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Human Rights Watch International Film Festival
(June 12th - June 25th, 2009)

Please click here for more Film Program information including showtimes and tickets.

Afghan Star

Directed by Havana Marking.

In Pashtu, Dari and English with subtitles. This lively documentary follows four contestants as they compete amongst others in “Afghan Star,” an “American Idol”-like TV show in Afghanistan, in hopes of becoming the Afghan Pop Idol winner. The country has been through war and Taliban rule for the last 30 years, so the freedoms that the Afghan citizens have are very limited. In fact, it’s illegal for them to sing, dance and even for people to watch them on TV, especially since the Taliban have banned televisions from being used. The contestants risk their lives every day as they compete on the show, all for the sake of following their passion to sing while providing excitement and entertainment for many viewers. Director Havana, in her feature film directorial debut, follows the four contestants from the audition phase all the up until the final competition located at the International Hotel. Each of the interviewed contestants seems fearless, warm and full of charisma, so you’ll probably be rooting for all of them. Women in Afghanistan risk their lives more than men because of how the country is dominated by males and requires the women, young and old, to cover their faces and hair; the contestants and even the female audience members bravely choose not to abide by those laws. They want to be free and, through their perseverance, they’ve found it. It’s concurrently inspiring to observe how Afghanistan experiences a glimpse of much-needed democracy when the public viewers send in their votes for their favorite contestants by texting through their cellphones. Although it’s not stylishly edited or thoroughly suspenseful, what makes the film so exceptional as a documentary is that there’s no other documentary that has shed light on such positive, uplifting, pro-democracy aspects of Afghanistan before. At a running time of 87 minutes, Afghan Star manages to be a lively, compelling and illuminating documentary.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Zeitgeist Films.
Opens June 26th, 2009 at the Cinema Village.

The Reckoning: Battle for the International Criminal Court
Directed by Pamela Yates, Peter Kinoy and Paco de Onis.

*Opening Night Film*

This well-edited, mildly provocative documentary follows the struggles of prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, joined by attorney Christine Chung and deputy prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, to start the ICC, International Criminal Court which would prosecute individuals, includes leaders, for crimes against humanity, genocide and other crimes around the world. Some of their trials were against Congolese warlords, namely Thomas Lubanga Dyilo and Jean-Pierre Bemba. They also tried convincing the U.N. Security Council to bring President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, to justice for the genocide in Rwanda. Many countries, such as the U.S. and China, didn't even approve of the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC in the first place. The U.S. government, especially under the Bush Administration, did everything in their ability to undermine the power of the ICC. As informative as the footage and interviews are, they don't really dig deep enough into the issues at hand. In other words, there's a lot of "show", but not enough "tell" or enough analysis. A great documentary finds the right balance between provoking you intellectually and entertaining you.The Reckoning has more of the latter and not enough of the former. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. No distributor, yet.

My Neighbor, My Killer
Directed by Anne Aghion.

In French and Kinyarwanda with subtitles. This moving and insighful documentary focuses on Gacaca, a hearing, arranged by the government in Rwanda, to bring to justice the Rwandan Hutus who killed many members of the Tutsi tribe back in 1994. The citizen-judges listen to the accounts of the victims who were afraid to speak out until now. It's equally devastating and poignant to listen to them explaining the details violence and oppression that they had either witnessed or experienced themselves. One of the women wisely says that people express suffering in different ways. Some choose to remain silent while others cry or get angry. With crisp cinematography and fascinating interviews, director Anne Aghion ultimately finds the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them intellectually as well as emotionally, while avoiding preachiness. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. No distributor, yet.

Look Into My Eyes
Directed by Naftaly Gliksberg.

In English, French, German, Hebrew, and Polish with subtitles. This disturbing and provocative documentary tackles the issue of anti-Semitism in the world today. Director Naftaly Gliksberg travels to many countries, such as Poland and Germany, to ask questions about people's attitudes toward the country of Israel and Jews. It's amazing and frightening how openly some of the interviewees admit their anti-Semitism on camera. One man in Germany even denies the Holocaust while another refuses to even look Gliksberg in the eyes. Look Into My Eyes doesn't really get into the roots of anti-Semitism and interviews with experts, such as sociopsychologists, would have added a little more insight, but the film nonetheless feels eye-opening and unforgettable. This would make a great double feature with Defamation, another recent documentary that takes a look at modern anti-Semitism as well. Number of times I checked my watch: 0. No distributor, yet.

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