Harrowing tales aplenty at Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Films which attracted the most attention are Mon Colonel, Strange Culture, Everything's Cool and Lumo.

Mon Colonel at Human Rights Watch film fest

26 June , 2007

The films being screened at the 18th annual Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, now on in New York, deal with a range of themes – from environmental destruction to voting rights, to genocide and sexual assault as a weapon in war.

The festival mostly includes an anthology of distressing films, both fictional and documentary.

According to Bruni Barres, film festival director of the Human Rights Watch, judges look for films with wide relevance.

The 20 feature-length films and several shorts films being screened at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater were selected from over 500 movies.

The 2007 edition of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival opened with the French/Belgian film Mon Colonel, directed by Laurent Herbiet, and co-written by famed filmmaker Costa-Gavras. It is a drama set against the cruel history of France’s 1950s war with pro-independence Algerian insurgents.

Mon Colonel deals with a colonel who asks his subordinates to use any means – even torture – to get information from their captives. “This is really a universal issue that is quite important for everything that’s happening in the world today. So, we thought that was very relevant,” Bruni Barres said.

The other film shown on the opening night also looked at government power: Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Strange Culture uses cartoons, documentary footage, and dramatised re-creations to tell the not-yet-concluded saga of a political artist in Buffalo, New York.

The theme of Strange Culture: When Steve Kurtz’s wife died at home of a heart condition in 2004, emergency workers saw scientific equipment that the Kurtzes had been using for an art exhibit about genetically-modified food. They called the FBI. Terrorism charges were not filed, but Steve Kurtz still faces 20 years in prison if convicted on federal fraud charges arising from how he obtained the supplies.

The 18th annual Human Rights Watch International Film Festival features several other films set in the United States, including Election Day, a glimpse of 12 ordinary citizens across the country set to cast their votes for president on November 2, 2004.

Everything’s Cool styles itself as a “toxic comedy,” dealing with the issue of global warming.

Films from Africa include Lumo, a portrait of one of the thousands of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo whose bodies and lives were devastated by the use of rape as a weapon of war.

Carla’s List, by Marcel Schupbach, is about the obstacles being faced by chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, head of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Her work must be concluded by September 2007, but some of its main targets, including Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, have not been apprehended.

Carla’s List suggests that is primarily because the Hague tribunal has no police power and depends on Serbia, Croatia and other members of the international community to make arrests.

The subject of Enemies of Happiness by Danish director Eva Mulvad is Malalai Joya, Afghan activist and a member of parliament. The film tells the story of 28-year-old Afghan feminist Malalai Joya, a member of Afghanistan’s parliament, who has been the target of four separate assassination attempts. She became famous in 2003 when she spoke up in Afghanistan’s Constitutional Assembly to condemn the power of those she termed warlords.

Enemies of Happiness, whose director and cinematographer are female, depicts Joya’s life both at home and in the public sphere over many months.




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