Preview: Syracuse University Human Rights Film Festival celebrates 10th anniversary

The festival will feature documentaries and a multimedia photo essay from Sept. 20-22 at the Life Sciences Auditorium.

The Syracuse University Human Rights Film Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary this year at the Life Sciences Auditorium. From Sept. 20-22, SUHRFF will showcase five documentaries and a multimedia photo essay film to highlight social issues and injustices around the world.

SUHRFF has dedicated this year to the memory of Transmedia and Fulbright Scholar Bassel Al Shahade who was killed in Homs, Syria in May while working as a citizen journalist. Using his filmmaking talents to create media that informs and educates, Shahade’s work symbolizes the spirit of the festival's "memory-media-archive," which is part of the 2012 Syracuse Symposium.

Oscar and Emmy-nominated filmmaker Kirby Dick’s documentary The Invisible War opens SUHRFF on Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. The film is an investigation into the epidemic of rape of women and men within the US military. “It’s a sensitive subject that’s just not talked about,” said professor Tula Goenka, festival co-director and Newhouse professor. “The issue addressed in the film isn’t happening in a distant land somewhere, but right under our noses.”

Fellow co-director professor Roger Hallas of The College of Arts and Sciences said, “It raises all sorts of questions on sexual violence in the military that are important not just nationally but locally as well.” A panel discussion will follow the film with Rebekah Havrilla from the Service Women’s Action Network.

Addressing the Symposium’s theme of memory-media-archive, Dean Gregg Lambert of the Syracuse Humanities Center said, “Memory very much depends on media in the modern age, and there are several genres like textual, film, web and digital now. The process of converting a past moment in our collective memory through media into an archive raises the question of who controls it and how it exists.”

In keeping with this theme, the second documentary The Mexican Suitcase focuses on three legendary photojournalists discovering unique film negatives of the Spanish Civil War in Mexico City, and is a revealing insight into the politics of war and role of media in wartime. Director Trisha Ziff will conduct a Q-and-A after the film.

“It’s an interesting moment in media right now because with digital convergence, the distances and distinctions between different media are beginning to blur,” said Hallas. Walter Astrada’s photojournalist essay Undesired, which captures the societal pressure resulting in violence against women in India, exemplifies this multiplatform integration of media. “It brings together different kinds of media to create interesting hybrids. It’s what I call ‘animated journalism,’” said Hallas.

It is Linda Goldstein Knowlton’s documentary Somewhere Between exploring the lives of four Chinese girls adopted in American families that Goenka said she is really excited about. “I think people, especially mothers, would really respond to this film and its issues of identity, parenthood and belonging.”

Since 2003, SUHRFF has had increasing success and is now a recognized part of SU life. “The festival audiences have been growing year after year, and it’s helped to establish a presence on campus,” said Hallas, “A lot of faculty find it really helpful to have this event in terms of mixing film into their syllabi as an enhancement to the teaching attitude, but it’s also a public event, a community event on the campus. It’s way of bringing people together to discuss important issues.”

The biggest challenge of accomplishing a programming film festival in the community is building an audience. “It’s not just about selecting the work or creating a brand," said Hallas, "but about creating an event that people put down on their calendar every year as a great film festival.”

“The Symposium’s role helps build upon the student audiences by bringing and integrating more and more members of the larger community into the student’s cultural life as well,” said Lambert. “And also, to make a festival like SUHRFF available to the community to take advantage of.”

As festival co-directors, Goenka and Hallas go through a highly selective process in choosing the films. “We talk to colleagues, filmmakers, curators, festival programmers, ask them recommendations and then select work that can be exciting,” said Hallas. “It’s not something that’s easily accessible through Netflix or streaming.”

“We have had very good feedback from students,” said Goenka. “A lot of them see it as enriching their experience of college life. We have also had community members who really appreciate us addressing certain issues.”

“I wish there were no problems in the world, and I didn’t have to organize a festival highlighting the worst in human society,” said Goenka. “But that’s wishful thinking. With more and more people caring about documentaries and social issues, who knows? That day might come.”


The Syracuse University Human Rights Festival is free and open to all public.

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.