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Human Rights Watch Traveling Film Festival

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This touring program of films drawn from the New York and London versions of the Human Rights Film Festival runs Friday through Thursday, May 9 through 15. Screenings will be at Facets Cinematheque. Tickets are $7, $5 for members; for more information call 773-281-4114. Films marked with an * are highly recommended.

FRIDAY, May 9

* Afghanistan Year 1380 and 500 Dunam on the Moon

About the first film Ted Shen writes, "In Jung (War): In the Land of the Mujaheddin (2001), Italian filmmakers Fabrizio Lazzaretti and Alberto Vendemmiati followed humanitarian aid workers through Taliban-controlled Afghanistan; they returned in October 2001, as the U.S. air war against the Taliban was raging, and in Afghanistan Year 1380 (2002, 54 min.) the need for help is even more urgent. Gino Strada and Kate Rowlands, two of the medicos in the first film, reopen their hospital in Kabul and begin treating the victims of bombing and ground skirmishes. Lazzaretti and Vendemmiati capture the hazards of filming on the front line as well as the gruesome casualties. The suffering--especially in the weeping of injured children--is horrific, yet the rescue efforts so intimately recorded hold promise for the future." In Dari (a Farsi dialect), Pashto, and Italian with subtitles. Of the second film Fred Camper writes, "Rachel Leah Jones's video documentary 500 Dunam on the Moon (2002, 48 min.) weaves a caustic indictment of the Israeli state from the threads of individual lives. Most of the inhabitants of Ayn Hawd, a 700-year-old Arab village, were expelled during the 1948 war and resettled in refugee camps. A minority who moved to the surrounding hills now serve as a labor pool for Ein Hod, a Jewish artists' colony that replaced the town. The Arabs are forbidden to install electricity in their houses; a Jewish woman opines that it 'isn't so bad' to grow up without it. Footage of a Jewish resident showing off the way his new home tastefully integrates elements of Arab architecture contrasts with an earlier pan across faces of the displaced, each of whom recites a few terse facts about his family's dispossession." In Arabic and Hebrew with subtitles. (7:00)

AUGUST

Avi Mograbi's 2002 video flirts with self-indulgence while using black humor to portray Israel in a state of schizophrenic collapse on the eve of the current intifada. Combining footage of his home life with documentary footage from the streets (where citizens and police challenge his right to film), Mograbi elucidates his hatred for the "scorching" month of August (and then, posing as his wife with a pink towel around his head, expresses "her" love for it). He subsequently shows us Jewish children who call for "stinking Arabs" to be burned out of their homes, and actresses auditioning for the role of the wife of Baruch Goldstein (perpetrator of the 1994 Hebron massacre of 29 Muslims) by reenacting her televised demand for the return of her husband's pistol. Opening and closing with scenes of national leaders, Mograbi depicts Israeli politics as a theater of the absurd. In Hebrew with subtitles. 72 min. (FC) (9:00)

SATURDAY, MAY 10

* Jung (War): In the Land of the Mujaheddin

During 1999 and early 2000, Italian TV documentarians Fabrizio Lazzaretti and Alberto Vendemmiati lugged their video cameras through the snowy mountains and barren valleys northeast of Kabul, following an Italian surgeon and a British nurse as they tried to build a hospital for casualties of Afghanistan's 20-year civil war. This 2000 video records frontline skirmishes between the Taliban and the mujahideen soldiers of the Northern Alliance, and though the latter are portrayed as popular heroes, Lazzaretti and Vendemmiati go out of their way to fathom the cruelty and religious fanaticism of the Taliban. The film is devastating in its treatment of the war's innocent victims and the medical team's desperate attempts to aid them; in one particularly heartrending sequence, a badly injured boy asks to be put out of his misery. This is essential viewing, and not just for artistic reasons. In Dari with subtitles. 114 min. (TS) (1:00)

Justifiable Homicide

Margarita Rosario, a Puerto Rican immigrant in the Bronx, lost her son and nephew in 1995 when they were gunned down by patrolmen during an alleged break-in; this 2001 documentary by Jon Osman and Jonathan Stack (The Farm: Angola, U.S.A.) builds a meticulous case against the police while following Rosario's campaign for justice. Relying largely on materials from a civilian review board (graphic crime-scene photos, interviews with those close to the teens), the filmmakers reconstruct the events leading up to the killings and piece together a likely scenario. The legal and technical minutiae are a bit overwhelming, and the lack of testimony from the accused cops (one of them a former bodyguard for Mayor Giuliani) makes the story even more one-sided. But the David-versus-Goliath drama is compelling, epitomized by a radio phone-in confrontation between Rosario and the mayor. 86 min. (TS) (3:30)

The Last Just Man

Sleekly produced for Canadian TV, this documentary (2001, 70 min.) revisits the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when a small UN peacekeeping force, forbidden to take action by the Security Council, watched Hutu tribesmen slaughter more than 800,000 of the Tutsi tribe. Director Steven Silver sorts through the tribal politics, colonial arrogance (Belgium had installed minority rule by the Tutsis because they were taller than the Hutus), and diplomatic gridlock (UN debates over semantics) to explain the inexcusable tragedy. Some key scenes are grippingly dramatized, but more disturbing are the images of corpses killed with machetes and the close-ups of General Romeo Dallaire, leader of the UN mission, who's still wracked with guilt. In English and subtitled French. (TS) (5:15)

The Eye of the Day

More an ethnographic collage than a news documentary, this 2001 feature by Leonard Retel Helmrich looks at Indonesia before and after the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998. Helmrich follows a housewife in noisy, polluted Jakarta as she bickers with her two grown sons, goes to the countryside to harvest rice, and returns in time for the antigovernment demonstrations. Along the way he cuts back and forth in time and place, stringing together verite and staged scenes and using Eisensteinian montage (in one sequence, a shot of schoolkids fervently singing the national anthem segues into angry protesters singing the same song). Touches like these communicate Indonesia's political transformation in what is otherwise a jumble of gorgeous sights and sounds. In Javanese and Bahasa with subtitles. 92 min. (TS) (6:45)

* War Photographer

Reading about Sean Flynn, the hotshot photojournalist in Michael Herr's Vietnam book Dispatches, I understood how much danger a person faces in that line of work; this 2001 profile of James Nachtwey, five-time winner of the Robert Capa Gold Medal for his war photography, asks how much human suffering one person can witness. Learning his craft in the 70s, Nachtwey was inspired by the social conscience behind the news photography of Vietnam and the civil rights struggle, and the film comes alive whenever his haunting black-and-white photos--of genocide in Kosovo, poverty in Jakarta, lynching in Ramallah, and famine in Rwanda--fill the frame. Swiss TV documentarian Christian Frei follows Nachtwey into the field with a microcam (a gambit that doesn't produce as much as it promises), and when he interviews superstar CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour and the keenly ambitious Reuters cameraman Des Wright, their digressions on their own careers illuminate the compassion and Zen-like calm with which Nachtwey approaches his work: their medium requires color, action, and adventure, while his still images of people in pain give us time to reflect on war at ground level. 96 min. (JJ) (8:30)

SUNDAY, MAY 11

Presumed Guilty

Pamela Yates and Peter Kinoy inject an element of TV drama into their 2002 documentary on the San Francisco public defender's office with a chronological tease: their chronicle of a major criminal trial begins moments before the verdict is to be rendered, then a title--"Two months earlier"--takes us back to the beginning. They've chosen some compelling cases, such as the contract killing of a hairdresser, but the overheated title misrepresents the cases' outcomes: seemingly innocent parties are acquitted and guilty ones convicted. Most fascinating are the emotional bonds that form between lawyers and their hapless clients, and the personal lives of the lawyers, one of whom is a haunted insomniac who shares his doubts and misgivings in a video diary kept at the producers' request. 119 min. (FC) (2:30)

Seven Days in Tehran

This 2002 debut feature by Iranian expatriate Reza Khatibi is vaguely autobiographical: exiled in Paris, an Iranian returns to Tehran with a French crew to shoot a documentary about young people. With this layered structure, the boundary between the real and the fictional is deliberately blurred, allowing Khatibi to put provocative words in his actors' mouths that might otherwise have been censored. The conceit gets precious after a while, and though the film touches on misogyny, cultural differences, and political repression, it's too chatty and digressive to maintain the generational sweep it seems to require. In Farsi and French with subtitles. 102 min. (TS) (4:45)

* Frontiers of Dreams and Fears and Profit and Nothing But

A moving cri de coeur for Palestinian refugees trapped by cruel Israeli restrictions, Mai Masri's video documentary Frontiers of Dreams and Fears (2002, 56 min.) focuses on two refugee camps, Dheisha in the West Bank and Shatila in Lebanon (where a 1982 massacre killed many families' fathers). Though the children in each camp describe it as a hopeless prison, they manage to meet and communicate with each other via videos and letters; in the documentary's emotional centerpiece they meet near a fence that divides Israel from Lebanon, dancing, crying, and exchanging food and gifts. But Masri's presentation of the issue is one-sided: she shows one child asking, "Why am I a refugee while someone else has his own country?" but makes no mention of the Arabs' half century of violent attempts to deny Jews a homeland. Raoul Peck's video essay Profit and Nothing But (2001, 57 min.) argues that capitalism is "spinning out of control." To make his case Peck intercuts footage of his native Haiti with strangely depopulated views of New York and Paris, but striking imagery is no substitute for analysis, and the theoretical segments, comprising interviews with European leftists and an intrusive narration, are lifelessly didactic. Aside from some details about the small profits to be earned in a Haitian market, Peck has no use for facts; the paucity of information he provides about its people, history, and culture ultimately fulfill Peck's weird declaration that Haiti "doesn't exist." In English, and subtitled French and Haitian Creole. (FC) (6:45)

MONDAY, MAY 12

* Afghanistan Year 1380 and 500 Dunam on the Moon

See listing for Friday, May 9. (7:00)

AUGUST

See listing for Friday, May 9. (9:00)

TUESDAY, MAY 13

The Eye of the Day

See listing for Saturday, May 10. (7:00)

* War Photographer

See listing for Saturday, May 10. (8:45)

WEDNESDAY, MAY 14

Presumed Guilty

See listing for Sunday, May 11. (6:30)

Seven Days in Tehran

See listing for Sunday, May 11. (8:45)

THURSDAY, MAY 15

Justifiable Homicide

See listing for Saturday, May 10. (7:00)

The Last Just Man

See listing for Saturday, May 10. (8:45)

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