11 June, 2009

The Challenge Of Human Rights

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

These challenging times call for courage, determination and a selflessness that was woefully out of fashion in the Me-Me-Me Decade that preceded the worldwide economic collapse. That there is potential for the global community to learn from its mistakes is always a hopeful sign (although let us remember that the Great Depression was followed almost immediately by its antidote, World War II). When this moral courage needs to be inspired in each one of us, it helps that courageous filmmakers are documenting the stories of those who are suffering and others who respond by tapping into their innate compassion and righteous activism.

These are the themes and the goals of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, which opens its New York edition at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater this evening. Sponsored by Human Rights Watch, one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights, the Festival is a clarion call for witnessing and acting on human rights abuses that sometimes get scant attention in the traditional news media.

The Festival features a number of strong entries from European directors. The event begins this evening with the premiere of EDEN IS WEST (Eden A L'Ouest), the epic story of an immigrant's journey, directed by the legendary Greek/French filmmaker Costa-Gavras (Z). The film follows a young man's journey from the Agean Sea to the ports of heaven and hell, until finally arriving in that most magical of cities, Paris. That this was intended to echo Homer's Odyssey is purely intentional and gives Costa-Gavras an exceptional palette to explore the themes of immigratioTn, fulfillment and human aspiration. The director himself will appear at tonight's screening for a conversation with Carroll Bogert of Human Rights Watch, followed by a reception.

Other European highlights of the film series include: AFGHAN STAR, a rousing depiction of an "American Idol" talent competition set in Afghanistan by UK director Havana Marking; THE AGE OF STUPID, British director Franny Armstrong's apocalyptic mix of drama, documentary and animation set in an Artic fortress archives fifty years in the future; BACK HOME TOMORROW, Italian directors Fabrizio Lazzaretti and Paolo Santolini's absorbing tale of two children in war-torn Darfur and Afghanistan and the remarkable work of the Italian aid organization Emergency; IN THE HOLY FIRE OF REVOLUTION, Dutch director Masha Novikova's portrait of chess-champion-turned-social activist Garry Kasparov; KABULI KID, an eye-opening look at the daily life-and-death adventures of a taxi driver in Kabul, from French Afghani director Barmak Akram; SNOW, a stunning debut feature from Bosnian director Aida Begic which chronicles the drama of life in a Bosnian village that was devastated during the tragic war of the 1990s; and TAPOLOGO, the moving story of a migrant labor camp in South Africa where a group of former sex workers living with HIV have created a network of solidarity to care for themselves and others living with HIV, directed by the Spanish team of Gabriella Dewar and Sally Gutierrez Dewar.

These films challenge us to be witnesses and to find a way to light a candle rather than curse the darkness For a full list of films screening this year, along with seminars, shorts programs and special events, log on to the websites: or

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