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Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2011

Wed, Jun 8, 2011

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2011
Grady Chambers
StreetWise Contributor

The 9th annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival kicks off in Chicago this week with 11 documentary films from around the globe portraying stories of individual and collective humanity, hope, and heroic resilience in the face of various forms of repression and injustice. The festival opened on Wednesday, May 25, with the screening of Vadim Jean’s In the Land of the Free at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and continues from June 1 through June 9, with subsequent screenings at Facets Cinematheque (1517 W. Fullerton Ave.).

The opening night film—which will also close the festival on June 9 tells the story of three inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Targeted by prison officials for their membership in the Black Panther Party and for their fight against terrible prison conditions, the three were convicted of murder of a prison guard, despite no physical evidence or credible witnesses.

“The film subverts our barriers, creeps in and allows us to recognize humanity and ourselves in places we couldn’t otherwise imagine,” said Bernardine Dohrn, vice-chair of Human Rights at Human Rights Watch Chicago. “It takes us on a journey, allowing us to re-frame the picture we paint on the world so we can see resistance as creative, not just at the barricades. It reaches across barriers and boundaries and walls—literally—to impact us in very powerful ways.”

Dedrea Gray, chair of this year’s festival, sees the event as an opportunity to educate, inspire, and bring awareness of human rights issues and abuses to the collective conscience. “We really are trying to use the festival as a way to bring new people in to Human Rights Watch,” said Gray. “The films come from all around the world, so within a few days of film watching you have gone around the world and maybe walked in the shoes of someone that you didn’t know existed before.”

This year’s lineup brings us stories of survivors and activists, both domestically and internationally. From the battle for immigration reform in the United States (Last Best Chance, Mountains and Clouds) and the reality of U.S National Guardsmen trying to build a functional Afghan military (Camp Victory, Afghanistan), to the violent suppression of mass protests in Iran in 2009 (Green Wave) and the war between Israeli and Palestinian neighbors living in Hebron, the largest city in the occupied West Bank (This is My Land…Hebron), the films seek to put a human face on the struggles confronted daily by people everywhere.

“They wake us up to experiences and situations that our fellow human beings sometimes find themselves in,” said Gray. “It is a wake up call, and a call to action.”

A SMALL ACT

June 1, 9 p.m., June 6, 8:30 p.m.
When Hilde Back sponsored the primary school education of Chris Mburu from her home in Sweden, his life in Kenya was forever changed.

THIS IS MY LAND… HEBRON

June 1, 7 p.m., June 3, 8:30 p.m.
Featuring interviews with both Israelis and Palestinians living in Hebron, as well as activists on both sides. This film lifts the lid on Hebron as it is today- a city fraught with violence and hate.

LAST BEST CHANCE

June 2, 7 p.m., June 8, 8:30 p.m.
A moral tale of modern American politics, this film presents a political legend, Sen. Edward Kennedy, in his final battle for immigration reform in the US.

ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE

June 2, 9 p.m., June 7, 9 p.m.
Follow filmmaker Thet Sambath as he uncovers terrifying personal explanations for the Cambodian genocide by allowing the perpetrators to speak for themselves.

12 ANGRY LEBANESE

June 3, 7 p.m., June 5, 4 p.m.
Forty-five Lebanese inmates in Roumieh (Lebanon’s most notorious high-security prison) participate in this production and use the play as a chance to examine their own lives and decisions.

YOUTH PRODUCING CHANGE

June 4, 1 p.m., June 5, 1 p.m.
Young people are on the frontlines of many of the world’s human rights crises. Experience 10 powerful stories from young filmmakers across the globe as they share their visions of change.

MOUNTAINS AND CLOUDS

June 4, 3 p.m., June 8, 6:30 p.m.
This film revisits a seminal moment in the push for immigration reform, with implications for the battle currently brewing for the Obama administration and Congress.

CAMP VICTORY, AFGHANISTAN

June 4, 5 p.m., June 9, 8:45 p.m.
The film follows a battle-tested Afghan General and the steady stream of U.S. National Guard soldiers deployed to train the men of his newly formed battalion. It is the first film to examine the reality of building a functioning Afghan military.

THE GREEN WAVE

June 4, 7 p.m., June 7, 6:30 p.m.
By providing an animated backdrop for the urgent blog posts and tweets that became a lifeline to Iranian pro-democracy activists, The Green Wave recounts the dramatic events of the most severe domestic crisis in the history of Iran.

OUT IN THE SILENCE

June 5, 2:30 p.m., June 6, 7 p.m.
Out in the Silence dramatically illustrates the challenges of negotiating the morally charged issue of sexual orientation and the potential for building bridges when people with differing opinions approach each other with openness and respect.

IN THE LAND OF THE FREE

June 9, 7 p.m.
Targeted by prison officials for being members of the Black Panther Party and for fighting against prison conditions, the Angola 3 were convicted of the murder of a prison guard — with no physical evidence and no eyewitnesses.

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