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    Peruvian children carry their sledgehammers — and a tire to burn — to the rock quarry where they work. in The Back of the World
    Peruvian children carry their sledgehammers — and a tire to burn — to the rock quarry where they work.

    Rights, camera, action

    "The Back of the World" focuses on three human-rights issues around the world, inviting you not only to appreciate the issues involved but to get involved yourself.


    The documentary "The Back of the World" looks at three unconnected human-rights stories in three different countries, scoring big emotional points with two of them. And in two of the segments, there are ways to find out more and get involved with the click of a link.

    Original title: La Espalda del Mundo.
    Directed by: Javier Corcuera.
    Featuring: Guinder Rodriguez, Mehdi Zana, Leyla Zana, Thomas Miller-El..
    In Spanish and Turkish with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site | More about Leyla Zana | More about Thomas Miller-El
    The first story, "El Niño," is about a group of kids outside Lima, Peru, who go to work six days a week in the local rock quarry, busting rocks for use as landfill on construction sites in the city. Blackened by their work and with no sense of self-consciousness, they straightforwardly describe their lives and their jobs — setting old tires on fire to heat the rocks, breaking the large boulders into a useable size, and trying to avoid the flying shards that can quickly cut short a promising rock-busting career. For this, they get something like (I'm guessing at the conversion here) $2 a day.

    We see one youngster, Guinder Rodriguez, get up at 6:30 to prepare for work, and hear his unemotional description of daily life. He sees nothing strange about an 11-year-old working in a rock quarry, but he does laugh heartily when a clown troupe comes to town making fun of politicians and employers, and he says he wants to be an accountant. Although he accepts his place in life unquestioningly, because it's the way things are done in his town, he's clearly developing a consciousness about it as he grows up.

    Former parliament member Leyla Zana speaks to Kurdish supporters. in The Back of the World  
    Former parliament member Leyla Zana speaks to Kurdish supporters.
    The second segment, "La Palabra," is likely to be the most moving to anyone who treasures democracy — it tells the story of Leyla Zana, an ethnically Kurdish politician imprisoned for 15 years after speaking up for the Kurdish people in the Turkish parliament. Wearing the colors of her people in her hair, she took the oath of office in Turkish and then added in the Kurdish language: "I shall struggle so that the Kurdish and Turkish people may live peacefully together in a democratic framework." Her party was outlawed, depriving her of immunity as a member of parliament, and she was convicted in what has been condemned as a railroad trial. (See Amnesty International's page about her story.) The film shows footage of her speeches to her constituents and to parliament, which seems like a small enough matter from an American vantage point but is genuinely inspiring as the story unfolds and you realize what courage this woman had simply to speak up in the seat of power.

    Although Zana is locked away, her story is told under an ever-present cloud of sadness by her husband, Mehdi Zana. He himself was imprisoned after serving as mayor of his city in Turkey and now is a refugee living alone in Sweden.

    The last story, "La Vida," deals with the death penalty in Texas, and while I sympathize entirely with its position on the capital punishment, I think it fails to engage the viewer with the issue. Unlike the first two segments, it fails to focus on a particular story and tell it thoroughly. Any of its elements — interviews with a death-row prisoner, the impending execution of another prisoner, and the meeting of family members of both murder victims and capital-punishment victims — would have been subject enough for a whole documentary of its own. But none of them gets an adequate treatment. However, there is information about the prisoner in the interview, Thomas Miller-El, at that is no less worth your attention for its inadequate explanation in the film.

    MAY 28, 2002

    Reader comments on The Back of the World:

  • what can we do?   from kani-dicle, Sep 24, 2003
  • [no subject]   from Hayley, Nov 3, 2005

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