The last year has been a particularly turbulent one worldwide. The One World International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival is quick to step up to the plate with the protests and unrest in various parts of the globe as a main theme.
The festival, which is organized by the nonprofit group People in Need (Člověk v tísni), runs in Prague March 6–15 with screenings at seven venues across the city. After the festival wraps in Prague, smaller versions of the festival will run in 40 regional cities across the country. Its final reprise will be in Brussels from May 14–23.
The Youth Quake category is new for this year and has 15 films. “The main thematic category is focused on current protests in various parts of the world; 2011 has entered the history books thanks to unexpected, spontaneous and widespread uprisings against the corrupt cliques in power in Arab countries such as Tunisia, Syria, Egypt, Bahrain and Libya,” festival media coordinator Filip Šebek told Czech Position.
“However, the selection … also captures the disagreement with the state of contemporary society expressed by young people in established democracies, whether they are ‘radioactivists’ in Japan or demonstrators opposed to the current system in Spain and Greece.”
Spain is the focus of “Essay of a Revolution,” while Greece is covered in “The Prism GR2011 — Krisis.” The nuclear catastrophe in Japan is the subject of “Radioactivists — Protest in Japan since Fukushima.” Another highlight in this section is “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front,” which was nominated for but did not win the Oscar for Best Documentary.
While the reinvigoration of youth garnered the most headlines, that doesn’t mean that ongoing human rights issues from previous years have lost relevance. Human trafficking, conflict, bullying, corporate greed and the environment can be found in the festival’s remaining nine categories. All the films that made the final cut had to meet stringent criteria. “From 1,600 films we finally selected 106 films from 44 countries. During the selection process we stress not just the content of the films but also the way the film is done. It must be well-made without any technical mistakes, which is very common problem,” Šebek said.
Eyes on the prize
The festival is also a chance for some of the films to get some recognition, and hopefully further screenings. The main competition and the Right to Know categories each have specific prizes, while films in all categories are eligible for the Václav Havel Award and Czech Radio Award, as well as the Bageterie Boulevard Audience Award.
The main competition has 15 films vying for Best Picture and Best Director prizes. The competing films throw a wide net — from trafficking of Eastern European women in “The Price of Sex” to protests over loss of land to Israeli settlements in “5 Broken Cameras.” The title of the latter refers to damage done to the filmmaker’s equipment over the years.
Šebek recommends “Bombay Beach,” the debut feature from Israeli director Alma Har’el. The film is about Salton Sea, an artificial lake in the middle of the California desert. “Dubbed the ‘American dream gone horribly awry,’ this bizarre and uninhabitable place is filled with poor and unemployed families,” Šebek said. The blend of images from the daily lives of the protagonists with music from Bob Dylan and indie band Beirut points to the director’s experience with music videos.
Another of Šebek’s favorites is “The Island President,” about Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives. The film benefits from well-known songs by alternative rock band Radiohead and fascinating aerial footage. “The charismatic President Nasheed strove to prevent the Maldives from disappearing beneath the ocean. At present, however, unrest has convulsed the islands, and has forced the president to step down.” He resigned Feb. 7, 2012, due to protests. The film catches him while he is still in office.
Many filmmakers will be on hand to introduce their films. One not to be missed in Marc Isaacs, whose latest film “Outside the Court” tracks people found near a municipal court in England over the course of several months as their cases progress. Isaacs has been making documentaries since 2001 and has received numerous awards and accolades, including an honorary doctorate from the University of East London.
Masha Novikova will introduce the festival world premiere of “Sweet Smoke of the Fatherland.” Three elderly people show how conflicts in Europe in the 20th century — the Spanish Civil War, World War II on the Russian front and the struggle for independence in Abkhazia — affected their lives.
Not all of the entries are gloomy. “I am a Woman Now ” finds people who had had surgery to become women back in the 1960s and ’70s. Nobody in the film regrets their decisions. But time has taken its toll, as it does on everyone.
The Right to Know category is another key component of the festival. It brings investigative documentaries that explore overlooked human rights issues. The films in this section compete for the Rudolf Vrba Award, named for a survivor or Auschwitz who became a champion of human rights. A few competing films also fit into this year’s topic. “This award means a lot for the director. It says that his movie is really important in a topic of human rights,” Šebek said.
The unrest in Egypt is covered in “Back to the Square.” Filmmaker Petr Lom interviews people involved in all sides of the most recent protests. The interviews help to show that the change sought in the original uprising has been slow to materialize. The film is set for the festival opening, which is by invitation. It will also have three additional screenings that are open to the public. Lom is on the grand jury that will give out the main prizes. A different jury, however, decides this contest.
Hardline politics in former Soviet countries plays into “Who Killed Natasha?” about the death of Natasha Estemirova, who was shot and dumped by the side of a road in Chechnya. The film tries to investigate several murders of people who were critical of the regime in Chechnya as well as of Vladimir Putin in Russia.
An unusual entry is “Boxing Girls of Kabul,” which shows three young women trying to not only break into sports — forbidden for women under the Taliban — but go into a traditionally man’s arena. The young women have set a high goal, winning gold in the next Olympics.
The category With or Without You delves into social influences that are breaking up the traditional family. Highlights in this category include “Hitler’s Children,” which looks at how descendants of top Nazi officials cope with their family legacies. One visits schools to campaign against neo-Nazi groups, another moved to Israel.
In “No Entry No Exit” a man a who served 15 years in jail for sexually assaulting two hitchhikers tries to move in with his brother in a rural area. Local people, though, protest as they claim he still poses a threat. While this film takes place in Germany, the same issue plays out worldwide.
The environment and beyond
The environment continues to be a concern in the So-Called Civilization category. The French documentary “Detroit Wild City” takes us to the ruined parts of the city that once was the center for the US automobile industry. Some people make efforts to tear down disused structures so they can’t become drug dens. Others reclaim land to turn it into urban farms for vegetables.
Another highlight is “You’ve Been Trumped,” an investigative piece about the impact of golf course developed by Donald Trump on the local people in Scotland. Despite protests the project was approved by Parliament and local farmers saw their water cut off. Filmmaker Anthony Baxter was arrested during the film’s production.
Highly acclaimed and award winning films from the last two years are in the Panorama category. These range from “The Substance,” a history of the hallucinogenic drug LSD to “Girl Model,”an unglamorous examination of what happens to a teenage girl from Novosibirsk who tries her luck in Japan.
While there is no award for most intriguing title, if there were it would definitely go to “The Redemption of General Butt Naked.” The film is quite serious though. The general mentioned in the title was noted for his cruelty in Liberia’s Civil War. More recently he has been an evangelical preacher. The film asks if his previous actions can be forgiven.
Made in the Czech Republic
Eight Czech-made documentaries have their own category. “Big as Brno” is the latest from Vít Klusák, who made his name with “Czech Dream.” Klusák and six of his students each documented different aspects of a neo-Nazi march and efforts to peaceably stop it. David Vondráček introduces us to a couple that has made their home in an abandoned cemetery in “Love in the Grave.” Music fans should check out “Punk in Africa,” by Prague-based U.S. director Keith Jones. Art closer to home is the topic of “Trafačka — Temple of Freedom,” which tracks the life of an artists’ colony in a building that is slated for demolition.
More local interest can be found in the People in Need — 20 Years section which features eight films that explore specific projects that the festival’s sponsoring organization has undertaken across the world. Short films and documentaries for kids round out the festival categories.
A few of the films are available to the public so they can be screened for small audiences. They are marked in the schedule with a Be Your Won Projectionist logo. “This program is alternative way of distribution of human rights documentaries that is unique in the Czech Republic,” Šebek said.
“Anyone can write us that he would like to borrow a film … and make a projection for his friends at home, in a cinema or wherever he wants. The only obligation is that this projection must be for free,” Šebek said. Currently, 13 films from the One World catalog have been licensed so they can be distributed for free.
This isn’t the first year for the project. “Since 2010 some 800 people joined this program and have made 2,500 projections at different places — at home, churches, schools, gardens, libraries, clubs etc. The projections were seen by more than 25,000 people,”Šebek said.
One World International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival
Main venue: Lucerna, Vodičkova 36, Prague 1
Other venues: Světozor, Atlas, Evald, the French Institute, the Municipal Library and Ponrepo
Tickets: Kč 80; festival pass Kč 450 (restrictions apply)
All films in English or with English subtitles except for the Docs for Kids section