white van stories 2Indian filmmaker Leena Manimekalai will screen her documentary feature White Van Stories that highlights forced disappearances in Sri Lanka, at the 10th Al Jazeera International Documentary Film Festival today.

The documentary features first-person accounts of people whose relatives have gone missing for political reasons in long history of unexplained disappearances in the country, where victims were taken away in a white van, never to be heard of again, Manimekalai told this daily yesterday.

“The festival is the perfect forum to launch the film, as Al Jazeera has broadcast about the conflict in Sri Lanka when the whole world was deaf. Al Jazeera has reached out to stories which were never heard,” she said, adding that it is the first international premier for her documentary.

“The festival gives an opportunity to talk to people who don’t know about problems faced by people in Sri Lanka. Some don’t know that there are people who speak Tamil,” she said.

Thousands of people have gone missing in Sri Lanka over the decades — in the 1980s, during the armed revolt of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and later as the civil war between the Tamil rebels and the government intensified in the 1990s up to recent time.

White Van Stories, filmed in August 2013, features a rally organised in northern Jaffna town close to the visit of the then UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, and stories of seven women with different ethnic backgrounds, whose relatives have gone missing from different parts of the country.

According to Manimekalai, the documentary is not just about people who have gone missing, but also about decades-long experience of living with a conflict, internal displacement, political instability and fear. “They have a horrifying past and present but they still live lively,” she said.

The 90-minute documentary will be screened at 9am at Ritz-Carlton Doha’s Al Wosail Hall.

Another 29 films will be shown today.

Organised under the patronage of Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani, Chairman, Al Jazeera Media Network Board, the festival is held under the theme ‘Steps,’ showcasing 34 long, 51 medium, 45 short and 31 new horizon films.

At the closing ceremony today, awards will be given away, including Al Jazeera Golden Award and Jury Award as well as special awards, including Al Jazeera Documentary Channel Award, Public Liberties an Human Rights Award and Child and Family Award.

The festival has also introduced Best Director Award and Best Camerawork Award to be given in three categories this year.

A winning film will be screened to conclude the festival. (The Peninsula)

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