Action, Organization, and Documentary Film: Beyond a Communications Model of Human Rights Videos

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Abstract

Literature investigating human rights videos has concentrated on their usefulness in creating political pressure through shaming perpetrators of abuses. Analyzing confrontations between police and a social movement in San Salvador Atenco, Mexico, in 2006, I show that the separation between communication and action implicit in this communications model obscures how human rights films form a field of political organization and direct action. In this case, films open a de facto legal space not available through formal institutional channels, and provide a platform through which political actors can transform themselves from bystanders to active participants. I conclude by proposing that the production and distribution of political film in Mexico represent an attempt at social and political change that is more profound than modifications to laws and policies.

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