Human Rights Film Festival Educates About International Issues

Annual Syracuse Human Rights Film Festival screened documentaries throughout the weekend.

The 14th annual Syracuse University Human Rights Film Festival wrapped up on Saturday after three days of documentary screenings that shed light on humanitarian issues across the world, such as the sovereignty of indigenous lands, the Syrian refugee crisis and LGBTQ rights.

“This festival is mainly for college students,” said founder Tula Goenka, who co-directed the event with fellow SU professor Roger Hallas. “Besides going to school and earning a degree, you will have to think: What is your responsibility as a human being? How are you going to give back to society?”

“Besides going to school and earning a degree, you will have to think: What is your responsibility as a human being?"
-Tula Goenka

The festival began on Thursday with a screening of the film “The Man Who Saw Too Much.” Ariel Award-winning director Trisha Ziff introduced the film, speaking about her experience making a film that focused on a photojournalist’s challenges in Mexico.

“The film goes beyond culture and photography to talk about the reality in Mexico today,” Ziff said. “More journalists and photographers today are murdered in Mexico than any other country in the world.”

In addition to Q&A sessions with directors in person or via Skype, this year’s festival also invited local Syrian refugees to share their thoughts about the international human rights abuses discussed in the films. Kowal La, a student at the Syracuse University College of Law who delivered humanitarian aid in Syria during the crisis, spoke after a screening of “The Crossing,” a documentary that chronicles the journey of Syrian refugees.

“Syrians became just a number we see on the news ticker,” La said. “It’s like global warming: We know it exists, we know it can affect our world, but at the same time we do nothing about it.”

Film-goers who attended the event shared positive reactions and reflected on what they learned from the films, including Amie Harper, 9, daughter of SU professor Ken Harper.

“People are suffering,” Harper said. “Someday they will be happy, definitely, but to be a regular human being, it’s not all goody-goodies.”

Goenka said this year’s festival was a success, and plans to work with the advertising department next year for an even better turnout at the 15th anniversary.

“If we could get even a few people to become involved in some way and start giving back,” Goenka said, “our purpose would have been served.”

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