reason to believe that the answers to such daunting questions is a resounding YES!

This week, the University Of St. Martin (USM) hosted documentary filmmaker Iara Lee for a showing of two of her films. The event was held on February 20, and it was open to the public. A lively discussion followed the well-attended gathering, showing that The Friendly Island is full of intellectually curious and open-minded people.

Lee is from Brazil and has been making movies since the 1990s. She travels the globe, seeking out untold stories from remote locations, meeting members of communities that would otherwise remain unknown to most of us. She is passionate about empowering all people to make small changes that will reduce the effects of pollution and climate change. Also high on the list of topics to which she wants to call attention, is the ongoing need for human rights, women’s rights, and the rights of indigenous people.

In her efforts, she encounters people living off the land, often in traditions barely changed over the centuries. As she travels to film how people live, she makes relationships with individuals in each community. She keeps in touch with most, and works to support some of these communities with a foundation that offers grants to those making real effort towards sustainability and resilience.

Those in attendance at USM were treated to two films: “Trash to Treasure”, about the arts and culture movement in the African nation of Lesotho, and how some individuals, despite being immersed in a society with serious challenges of AIDS, poverty, drugs and social unrest, have nevertheless risen up to find business opportunities by recycling and upcycling discarded items.

The second film, “Burkinabe Bounty”, outlines the agroecology movement in Burkina Faso, another country in Africa. The film shows examples of farmers growing their own food and even starting businesses such as exporting Moringa powder from the trees they call The Paradise Tree.

She embraces young people wherever she goes, encouraging them to believe they can make a difference, saying with a light laugh, “You will have to find a way to fix the problems that we have created!” The best approach, she contends, is to use creativity. By using art, culture and understanding, we are more likely to solve problems, try new approaches, think outside the box.

“I don’t want to only inform and educate, but to inspire people to take action, make a change, even if small, like refusing plastic and Styrofoam by bringing your own reusable containers.”

Iara Lee told the gathering at USM that she has been arrested many times in her filmmaking career, because the powerful people in most countries typically do not want to empower the less fortunate. But she says, “I’m not going to quit!” Her next release will be about the indigenous people of Europe, a little-known population – the Sámi.

The Daily Herald

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