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The Challenge Of Human Rights


by Sandy Mandelberger, Film New York 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 begins with the premiere of EDEN IS WEST, 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 immigration, 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 highlights of the film series include: THE RECKONING, an insightful American documentary that follows the prosecution of war crimes at thhe International Criminal Court in The Hague, co-directed by Pamela Yates, Peter Kinov and Paco de Onis; THE YES MEN FIX THE WORLD, the yes-we-can story of activists who infiltrate the world of big business and pull of outrageous pranks to expose corporate greed, from the team of Mike Bonanno, Andy Bichlbaum and Kurt Engfehr; CRUDE, American documentarian Joe Berlinger's look at a shocking case of environmental pollution in the Ecuadoran rain forest; IN THE HOLY FIRE OF REVOLUTION, Dutch director Masha Novikova's portrait of chess-champion-turned-social activist Garry Kasparov; LOOK INTO MY EYES, a globe-hopping critique of anti-semitism by Israeli director Naftaly Gliksberg; SNOW, a stunning feature debut by Bosnian director Aida Begic that 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 Gabriella Dewar and Sally Gutierrez Dewar.

In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Human Rights Watch International Film feestival and in honor of one of the Festival's founders, the Nestor Almendros Award will be given to American director Anne Aghion. Her latest film MY NEIGHBOR, MY KILLER, a feature length documentary culled from a decade's worth of filming of Rwanda's experiment in citizen justice to uncover the truth of that country's tragic genocidal war in 1994, will be screened as part of the award tribute.

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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Mandelberger Sandy
(International Media Resources)

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

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