Film festival draws attention to human rights issues

The 11th annual Syracuse University Human Rights Film Festival will feature five films that tackle human rights issues.

Art and social justice will intersect at the 11th annual Syracuse Human Rights Film Festival.

The festival, which is free and open to the public, will show five films from Thursday, Sept. 26, through Saturday, Sept. 28.

Presented by the Syracuse University Humanities Center and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, each of the films selected showcases important human rights issues from around the world.

Photo: Courtesy of Tula Goenka
"The Act of Killing," one of the most acclaimed films of the year, employs the styles of various Hollywood genres to tell the story of Indonesian death squads in the 1960s.

The opening film, Rafea: Solar Mama, will screen at the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium in Newhouse 3 on Thursday. All subsequent screenings will take place at the Life Sciences Complex Auditorium from Friday through Saturday. Each screening will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the filmmakers, either in person or via Skype.

The festival is directed by Syracuse University professors Tula Goenka and Roger Hallas, who founded the festival in 2003. Goenka said that they wanted to showcase human rights and social justice issues in film after 9/11.

“We felt it was important to bring attention to these issues,” Goenka said. “The festival brings these films to people who might not see them otherwise.”

Last year’s films included Call Me Kuchu, about gay rights in Uganda, and The Invisible War, about sexual abuse of women in the military. The former was released to wide acclaim this year and will see DVD and Video on Demand release Friday. The latter was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Goenka said it was heartening to see some of the films find wider audiences.

The movies are selected by Goenka and Hallas, who search for them at festivals and online. Goenka said it is not only essential that the films showcase human rights, but also that they be of high quality. This year’s films include Off Label, about the pervasiveness of pharmaceutical drugs in America, Intersexion, about those born without fitting neatly into the male-female gender divide, and Kai Po Che!, about three Indian teens living through the Gujarat riots of 2002.

“We try to find films from all over the world,” Goenka said. “We want to represent a variety of human rights issues from different regions.”

Goenka is particularly happy to present Rafea: Solar Mama, about a woman who studied to become Jordan’s first solar engineer, for its emphasis on women’s rights.

Perhaps the most notable film in the festival, however, is The Act of Killing, one of the most acclaimed films of the year. The movie follows former Indonesian death squad leaders to recreate the executions they presided over in the style of Hollywood movie genres, from crime dramas to musicals. Goenka and Hallas chose The Act of Killing as one of the festival’s selections before the film saw wide release and acclaim this year. The film’s executive producers include acclaimed directors Errol Morris (The Fog of War) and Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man), the latter of whom said that he had “not seen a film as powerful, surreal, and frightening in at least a decade.”

Goenka and Hallas have dedicated this year’s festival to Liberian journalist Rodney Sieh and Canadian filmmaker John Greyson, who are currently imprisoned in Liberia and Egypt, respectively.

Sieh visited Syracuse from 2002 to 2003 and wrote for The Post-Standard, and has kept connections to the Newhouse School and Syracuse University ever since.

Greyson’s case made headlines recently when Canadian filmmakers Atom Egoyan, Alex Gibney, and Sarah Polley made a plea at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival for Greyson’s release.

“We dedicated the festival to them because we wanted to show support for those who stand up for free speech,” Goenka said.

Public parking will be available for $5 on Thursday at University Avenue Garage and for free on Friday evening and all of Saturday on Quad 4 on a first come, first served basis. For more information about the screenings and showtimes, visit the Human Rights Film Festival's website.

Muse House Film Reviews:

Rafea: Solar Mama
Off Label
The Act of Killing
Kai Po Che!

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