Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Huamn Rights Watch Film Festival in New York June 23

The Human Rights Watch Int'l Film Festival is pleased to be featuring seven excellent films at this year's event (June 13-26 at New York's Film Society of Lincoln Center) that explore subjects of particular Middle Eastern interest: TO SEE IF I'M SMILING, DEADLY PLAYGROUND, USA VS. AL-ARIAN, DEAD LINE, THE RECRUITER, THIS WAY UP, OPEN HEART, and UNDER THE BOMBS
Descriptions of the films, as well as the complete HRWIFF program, follow.


Director Tamar Yarom - TO SEE IF I'M SMILING (June 12-16)

Director Georgi Lazarevski - THIS WAY UP (June 23-27)

Director Edet Belzberg - THE RECRUITER (based in NY)

For preview DVDs of featured films, to schedule interviews or for further information, please contact Susan Norget or Eric Hynes at (212) 431-0090 or susan@norget.com / eric@norget.com

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TO SEE IF I'M SMILING New York Premiere
Tamar Yarom, Israel, 2007; 59m. In Hebrew.
Katia Saleh, UK/Lebanon, 2007; 23m. In Arabic and English.
Fri Jun 13: 9:15pm; Additional Screenings: Fri Jun 13: 1:30pm; Sun Jun 15: 6:00pm

To See If I’m Smiling
Israel is the only country in the world where 18-year-old women are drafted for compulsory military service. To See If I’m Smiling is a disturbing look at the actions and behavior of women soldiers in the Israeli army who, stationed in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, help maintain the 40-year-old occupation of Palestinian territories. The women in the film, veterans who’ve tried to bury the past for years, finally speak openly about their experiences. Deeply personal interviews are dramatically interwoven with both archival footage and details of the women’s daily lives. One woman recounts how she posed for a photo with a Palestinian corpse. She searches for that picture, saying, “I wanted to see if I’m smiling.” At a time when women in the military are increasingly on the frontlines, this powerful film explores the ways that gender, ethics, and moral responsibility intersect during war. A Women Make Movies release.

Deadly Playground
Thirteen-year-old Hussein from the village of Sadikkeen in south Lebanon has been watching the de-mining experts in his area clearing the estimated 3 million cluster munitions that Israeli forces dropped in the war with Hezbollah in 2006. A projected 1 million of these remain unexploded and scattered around the villages and mountains of south Lebanon. Hundreds of children, like Hussein, are still fascinated by them.

USA VS. AL-ARIAN New York Premiere
Line Halvorsen, Norway, 2007; 98m. In English and Arabic.
Thu Jun 26: 9:00pm; Additional Screenings: Tue June 24: 6:15pm; Wed Jun 25: 3:30pm

A passionate, outspoken pro-Palestinian activist, university professor Sami Al-Arian was charged in 2003 with funding and supporting a Palestinian terrorist group and held in prison awaiting a trial for two-and-a-half years. USA vs. Al-Arian is an intimate family portrait that documents the strain brought on by Al-Arian’s trial, a battle waged both in court and in the media. A tight-knit family unravels before our eyes as trial preparations, strategy, and spin consume their lives. This is a nightmare come to life, as a man is prosecuted for his beliefs rather than his actions. Director Line Halvorsen presents democracy in a new light—in a post-9/11 culture of fear, “security measures” trump free speech, and punishment is meted out in the name of protection. Presented in association with the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Spotlight on ARIEL DORFMAN

Alex Marengo, Director; Ariel Dorfman & Rodrigo Dorfman, Screenplay, UK, 1998; 30m.
Stephen Walker, Director; Ariel Dorfman & Rodrigo Dorfman, Screenplay, UK, 1995; 66m.
Sat Jun 14: 1:30pm

Dead Line
Using Ariel Dorfman’s classic poems of exile and the “disappeared” as read by Bono, Emma Thompson, Juliet Stevenson, Harold Pinter and others, the film follows a desperate Iraqi exile (Art Malik) through the streets of London in search of a magical phone from which he can call home and find out the fate of his brother at the hands of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship.

THE RECRUITER New York Premiere
Edet Belzberg, US, 2008; 86m
Fri Jun 13: 4:00pm; Sat Jun 14: 9:15pm; Sun Jun 15: 1:00pm

Bringing new meaning to the slogan “An Army of One,” The Recruiter follows US Army Sergeant First Class Clay Usie, one of the most successful recruiters in America, as he seeks out the young men and women of Houma, Louisiana. Sergeant Usie’s infectious ‘can do’ spirit draws in the kids, and he begins working with some of them three to four years before they are able to enlist. He becomes their mentors, their role models, and in some cases their surrogate fathers, as he trains beside his recruits and pushes them to their physical limits to prepare for Army basic training boot camp. But the realities of the war hit closer to home as the death count in Iraq for soldiers from the Houma area begins to rise and fewer and fewer civilians are willing to enlist. Four of Sergeant Usie’s recruits, Chris, Bobby, Lauren, and Matt, enter boot camp inflated with Sergeant Usie’s vim and vigor and talk of brotherhood and pride, but are soon confronted by the realities of the day-to-day life of a soldier. Sergeant Usie has prepared them for the physical brutality of boot camp, but can anyone prepare them for the emotional and psychological hardship that separation from their families, boot camp, and actual combat will bring? Official Selection, Sundance Film Festival 2008. Presented in association with Margaret Mead Film & Video Festival. This HBO Documentary Film premieres on HBO on July 28th.

THIS WAY UP New York Premiere
Georgi Lazarevski, France, 2007; 60m. In Arabic.
OPEN HEART New York Premiere
Claire Fowler, UK/Palestine, 2006; 22m. In Arabic and English.
Tue Jun 24: 9:00pm; Wed Jun 25: 1:00pm and 6:15pm

This Way Up
Just east of Jerusalem lies the formerly bucolic Our Lady of Pains, a senior citizens’ home for Palestinians. A few meters from the front door rises the grimly spectacular and unavoidable wall of separation, whose unstoppable progression gradually isolates the seniors from their children’s visits, the outside world, even from the very staff that attends to them. With beautiful imagery, contemplative pacing, moments of laughter, and brilliant use of a quietly humorous ‘guide’—a memorable character with a trademark knitted cap, weathered expressive face, and savoring appreciation for smoking—filmmaker Lazarevski has fashioned a film whose political message grows like an approaching thundercloud.

Open Heart
An emotional journey highlighting the plight of the struggling Palestinian healthcare system under occupation. A Palestinian couple’s son’s life is threatened by congenital heart disease. A charity offers a life-saving surgery in Jerusalem, but to get there the family must make an uncertain trip through Israeli checkpoints.

UNDER THE BOMBS New York Premiere
Philippe Aractingi, France/Lebanon/UK/Belgium, 2007; 98m. In Arabic.
Tue Jun 17: 9:00pm; Thu Jun 19: 6:30pm

There is a fine line between fiction and documentary, and Lebanese filmmaker Philippe Aractingi walks this line stunningly in his new film, Under the Bombs. Aractingi takes us to Lebanon, to the Israeli-Hezbollah war of summer 2006, and combines real footage of the massive destruction with a moving narrative story. The Israelis have just bombed the south. Into the chaos comes Zeina (Nada Abou Farhat), a Shiite woman in her thirties, searching for her sister and her six-year-old son, both of who are reported missing. Zeina pays Tony, a Christian taxi driver, who is the only driver willing to take her to the south. At first they keep their distance, but during the search they grow closer. Aractingi captures remarkable and unscripted scenes, as Zeina and Tony encounter victims of the war and sights of bombed-out buildings, witness a Hezbollah rally, and see peacekeeping forces and international journalists arrive. The only side that Aractingi takes is the side of the civilian victims. Under the Bombs asks us to join Zeina and Tony’s journey and keep our eyes open throughout.

Tickets: Single screening tickets for the 2008 Human Rights Watch International Film Festival are $11 for adults, $7 for Film Society members and students with a valid photo ID, and $8 for seniors. They are available at both the Walter Reade Theater box office and online at www.filmlinc.com. HRWIFF08 Series Pass ($40 public/$30 Film Society member) admits one person to five titles in the festival. Available only at the Walter Reade Theater box office (cash only). Additional information is available online at www.filmlinc.com and http://www.hrw.org/iff/, or by calling (212) 875-5600.


THE 19TH ANNUAL HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVALCo-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln CenterJune 13-26 at the Walter Reade Theater
Program of 32 Films from 20 Countries—including 31 New York Premieres
NEW YORK, May 14, 2008 – Each year countless talented filmmakers work against long odds, short finances and threatening politics to bring to the screen powerful stories of human struggle, sacrifice and triumph. The Human Rights Watch International Film Festival returns to the Walter Reade Theater this June to bring some of the most compelling of these stories to New York audiences. Co-presented by Human Rights Watch and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the 19th annual festival will run from June 13 to 26, featuring 19 feature-length films and 13 shorts from 20 countries, including 31 New York premieres. The festival is especially proud that this year’s program features an unprecedented 20 films by women.
The festival launches on Friday, June 13 with A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman, with the film's namesake and renowned author of “Death and the Maiden” present to introduce this extraordinary documentary. In 1973, the coup in Chile sent Dorfman into exile and killed many of his friends. Director Peter Raymont follows him on an emotional journey back to Chile as he recalls that tumultuous period and its consequences. Mr. Dorfman receives a special spotlight later in the festival when two films that he wrote with his son Rodrigo, Prisoners in Time (1995) and Dead Line (1998), will be featured. A Promise to the Dead will be followed opening night by To See If I’m Smiling in which six young Israeli women talk with bracing candor about their experiences during their mandatory military service in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Director and former Israel Defense Forces soldier Tamar Yarom will present the film.
Women are also on the frontlines in festival centerpiece The Sari Soldiers, by New York-based filmmaker Julie Bridgham, this year’s recipient of the festival’s Nestor Almendros Award for courage and commitment in filmmaking. The film follows six Nepali women on opposing sides of Nepal's armed conflict as they bravely fight to transform their country's future.
On Thursday, June 26, two closing night films offer sobering tales of the profound personal cost many pay in the fight for justice. Letter to Anna tells the story of the life and tragic death of crusading Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered in 2006 by a gunman who some believe was an operative of the government of which she was openly critical. In USA vs. Al-Arian, our own government is implicated in this intimate portrait of Palestinian-American activist Dr. Sami Al-Arian and his family during his federal trial on terrorism-related charges.
One of the most shameful legacies of America’s past is invoked in Traces of the Trade, in which director Katrina Browne and nine relatives trace their roots as the largest slave-trading family in American history. In this bicentennial year of the U.S. abolition of the slave trade, the film offers powerful new perspectives on the black/white divide.
Four more superb documentaries by American women will be showcased at this year’s festival. Acclaimed cinematographer Ellen Kuras’s gorgeously shot The Betrayal (Nerakhoon), co-directed by Thavisouk Phrasavath, movingly chronicles 23 years in the life of a Laotian family who escaped the ravages of the Vietnam War to resettle in New York. From Senain Kheshgi and Geeta V. Patel comes the world premiere of Project Kashmir, in which the directors, two American friends from opposite sides of the divide, investigate the war in Kashmir and find their friendship tested over deeply rooted religious biases they never had to face in the U.S. Edet Belberg’s The Recruiter takes a compelling look at army recruitment in this country through the story of Louisiana Sergeant Clay Usie, one of the most successful recruiters in the history of the Army. In the Sundance award-winning The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo, filmmaker Lisa F. Jackson documents the tragic plight of women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo who are raped in the name of war.
Africa is also the focus of The Dictator Hunter which follows tireless Human Rights Watch lawyer Reed Brody and Chadian political refugee Souleymane Guengueng as they pursue former president Hissène Habré of Chad, under whose regime tens of thousands of citizens were tortured and killed. "If you kill one person, you go to jail. If you kill 40 people, they put you in an insane asylum,” says Brody, who will attend the festival screenings. "But if you kill 40,000 people, you get a comfortable exile with a bank account in another country, and that’s what we want to change here."
Films from Latin America and the Middle East have become perennial features of the program and this year is no exception. Like A Promise to the Dead, the Chilean filmCalle Santa Fe returns to the brutal Pinochet regime and post-revolutionary exile through filmmaker Carmen Castillo’s deeply personal journey back to her homeland, which she fled in 1974 after her husband, a leftist leader, was killed. From Brazil comes Maria Ramos's Behave, which follows the process of minors who have fallen into the hands of Rio de Janeiro’s troubled juvenile court system and detention centers. Middle Eastern offerings include the feature drama Under the Bombs, a poignant tale of a Lebanese woman's search for her young son in the aftermath of the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon in 2006, and This Way Up, where a group of elderly Palestinians learn to live with the everyday changes, restrictions and surprises created when the West Bank Wall is erected just yards from their door. Playing in the same program as This Way Up, Open Heart highlights the plight of the Palestinian healthcare system struggling under occupation, while the shortDeadly Playground (preceding the Israeli film To See If I’m Smiling) looks at a young boy’s fascination with cluster bombs dropped by Israeli forces in south Lebanon in 2006.
Other highlights of this year’s program include Roger Weisberg’s Critical Condition, which reveals the impact of being sick and uninsured in this country; American Outrage, a portrait of two elderly Shoshone sisters who’ve been fighting against the U.S. government’s attempts to take over their land in Nevada (showing with the Kenyan land-rights short Rightful Place); and China’s Stolen Children, an investigation into how China’s one-child policy has led to a boom in stolen children, with an estimated 70,000 children kidnapped there every year and traded on the black market. The spotlight is also on China in the annual HRW photography exhibit in the Film Society’s Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery, adjacent to the Walter Reade Theater, in which photographer Kadir van Lohuizen shows the world a side of Beijing that Olympic organizers would prefer to conceal.
In partnership with the Adobe Foundation, the festival is pleased to announce the inaugural edition of Youth Producing Change, a special program of nine short films directed and produced by youth from across the globe. Armed with digital cameras and their own boundless creativity, these young people bravely expose human rights issues faced by themselves and their communities. Many of the teenage filmmakers will be making the trip to New York to present their work.
Each year, Human Rights Watch endorses select First Run Feature films that fit within the Human Rights Watch mission. This year they have added a new dimension to the partnership by screening five of the HRW Selects Film Series as part of the festival proper – Monday, June 16 to Friday, June 20, daily at 4:00 p.m. Please checkwww.filmlinc.com or www.hrw.org/iff for descriptions of the films.
Single screening tickets for the 2008 Human Rights Watch International Film Festival are $11 for adults, $7 for Film Society members and students with a valid photo ID, and $8 for seniors. They are available at both the Walter Reade Theater box office and online at www.filmlinc.com. HRWIFF08 Series Pass ($40 public/$30 Film Society member) admits one person to five titles in the festival. Available only at the Walter Reade Theater box office (cash only). Additional information is available online at www.filmlinc.com andwww.hrw.org/iff, or by calling (212) 875-5600.
Please note: Due to construction work taking place around Lincoln Center, access to the Walter Reade Theater is at 165 West 65th Street close to Amsterdam Avenue. Once there, take the escalator, elevator or stairs to the upper level.