January 8 , 2001
Festival spans the globe for stories of oppression and resistance
By Loren King, Globe Correspondent, 1/7/2001. Boston Globe
Among the numerous festivals that showcase films with common themes, few will challenge, provoke, and compel audiences like the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival. The 14 titles from 10 countries that make up the festival offer a searing look at human rights issues from various perspectives, in various filmmaking styles. Screening Thursday through Sunday at three venues - the Coolidge Corner Theatre, the International Institute of Boston, and the Museum of Fine Arts - the fest is riveting testimony to the cinema's power to illuminate and educate.
With cosponsorship by numerous organizations such as Amnesty International, the festival is a leading vehicle for politically and socially conscious features and documentaries. Boston audiences will have a first chance to see some of these films; many of them are US premieres, and some previously unspooled at the annual festivals in New York and London.
The festival opener is ''Before Night Falls,'' Julian Schnabel's powerful and acclaimed portrait of the late Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, played by Javier Bardem. Schnabel's film is a lyrical and visually stunning account of Arenas's persecution for being an artist and a political dissident, and for being openly gay - all key elements of Arenas's life and work, and all subversive to Castro's totalitarian regime. ''Before Night Falls,'' co-presented by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, screens Thursday at 7 p.m. at the MFA; a reception follows.
British director Ken Loach, one of the pioneers of the British neorealist movement, brings his gritty style to ''Bread and Roses,'' about a young woman, Maya (Pilar Padilla), an illegal immigrant from Mexico who joins her sister cleaning a high-rise office building in Los Angeles. Adrien Brody plays the brash union organizer who rocks the boat and pushes Maya into activism. The film's emphasis on character - particularly the relationship between Maya and her older sister, Rosa (Elpidia Carrillo) - humanizes the politically disturbing events. Co-presented by Jobs with Justice, it screens Saturday at 12:45 p.m. at the MFA.
One of the festival coups is a much-anticipated film from Iran, ''The Circle,'' directed by Jafar Panahi (''The White Balloon''). Although Iranian cinema is enjoying enormous acclaim in this country and in Europe, this film offers another view of Iran, examining the political and social persecution of women. Banned in Iran, ''The Circle'' depicts the connected stories of several women trying to resume their lives after they are released from prison. Unsentimental and searing, the film shows in almost documentary fashion the day-to-day oppression, humiliation, and ultimate resilience of these women. ''The Circle'' screens next Sunday at noon at the Coolidge.
Another much-anticipated film is Randa Chahal Sabbag's powerful and eloquent ''A Civilized People,'' about the long-running civil war in Lebanon during which many Lebanese citizens fled to Europe. Winner of the 2000 HRWIFF Nestor Almendros Prize, Sabbag's accomplished debut feature provoked the Lebanese government to call for her to cut 47 minutes, claiming the footage is ''offensive.'' The film will show in its entirety Friday at 8 p.m. at the MFA.
A personal, brutally honest account of Mahamet Saleh Haroun's return to Chad following the death of his mother, ''Bye Bye Africa'' is a moving first feature in which the filmmaker observes a country in prolonged chaos and conflict. ''Bye Bye Africa'' screens Saturday at 9 p.m. and next Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Coolidge.
The festival includes several outstanding documentaries. ''Good Kurds, Bad Kurds: No Friends but the Mountains'' is investigative journalist Kevin McKiernan's powerful expose of the treatment of Kurds in Turkey, where they are being systematically killed and tortured by the Turkish government (usually with US-supplied weapons). These civilian Kurds are offered no protection or political asylum by the international community, unlike the ''good'' Kurds in northern Iraq who, according to McKiernan's charged film, are political pawns. A sharp account of immigration and US foreign policy issues, this film is notable for McKiernan's relentless digging into an underreported topic, shot by renowned cinematographer Haskell Wexler. Co-presented by Amnesty International, ''Good Kurds, Bad Kurds'' shows Saturday at 4 p.m. at the International Institute of Boston; McKiernan is scheduled to attend.
The disturbing but ultimately hopeful ''Blink'' is about Greg Withrow's transformation from abused child to youthful leader of a white-supremacist group to a man struggling with his past who speaks out against hate and violence. Filmmaker Elizabeth Thompson's interviews with Withrow, his acquaintances, and thoughtful commentators reveal the class and social issues affecting hate groups, which cultivate and perpetuate the alienation of young disenfranchised men. ''Blink'' screens Friday at 7 p.m. and next Sunday at 9 p.m., accompanied by the short ''ICC: A Call for Justice,'' a film by a group of young producers, at the Coolidge.
Not all the documentaries in the festival are so chilling, or probing: Some are gentle, but no less impressive, slices of life. ''La Boda'' is Hannah Weyers's intimate portrait of a young Mexican-American migrant farmworker, her close-knit family, and the weeks leading up to her wedding. ''La Boda'' screens with ''Our House in Havana,'' another documentary that blends a personal story with its political context. Stephen Olsson's richly detailed study about loss and personal transformation recounts 68-year-old Silvia Morini's visit to Cuba 38 years after she fled Castro's regime. Both films screen Saturday at 2 p.m. at the International Institute of Boston.
''Homeland'' is a lyrical and moving study of contemporary Native American life, focusing on four Lakota Indian families living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Filmmakers Jilann Spitzmiller and Hank Rogerson will present their film Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at the Coolidge.
Dutch director Heddy Honigmann's ''Crazy'' delivers interviews with Dutch soldiers who served with United Nations forces; they recount devastating stories of brutal conditions, murder, child prostitution, and other forms of physical and emotional suffering observed in ''security zones'' in Cambodia, Lebanon, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Korea. It screens Friday at 5:30 p.m. at the MFA.
Martha Lubell's ''Daring to Resist'' tells the stories of three Jewish women who took action in the face of Nazi genocide and - as teenagers, and without family support - fought back. ''Daring to Resist,'' with Lubell present, will screen Saturday at 7 p.m. and next Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Coolidge.
''This is What Democracy Looks Like'' is the first documentary to capture what happened at the protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle last year, interweaving the gripping footage and interviews with a broad spectrum of organizers and activists. Co-produced by the Independent Media Center and Big Noise Films, the film will be screened with the makers on hand Friday at 9 p.m. and next Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Coolidge.
For more information, visit the Web site at www.hrw.org/iff or call the venues: Coolidge Corner Theatre (617-734-2500); International Institute of Boston (617-695-9990); the Museum of Fine Arts (617-369-3770).
This story ran on page 7 of the Boston Globe on 1/7/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.
[ BACK TO THE NEWS ]