Putting the Power in A Powerful Noise
By Roger Landes
A Powerful Noise asks nothing from its viewers. At least, not directly. It’s not that kind of documentary. To put it quite simply, it doesn’t need to be.
Sure, it’s an activist film with a strong feminist message, but not once will it demand anything from you. But that is not to say it isn’t affecting. Hell it’s inspiring. The inspiration of the film comes not from a manipulative director, but from the characters presented. This is where the brilliance of the film is found.
The film follows three women with backgrounds as different as their locations. Hanh is a HIV-positive widow from Vietnam. Nada is survivor of the Bosnian war. Lastly, the wonderful Madame Urbain is a social activist in Bamako, the largest city in one of the poorest countries, Mali.
Although these women at first glance have little in common, their struggle is the same: they must reform the societies that seem to have no interest in changing. The film chronicles their hardships, and successes.
Hanh works in Vietnam to combat the growing number of HIV/AIDS in Vietnam. The disease is spreading at the same rate as the amount of heroin use in the country. Hanh’s husband transferred to her the disease which was spread to her young daughter, who died not a year after contracting the disease.
Hanh now tackles the difficult task of educating the public on safe sex and not sharing needles. Hanh passes out condoms and literature to locals and gives speeches to the masses. This is particularly difficult in her home country, as its society has intense social stigmas on the disease. As much as she tries, she is met with great difficulty from factory owners who refuse to let her speak to the workers.
Hanh also sets up support groups for those affected by the disease. The film does a remarkable job at showing the shame, fear, and hope found in the people of Vietnam.
The Bosnian War is arguably the most misunderstood travesty of the past 30 years. The war occurred due to the clashing cultures of the Bosniaks and the Serbians. In the aftermath of the war, the people found their economy completely destroyed, over a million people displaced, and over 50% unemployed.
Nada is a survivor of the war who works to help local farmers to find a place to sell their crops. Without an economy of imports and exports, farmers have no place to sell their goods. Nada helps to create co-ops and connect families in order to collect their stocks and sell them. She struggles with the still fallen economy, and remaining clashes between the two cultures. She flows freely around both the Bosniak people and the Serbs.
Of the three women, Madame Urbain shines as not only the most moving, but entertaining as well. Mme. Urbain is a social worker in the West African country of Mali. The countries immense poverty reaches out to the villages, where men and woman have no ability to get any form of education.
The only option for many girls is to move to the countries biggest city, Bamako, in order to find work. But, without any education or skills the only option for them is to become domestic servants. Mme. Urbain works to end this practice. She has offices that work to take protect these domestic servants, making sure that their employees don’t take advantage of them and pay them properly.
Mme. Urbain works foremost to set up schools and encourage the education of young women. “To educate a woman is to educate a village is to educate a nation.”
But she is met with resistance, especially from the male villagers, as the society maintains its emrace on women’s past subserviant role. Mme. Urbain knows the great weight on her shoulders, but she accepts it with grace and humility, even when confronted with difficulties.
The truly inspirational part of the film: with so much resistance and so many hardships, where can these women find hope? The film shows us, three women with no place in society, yet they reached out and claimed a place for their own.
A Powerful Noise screens on Tuesday August 25, at The Drexel Theater, 7:30 – 9:00pm.
This screening is co-sponsored by the Free Press. Admission is free. Donations accepted.
This is the first contribution to OH! Film by guest blogger and CIF+VF volunteer Roger Landes. Without the generous support of people like Roger, the reach of the CIF+VF and OH! Film would be severly stunted.