Sunday, June 14, 2009

Three worthwhile documentaries from the HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH Int'l Film Fest

As you can tell if you follow this blog to any extent, when he covers a film festival, TrustMovies prefers to see 'em all, rather than select a few films and then presume to have covered -- let alone understood -- the festival. While the former route is possible, if difficult, with the FSLC's annual French, Italian and Spanish fests, it's simply not in the cards where the current Human Right Watch (HRW) International Film Festival (and its 30 films) is concerned. So, I managed to attend several of the press screenings and viewed three thoughtful, interesting and important documentaries.

The HRW opening night event -- THE RECKONING: The Battle for the Interna-tional Criminal Court by Pamela Yates, Peter Kinoy and Paco de Onis -- details the long, hard and ongoing battle to apply "the rule of law" on a global scale, in the process protecting the most basic human rights. If you imagined, as I did before viewing this film, that the International Criminal Court (ICC) was a fait accompli, doing its job of bringing justice to the world -- well, go back to your Justice League comic book. From the look and tone of this eye-opening and rather upsetting doc, the ICC is still "in the process" of just about everything, including bringing to firm and settled justice anyone at all.

The film tracks the good work of ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo (shown above), deputy prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and senior trial attorney Christine Chung (the latter a former prosecutor in NYC who has since left the ICC to return to the U.S. and Yale University) as they probe and cajole. The most disturbing part of the film deals with the tensions caused by the ICC investigations at the local level -- where conflict and peace nogtiations were being attempted, sometimes seemingly at odds with the ICC's work. We get a pretty good idea of how the ICC works -- and the difficulties inherent in what it is trying to do and how it must do this. By the end of the film, you'll probably feel, as did I, that the Court's work is absolutely necessary but that the road ahead will be no easier than the one behind. Although The Reckoning has already completed its two HRW screenings, you can see it on PBS, Tuesday, July 14, '09, as part of the P.O.V. documentary series.

The winner of this years' Nestor Alemendros Award, MY NEIGHBOR MY KILLER by Anne Aghion offers a current look at Rwanda, as that country tries to come to terms with the massacres/genocide of fifteen years ago. In this regard the movie makes an interesting complement to the narrative feature, Munyurangabo, which recently completed a week's run at Anthology Film Archives and will eventually be available on DVD via its distributor Film Movement. Aghion's documentary is the stronger film by far because it puts us directly into the faces, words and feelings of the survivors, as they confront the very men who struck down their families, friends, and in some cases themselves.

Two survivors -- Félicité Nyirasangwa and Euphrasie Mukarwemera, both Hutu widows of Tutsi husbands (whose children were perceived as Tutsi) -- make compelling witnesses whose words you will not easily forget. They speak beautifully, deeply, even poetically (the spoken word is apparently considered a kind of art in Rwanda) of their situation now and then; the suspected killers try to make their own case but do it very poorly by comparison. The Rwandan community's attempts at justice and reconciliation -- one such community meeting is shown above -- are halting, fragmented and lengthy (the film itself has taken nearly ten years to cobble together). While the documentary seems deliberately to refrain from showing us images of the genocide, seeing and hearing its citizens come to terms with this via memory and words is as difficult as it is chastening, and to Ms Aghion's credit, she has managed to delve further inside the heart of the situation than you would imagine possible for an outsider. My Neighbor My Killer screens at the HRW Walter Reade Theater on Saturday, June 29,m at 6:30; Monday, June 22, at 8:45; and Wednesday, June 24, at 4.

From the content of the above two films, you might think the HRW fest confined to "downer" docs that rub your nose in some of the most negative situations the world has to offer. (And why not, of course?) Yet some of the films shown here are deliberately light on their feet as they tackle, with humor and charm, some very dark subjects. One such is Israeli documentarian Naftaly Gliksberg's clever and amusing LOOK INTO MY EYES. In it, this nearing-fifty filmmaker travels the globe to learn what anti-Semitism looks like now and how people feel about Jews in general and Israel in particular. It ain't pretty, but it's pretty funny. And creepy. And sad.

Much of the charm of this film comes via Mr. Gliksberg's attitude: off hand and self-effacing but sly and witty, too. He is generally gracious to his interviewees (perhaps more than some of them deserve) but will quietly and cleverly upend their views when necessary. Along the way, he covers everything from a Passion Play in Poland, with its rather typical (but still somehow shocking) stereotypes, to Paris and a popular stand-up comic, NYC's Harlem neighborhood, Chicago and -- the most disturbing of all -- a family down south in which the kids are being bred into some of the most blatant anti-Semitism of any that we see. The final segment brings us a Holocaust denier (shown above, front, with Gliksberg behind him) in Germany, an older fellow who looks so much like the filmmaker that the two could be father and son. This entertaining and often funny "road trip" documentary proves that ugly prejudice can be handled with humor and flair -- while still remaining thought-provoking and very disturbing. Look into My Eyes can be seen at the Walter Reade Theater on Sunday June 21, at 2; Monday, June 22, at 6:30; and Tuesday, June 23, at 4.

No comments: