Toronto Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Toronto Human Rights Watch Film Festival featured image

Reviewed by Marc Glassman

Helga Stephenson, the former Director of TIFF, has worked quietly and tirelessly on the Toronto Human Rights festival for years. She has to fight against the idea that this kind of programming is a big “yawn.” We all know that there are bad things happening in the world but it’s desperately hard to persuade audiences to come to see films exposing them. Particularly on a Saturday night.

Here’s one critic who urges you to go to some of these screenings–and not because I saw them at a early morning press screening with espressos on hand or on DVD one afternoon at home. Ms. Stephenson and programmer Alex Rogalski have found films that are truly innovative, artistic–and moving. There are no duds in this festival, which is filled with incisive, moving, finely crafted dramas and documentaries.

The opening night film The Green Wave is a case in point. Ali Samadi Ahadi’s doc on Iran’s attempt at a Green Revolution is shown through an impressive battery of montage and collage techniques, which gives a sense of the excitement engendered by the social networking done during those dramatic days. This is an exciting, visually appealing doc, which conveys the power of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to young Muslims in Iran, attempting to radically change their living situation.

Similarly, Laura Poitras’ multi-award-winning The Oath is an artfully composed and edited documentary about Abu Jandal, who had been Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard and Saim Hamdan, Jandal’s brother-in-law and a former bin Laden driver, who spent years in Guantanamo as a prisoner. Handal’s letters home make an eloquent contrast to Jandal’s personable explanations about his changing attitudes towards life and politics in the Muslim world–and the West.

In Life, Above All, Oliver Schmitz’s drama, attention is focused on Chanda, a Township girl in South Africa, who is coping with an alcoholic stepfather and an AIDS afflicted mother. Nominated for last years’ Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Film category, this is a beautifully made, deeply moving film.

I urge Classical 96 supporters to check out this well-organized and programmed festival.

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