By Indiewire | Indiewire June 11, 1999 at 2:00AM
FESTIVALS: Human Rights Watch Celebrates Decade with Pakula, Paskaljevic, and
by Anthony Kaufman
Alan J. Pakula's classic paranoid thriller "The Parallax View" kicks off
the 10th annual Human Rights Watch International Film Festival (HRWIFF)
tomorrow night (June 11) at New York's Walter Reade Theater in honor of the
late great director's passing last year. At the festival two years ago,
Pakula was awarded the Irene Diamond Lifetime Achievement Award for human
rights, celebrating his work as a socially conscious filmmaker. Together
with the Fund for Free Expression and Hannah Pakula, the director also
helped found Film Watch, a forum in which well-known participants protest
against the censoring of films. The HRWIFF will close two weeks and 33 films later
with Sergei Eisenstein's first feature, the 1924 film about a tragic workers revolt, "Strike."
In between, Yugoslav director Goran Paskaljevic's new film "Cabaret Balkan"
(formerly "The Powder Keg") will screen in a special Festival Centerpiece
slot. Also focusing on the troubled Yugoslav region, Norwegian director
Maria Fuglevaag Warsinski screens her hard-hitting doc on Srebenica, "Crime
and Punishment." In a phone conversation early this week, Festival
Director Bruni Burres noted that entries about the war-torn area were high
this year: "There were a number of films, mostly documentaries, that dealt
with that part of the world. These, we thought, were the two strongest."
Pleasantly surprised at the number of powerful and heartfelt films in the
program, she added, "It is so difficult to make films, any kinds of films
outside of the mainstream systems, so how striking it is that we're getting
so many strong films, both documentaries and fiction." Burres posits a
possible reason: "Filmmakers are deciding that it is so difficult to make a
film, so they might as well make a film about something that they really
care about -- social issues and social concerns."
This sense of philanthropic filmmaking can be seen in a special program
called "Spotlights on a Massacre," a series of ten short films screening
prior to the features that protest the existence of land mines.
Commissioned by Handicap International and co-produced by French director
Bertrand Tavernier's Little Bear Productions, the series includes
contributions from such notable directors as Tavernier, Germany's Volker
Schlondorff, Spain's Fernando Trueba, France's Mathieu Kassovitz, Egypt's
Youssef Chahine, and Belgium's Jaco van Dormael.
Also notable this year is a look at the "black" in blacklist. "Scandalize
my Name: Stories from the Blacklist" is Alexandra Isles' hour-long
testament to African Americans who confronted McCarthy's persecution. A
more hopeful view of African Americans of the era can be seen in, "A Season
of Change," playing in tandem with "Scandalize my Name," a documentary
about baseball legend Jackie Robinson. A special presentation of Robert
Wise's 1959 noir "Odds Against Tomorrow" will also screen, followed by a
panel discussion with the film's star Harry Belafonte and its blacklisted screenwriter
Abraham Polonsky. To add to the interconnecting cross-section of human rights
themes, Greta Schiller's documentary "The Man Who Drove with Mandela,"
co-presented with The New Festival, adds homosexual prejudice on top of the
injustices of racism and political oppression.
In a festival usually regarded for its scathing documentaries, this year's
program holds just as many powerful narrative films. Burres noted, "I feel
this is one of the strongest years for fiction films -- and from filmmakers
from all over the world." Anticipated New York premieres include David
Riker's "La Ciudad" -- which won this year's Nestor Almendros cash prize;
two films from India, a special screening of acclaimed director Deepha
Mehta's "Earth," the follow-up to her controversial third feature "Fire,"
and Santosh Sivan's highly regarded "The Terrorist;" and three South
American stories, Victor Gaviria's "The Rose Seller" (Columbia), the latest
film from "Tangos: The Exile of the Gardel" director Fernando Solanas, "The
Cloud" (Argentina/France), and Alberto Durant's "Coraje."
NY doc premieres include "American Chain Gang" directed by Xackery Irving,
Joan Grossman and Paul Rosdy's HBO Signature film "The Port of Last
Resort," and two Oscar-nominees, Barbara Sonneborn's "Regret to Inform" --
which shared the Nestor Alemendros cash prize with Riker's film -- and
"Sunrise Over Tiananmen Square" directed by Shui-Bo Wang.
Commenting on the social significance of the 10-year-old festival, Burres
concluded, "Films are powerful and they can really affect people -- and its
through this affecting that you can motivate people, that they can become
aware of issues that they were not aware of -- that the news can really
anaesthetize you to. If people can go and see a documentary about what
happened in Srebenica or a drama about Serbia, then maybe they can gain a
different understanding of that place."
Beginning in September, the HRWIFF will travel to select cities across the
country, including St. Louis, Seattle, Los Angeles, Long Island, North
Carolina, western Massachusetts, with plans for a London exhibition in
March of next year.
Check the indieWIRE archives for our interviews with Nestor Almendros
Prize winners Barbara Sonneborn and David Riker: