Students Share Their Stories at UH Hilo International Film Festival

For three nights, films held a spotlight on different countries and were introduced by a UH Hilo student with connections to that country. Here are their stories.

Student speakers at the UH Hilo International Film Festival (l-r) Peter Ramofolo in gray long sleeve shirt, Nandar Mya Yee in purple, and Helio Miguel Arcanjo Oliveira de Araujo. in red. The photo is taken outside with ferns and red building in the background.

Jim Mellon
Jim Mellon

The Global Lens International Film Festival took place Oct. 19-22 at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. It was sponsored by the UH Hilo International Student Services and Intercultural Education program and made possible through a grant for the UH Diversity and Equity Initiative.

Jim Mellon, executive director of UH Hilo global and intercultural education programs, was the lead planner of the film festival. Mellon received his master of arts in Pacific studies, with an emphasis on film, from UH Mānoa.

The theme of the film festival was, “Expose. Engage. Inspire.” Reaffirming that message, Mellon says, “We want to help all of our students, wherever they come from, develop a greater sense of intercultural competency and a greater interest in global issues.”

Mellon started the annual film festival a few years ago because he saw film as a powerful medium that was effective at helping people learn about other cultures without having to physically cross a border. This year he wanted to focus on countries that are not very well known.

Films reflect diversity at UH Hilo

“We have students from really interesting parts of the world, and they have really interesting personal stories and perspectives to share,” says Mellon. “I thought, wouldn’t it be great if we selected films that highlighted parts of the world where we have students from.” He feels that doing so makes the films more real and accessible.

UH Hilo is considered the most ethnically diverse four-year public campus in the United States and having students from places like Burma, the Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste can be a valuable cultural asset to the campus and community. The film festival provides a platform for international students and gives the UH Hilo community an opportunity to learn about different countries while heightening its multi-cultural fluency.

Mellon says this year’s films were chosen because the countries and topics featured affect students who will be graduating soon from UH Hilo, and he wanted to give the students a voice and a chance to share their stories and the stories of their countries.

Films were shown for three nights to audiences made up of UH Hilo students, faculty, staff, and community members, with a total of five films being showcased. All films were shown free of charge and boasted an Academy Award nomination, a Nobel Peace prize nominee, and a first known United States public showing.

Each night, the films held a spotlight on different countries and were introduced by a current UH Hilo student with connections to that country.

Film: They Call It Myanmar (focus on Burma)
Student Remarks: Mya Yee Nandar

Mya Yee Nandar, a UH Hilo senior on exchange from Burma, presented the film on the first night. She is scheduled to graduate in May 2016 with a bachelor of science in nursing. She wishes to return to her home country and open a set of health clinics to people in regions that are difficult to access.

In her introduction, Nandar explains she was inspired to get into health care while acting as a tour guide for a German couple in Burma. They were 12 days into a trek in the Himalayan Mountains, when they stopped at a small village and were taken in by a family. Nandar soon realized that the family was suffering from some kind of sickness and that the closest medical relief was days away. The grandmother of the household came to her asking for help. Nandar says she remembers feeling powerless.

“There was nothing I could do,” she recalls.

That night, the grandmother died.

Since then, Nandar has returned to the village to find there has been warring between the Burmese government and the local tribes as well as more sickness and disease.

“I believe in helping and making people’s life better, this is the ethics of nursing,” she says. “I like to pour water where they need it the most.”

Burma’s first general elections since a nominally civilian government was introduced in 2011, ending 48 years of military rule, is to take place on Nov. 8, 2015. The film, They Call It Myanmar, takes an in-depth look at everyday life in a country governed by military regime. It depicts problems in the medical sector, a sweeping mass of poverty, government oppression, child labor and restrictive freedom of basic human rights.

Under the military regime in Burma, Nandar’s brother was imprisoned for being a pro-democracy activist. He was beaten while in prison and died four days later due to a lack of proper and capable medical attention. Currently, only two percent of the GDP in Burma is spent on education and health care.

“There is a whole generation of Burmese people who don’t know what it’s like to speak their minds,” Nandar explains. She feels that she is pursuing great knowledge that she can bring home, and that she will face great challenges.

The basic message she hopes people take away from the film festival is that she is very glad to share her untold and unseen world and that “there is acknowledgement of our existence.”

Films: Forgotten Bird of Paradise and The Road Home (focus on West Papua), and The Act of Killing (focus on Indonesia)
Student Remarks: Peter Ramofolo

The second night of the film festival focused on West Papua and Indonesia.

Peter Ramofolo, from the Solomon Islands, introduced the three films presented. He is seeking a degree in communications and a certificate in women’s studies. He is scheduled to graduate this fall and says about his future, “If I can help in one way or another I would be very happy.”

This is the first occasion for a film about West Papua, from the viewpoint of the people of West Papua, to be shown at the UH Hilo campus.

The first film, Forgotten Bird of Paradise, acts as an introduction to West Papua and the current challenges it is facing. It paints the picture of a proud tribal culture that has lost over 500,000 lives to what is being defined as an active genocide against the West Papuans by the Indonesian government.

The second film, The Road Home, follows Nobel Peace Prize nominee and West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda in his struggle to liberate his people from Indonesian colonial rule.

The final film of the night, The Act of Killing, takes the viewer into Indonesia and the world of Indonesian politics. It hands the reins of film direction—with total creative license—over to the country’s celebrated political gangsters who were responsible for the mass execution and genocide of Chinese and Indonesian communists in their country.

“Write a letter to your congress person, let them know that you care about this issue,” says Ramofolo.

Ramofolo has helped start one of the biggest social networks in the Solomon Islands, which acts as a non-government organization to form a direct line of contact between civilians and the local government. He also runs a Facebook page to help raise awareness for the West Papuan population, maintaining contact with many key individuals working toward independence in the region.

Film: A Guerra de Beatriz (focus on Timor-Leste)
Student Remarks: Helio Miguel Arcanjo Oliveira de Araujo

The third and final night’s film, A Guerra de Beatriz, was one of the first public showings made available in the United States. It is Timor-Leste’s first feature length film portraying a sincere and poignant love story taking place during the Indonesian occupation of the country.

The student presenting the film, Helio Miguel Arcanjo Oliveira de Araujo, opened his remarks by talking about how few people know about Timor-Leste. He is a junior at UH Hilo, majoring in communication and minoring in sociology. He studies at UH Hilo under an East-West Center scholarship program and plans to graduate in December 2016.

Oliveira de Araujo is from the village featured in the film he presented. There was a massacre in the town and in his introduction, he recounted how the village became known as “The Village of Widows” because all of the young men had been killed. “I remember, growing up, that I never saw any old men because they all passed away in that massacre,” he says.

“I want to continue (on with) my master’s degree in Western countries,“ he explains about his future. “I want to teach in schools, as we still lack qualified teachers in the related field in our education.” He also is interested in social work.

In his remarks, Oliveira de Araujo shared some history about Timor-Leste and how the country gained independence in 2002 with the help of UN referendums and a popular vote by the people. They are a newly founded country, he explains, geographically located in South Asia with a population of 1.178 million people.

Currently, UH Hilo hosts six students on exchange from Timor-Leste, and they were all present at the film festival.

Oliveira de Araujo says he was very proud that the festival featured a film about his country. “I hope people will spread the message that they hear and (are) aware that there are lots of people outside that still really, really need our help.”

More info

For more information on upcoming international events at UH Hilo or to get in contact with the International Student Services and Intercultural Education Program visit the website.

Originally published at UH Hilo Stories

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