Tuesday, October 20, 2009


HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH DVD COLLECTION


Religious fundamentalism and extreme nationalism are dangerous. Most of us know that. But perhaps more dangerous than these is our own collective ennui at social and political injustice that prevents our protests and voices as groups or nations. You are rocked by this feeling a thousand times over with the Human Rights Watch DVD Collection, showcasing documentary films that deal with abuse and violation throughout the world. The seven films in this collection span the globe to reveal glimpses of the provocative stories from far-flung lands: Tibetan refugees in exile in India, young workers in the silver mines of Bolivia, young men and women in the by-lanes of the Middle and Far East, and horrific killings of ordinary people by powerful regimes.

But first the story of the protesters. In 1971, a group of twenty-eight people called America's Conscience broke into a New Jersey draft board office to destroy government draft records that identified young men for military service. Arrested because of betrayal by one of their own, these people were labeled Camden 28 by the U.S. government. A court case followed in which judge and jury made a landmark decision and returned a verdict of not guilty. The Camden 28 is this story.

In Jihad for Love (Dangerous Living), gay filmmaker Parvez Sharma travels through the Islamic world to unveil the hidden lives of gay and lesbian Muslims, many of who have no choice but to leave their home and land for safer shores. Yet others choose to stay behind and fight for a life of dignity and social acceptance. Despite threats, imprisonment and castigation, they carry on, confident that things will eventually change.

From director Sabiha Samar of Pakistan comes Silent Waters, a film set in the days of dictator Zia-ul-Haq's rise to power. The lives of a mother and son living peacefully in a village become intertwined with fundamentalism, and long-forgotten events and scars from the past suddenly threaten the future. The film juxtaposes the events of the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan with the Islamic fundamentalism in the '80s. With the rise of fundamentalism, the horrors of Partition are almost revisited.

Equally horrific are the scenes from S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine. Director Rithy Pahn takes us into the world of the Khmer and their murderous inhumanity through the eyes of a survivor who finally confronts his captors. This is a difficult film to watch: staring at the face of the men who killed millions in cold blood is never easy.

Dreaming Lhasa presents one face of a Tibetan world, that of exile in Dharamsala, India. Directors Ritu Sareen and Tenzing Sonam's film is the story of Karma, a Tibetan filmmaker in New York who travels to Dharamsala to make a movie about exile. While filming her subject, she meets a monk from Tibet who is searching for a particular man. His search symbolizes Karma's own journey to come to terms with her legacy. Through the monk and their trip to meet other Tibetans by traveling across India from Dharamsala to Delhi to Rajasthan, one sees through the prism of the exiled.

Another poignant film in this collection is The Devil's Miner, the story of young brothers Basilio and Bernardino, who work in the Bolivian silver mines of Cerro Rico. Living under the yoke of poverty and grave danger, these brothers follow in the footsteps of other miners who believe and pray to the Devil they believe watches over them. Statues of devils across the tunnels of the mines and offerings made to them are the only source of comfort for these boys. Yet, despite the poverty and danger to their lives, these children have hope for the future - a future where an education funded by their earnings from the mine will bring a new and better life.

Equally affecting is the story of Jean Donovan (Roses in December), a young American missionary who was brutally slain by El Salvador's military. The film chronicles her life, her upbringing in Connecticut, and her desire to join the Catholic Church and work amongst the poor El Salvadorians at a time when leftist rebels were fighting the military regime. The church became a target for the military junta because of its anti-poverty programs, and Jean and three American nuns paid for their idealism with their lives.

The films contained in the Human Rights Watch DVD Collection, most of them multiple award-winners from various film festivals and organizations, faithfully represent the partnership between Human Rights Watch and the socially conscious filmmaking from First Run Features in their partnered effort to open the eyes we try to keep shut tight against ongoing depravity and inhumanity in a world we share with too many unluckier than we.

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