10 MINUTES WITH...: Callum Macrae

The World Today, June/July 2013 | Go to article overview

10 MINUTES WITH...: Callum Macrae


The film-maker talks to Libby Powell about campaigning journalism and how he plans to follow up his documentary, 'Sri Lanka's Killing Fields'

Your work straddles both campaigning and journalism. Is there ever a clash?

If you are a journalist and you have discovered a hidden truth that you are determined to expose, then by definition you become a campaigner. I have difficulty with the word 'impartial'. A journalist has an overwhelming duty to be accurate and fair but if you are being neutral in a society that is not equal, you are responsible for helping to maintain that status quo.

Your new film on Sri Lanka is No Fire Zone. Why do you call it a 'film of record'?

We have tried to create a record of what happened at the end of the war in Sri Lanka. It is not some academic account but actually a huge challenge to the attempts by the Sri Lankan government to deny that this happened. We have to be good storytellers but, at the same time, we also consider it evidence. We have a responsibility to make sure it is not in any way misleading because we hope that this film will play a vital role in leading to a process of justice.

Why was this film not made by a Sri Lankan director?

I don't think there should be advantages to me being an outsider but I think, in this case, perhaps there are. I don't really like the idea that we've been able to get this story on to a national agenda in a way that the Tamil diaspora hasn't.

The diaspora knew what was going on and were outside Parliament protesting very loudly about the massacres but people weren't listening. There is a lesson here for all of us: we should listen more.

The fact that I can make this film and show it to the public is a privilege.

Are there more opportunities now for local media to tell their stories?

The beginning of the war in Iraq was the point when we realized things were changing. When I first went to film there, a few weeks after the invasion, we hired cars with TV written on the side. But within a week everyone was taking the signs off the cars or smearing them in mud. …

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