Academy Award-nominated director Robert Bilheimer spoke about the importance of addressing human rights across the globe and the impact of new technology in documentary filmmaking Wednesday night in the Jack Morton Auditorium.
Bilheimer, director of documentaries The Cry of Reason: Beyers Naude – An Afrikaner Speaks Out, A Closer Walk and Not My Life, discussed issues surrounding global human rights including anti-apartheid movements, the movement for global AIDS awareness and the presence of modern-day slavery and human trafficking in society, which he described as “three of the great human rights struggles of our time.”
The event showcased clips from Bilheimer’s documentary A Closer Walk, which discusses the global AIDS epidemic, and a preview of Not My Life, a new project depicting the presence of human trafficking and several forms of modern-day slavery.
Bilheimer said his Oscar-nominated documentary, The Cry of Reason, which discusses the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa in the late 1980s and early 1990s, began anti-apartheid movements on college campuses at the time.
“The movement involved board rooms, classrooms and the entire world weight of public opinion,” he said. “The great base of this movement took place on college campuses and began with the energy of ordinary people.”
The director discussed the impact of A Closer Walk, which was created in the midst of the 1990s and the presence of the global AIDS movement.
“The film has had a transformative effect,” Bilheimer said. “We have shown the film in India and China. The film on television alone has been seen by almost 500 million people.”
He added, “The film medium was becoming a more and more powerful way to reach large numbers of people and inform them about human rights issues, such as global AIDS.”
Bilheimer also discussed the subject of his new documentary, Not My Life. He said the film sheds light on human trafficking and other forms of modern-day slavery, which includes domestic servitude and child soldiers.
“The movement [for human trafficking and modern-day slavery] doesn’t exist yet. The challenge that we’re facing now is not only to catalyze a movement, but to create a movement,” he said.
He discussed the challenges of filmmaking, particularly when filming, which he says includes “being open and vulnerable in the midst of reality.”
He cited many stories of meeting subjects of the documentary during the filming process, such victims of AIDS in Africa and India. “I continue to allow myself to be moved,” Bilheimer said.
Bilheimer also stressed the great power of editing techniques, which includes using music, narrative techniques and montages, to tell a story.
“It’s about the craftsmanship and the work put into the film. Filmmakers can’t assume that the power of the message is self-sufficient,” he said. “The storytelling aspect of filmmaking is critical.”