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Human Rights Watch Film Festival Starts This Weekend

Enemies of Happiness

Wednesday, June 13--------With the US at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the crumbling situation in the Middle East and our own citizens rights under fire in the homeland, the films of this year's Human Rights Watch International Film Festival are simply required viewing for informed New Yorkers. The humanitarian group Human Rights Watch and the Film Society of Lincoln Center will celebrate the courage, resourcefulness and advocacy of the many filmmakers who tackle the world’s most pressing human rights issues. The 18th annual Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, featuring 21 films and 3 shorts from 17 countries, begins this coming Friday and runs through June 28th at the Walter Reade Theater.

Strange CultureStrange CultureThis year’s festival features films that pursue justice for the victims of war crimes, advocate change in Darfur through peaceful means, explore the links between human rights and the protection of the environment, and investigate several countries’ political systems from the ground up––among many other themes. Special guests scheduled to attend this year include Afghan parliament member Malalai Joya and former International Criminal Tribunal prosecutor Carla Del Ponte. The Festival launches on Friday with two films rooted in governmental paranoia. Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Sundance hit Strange Culture wonderfully blurs the line between documentary and fictional filmmaking. Using found footage, animation and dramatized scenes with actors Thomas Jay Ryan, Tilda Swinton and Josh Kornbluth, it chronicles the Kafkaesque nightmare of Buffalo artist and professor Steve Kurtz, accused in the atmosphere of suspicion after 9/11 of being a bio-terrorist. The film will screen at 6:30 p.m., followed at 9:00 p.m. by Mon Colonel, Laurent Herbiet’s politically charged portrait of military corruption during the Algerian war of independence. Co-written by renowned human rights filmmaker Costa-Gavras and starring Olivier Gourmet, this gripping drama chronicles the conflicted relationship between a no-nonsense colonel and a young French officer, and questions the rationale for torture and brutal interrogation during wartime.

The Devil Came On HorsebackThe Devil Came On HorsebackOne of the themes in this year’s festival is the power of photography to move the human rights debate. The Devil Came on Horseback provides graphic imagery that confirms (as if that was needed) that a true genocide is occuring in the Darfur region of the Sudan.  Chilean Filmmaker Sebastián Moreno Mardones’ The City of Photographers tells the hidden story of a generation of independent photographers at work during the Pinochet years. Canadian Jennifer Baichwal’s formally stunning Manufactured Landscapes follows internationally acclaimed artist Edward Burtynsky as he travels through China photographing the effects of that country’s massive industrial revolution. In keeping with this theme, the Film Society and Human Rights Watch host On the Frontlines, a photography exhibition at the Walter Reade’s Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery featuring work by some of the world’s most respected photojournalists, including Marcus Bleasdale, Susan Meiselas, Abbas, and Robert Nickelsberg.

This year’s Nestor Almendros Prize for courage and commitment in filmmaking will be presented to Danish filmmaker Eva Mulvad, director of Enemies of Happiness, an inspiring portrait of Afghan parliamentarian Malalai Joya. Winner of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival World Cinema Prize for Documentary, the film follows the remarkable 28-year-old as she runs in her country’s first democratic election in over 30 years, surviving repeated attempts on her life. It will be preceded by Sari’s Mother, Oscar-nominated director James Longley’s (Iraq in Fragments) intimate look at an Iraqi woman struggling under U.S. occupation to care for her young son, who has AIDS. 

For more information on the full program, log on to the website of the Film Society: and Human Rights Watch:, or call (212) 875-5600.

Sandy Mandelberger, Film New York Editor




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Mandelberger Sandy
(International Media Resources)

The Ultimate Guide to the New York Film, Video and New Media Scene.

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