This years Human Rights Watch International Film Festivals (Lincoln Centers Walter Reade Theater, June 14-28) program of 24 films includes eight directed by women.
In keeping with the festivals purpose, all programmed films, including documentaries, fiction and animated features and shorts, are vetted for accuracy and, selected for their most gripping stories and greatest artistic merit, shed light and put human faces on pressing current social and political issues ranging from global warming and the proliferation of nuclear weapons to workers and womens rights to corruption in the electoral system.<
The films directed by women are:
Lynn Hershman Leesons Strange Culture chronicles the miscarriage of justice in the case of Steve Kurtz, a Massachusetts academic, artist, and member of the politically active art-theater collective, Creative Art. In 2004, while Kurtz was preparing for a Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art exhibit allowing viewers to test organic foods for genetically modified organisms, his wife died suddenly from heart failure. Kurtz called 911. When police arrived and saw the materials for the exhibition– all legally purchased– they summoned the FBI. Haz-mat-suited agents searched Kurtz home, seized his computers, books and his wife’s body, and held him as a suspected bio-terrorist. Three years later, Kurtz faces up to 20 years in prison on mail and wire fraud charges relating to acquisition of materials for the art exhibit. The film interweaves Kurtz interviews with news footage, testimonials and animation, and, using actors Thomas Jay Ryan, Tilda Swinton and Peter Coyote to dramatize segments of the story Kurtz cant, for legal reasons, discuss, creates a provocative documentary about post-9/11 paranoia and risks artists face when their work questions government policies.
Jennifer Baichwals Manufactured Landscapes is a visually stunning portrait of photographer Edward Burtynsky, whose large-scale studies of industrial vistas draw attention to the aesthetics, social and spiritual dimensions of contemporary globalization. Baichwal follows Burtynsky to China and Bangladesh, where his camera captures the effects of massive industrialization those countries are undergoing. In contrast to the epic photographs, Baichwal focuses on dehumanized workers whove become cogs in the industrial machine, revealing the toxic and alienating impact of globalization on the people supposed to benefit from the transformation. Manufactured Landscapes premieres theatrically at NYs Film Forum on June 20.
Eva Mulvad and Anja Al-Erhayams Enemies of Happiness follows Malalai Joya, who became one of Afghanistans most famous and infamous women in 2003 when she challenged the power of warlords in the countrys new government. Two years later, surviving repeated assassination attempts and surrounded by armed guards, the 28-year-old ran in Afghanistans first democratic parliamentary election in over 30 years. Joya speaks out about the challenging task of introducing democracy to a country where most people are illiterate and warlords use threats and bribes to control the voting, and where many women cannot leave their children to get to the polls.
Annie Sundberg and Ricki Sterns The Devil Came On Horseback covers the tragic genocide in Darfur from the perspective of ex-Marine Captain Brian Steidle, who accepting a six-month post with the African Union as an unarmed military observer in the western Darfur region of Sudan, is transformed from a military man to an observer to an activist determined to bring an end to the conflict and war crimes that have claimed at least 200,000 lives and displaced 2.5 million people since early 2003. Steidles journey of personal transformation becomes our own, as we witness the 1,000 photographs he took as evidence of a crisis that cannot be denied.
Katy Chevignys Election Day tells the remarkable stories of twelve Americans who are determined to vote and have their votes counted. Crisscrossing a large swathe of the US, from South Dakotas plains to Floridas muggy panhandle, Chevigny shows a an Ohio woman and her infant child waiting in line– in the rain– for hours, only to be told when she reaches the voting booth that she must travel to another polling place to vote and, in New York City, a 50-year-old ex-felon is able to vote for the first time but is unsure his affidavit ballot will be counted. Meanwhile, in Stockholm Wisconsin, community members register on the spot, vote with paper and pencil, and know each other by first name. With the next presidential election race already in full swing, consider this film a wake up call for all who value their right to vote.
Judith Helfand and Daniel B. Golds Everythings Cool takes up where An Inconvenient Truth left off. The filmmakers deliver a behind the scenes view of an ongoing battle between two groups of global warming messengers– the good guys who dispense bad news about impending disaster (count a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and Weather Channel climatologist among them) versus bad guys (mostly industry-sponsored hacks) who try to instigate doubt about the evident dangers in order to deflect public attention and derail public action about global warming. The filmmakers explore what might transform the US from laggard nation to world leader on global warming.
Lynn True (co-director) explores the agonies of war-torn Africa in Lumo, a documentary about a young Congolese women who, having been brutalized by marauding soldiers, is cast aside by her family and fiance and eventually finds solace and sustaining support at a special hospital for the survivors of rape. On her uncertain road to recovery, Lumo Sinai proves that womens solidarity of women can heal even the most irreparable of wounds. Lumo premieres on PBS on September 18, 2007 at 10 PM EST.
Laura Dunns The Unforseen (Executive Produced by Terrence Malick and Robert Redford) chronicles the career of Gary Bradley, farm boy turned real estate developer, who transformed 4000 acres of pristine West Texas countryside into one of the state’s largest, fastest-selling subdivisions. When the development threatened Barton Springs– a spring-fed swimming hole favored by the community– the people fought back and the subdivision became a lightning rod for environmental activism of the kind that flourished under Governor Ann Richards. However, development laws changed when George W. Bush became governor, and the water quality at Barton Springs, as well as the surrounding landscape of Austin, was irreversibly altered. The Unforseen contrasts the benefits gained from economic growth and property rights versus sustainable development and the public good.
Additonally, several films focus specifically on womens issues:
“The Railroad All-Stars, directed by Chema Rodriguez, documents the lives of Valeria, Vilma and Mercy, three prostitutes who live and work in La Linea, a destitute neighborhood in Guatemala City. Fed up with abuse they get from customers, lovers, and the police, they form Las Estrellas de la Linea, a soccer team, Las Estrellas de la Linea, to draw attention to their plight. After their first game, theyre banned from competition because of their profession, but they attract huge media attention– which is just what they were hoping for–and find a way to a better life through the most unusual of channels– soccer.
Saris Mother, directed by James Longley, follows a courageous mother as she struggles to get medical help for her 10-year-old son, whos dying of AIDS. Filmed in Iraq during the course of one year, the films an intimate view of Iraqi life that few foreigners get to see.
“Carlas List,” directed by Marcel Schupbach, shows Carla Del Ponte, prosecutor at The Hagues International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, as she and her team relentlessly attempt to bring notorious war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic to justice before September, 2007, when Del Pontes appointment as prosecutor ends.
For 2007’s Human Rights Watch International Film Festival’s full program, click here