Human Rights Watch at the Bell TIFF Lightbox

Watching Human Rights

Human Rights Watch is one of the most prominent independent human rights organizations, and it is dedicated to standing with victims and activists to prevent discrimination and uphold political justice. This is by no means an easy undertaking and the 2012 HRW International Film festival at the Bell TIFF LIghtbox is a testament to this organization’s drive for the emancipation of disadvantaged and tyrannized individuals worldwide.  Alex Rogalski, head programmer of the HRW festival alongside Helga Stephenson, explains that the partnership between HRW and TIFF is a natural choice for these films that deal with issues of such a demanding nature.“TIFF’s mandate is to change the way people see the world through film” says Rogalski, and “HRW is an independent organization committed to protecting human rights…the film festival gives them the opportunity to put a real human face on the issues their researchers are putting importance on”.

Possibly one of the most fascinating things about HRW’s steadfast mission is their stance as an active agency who also uses films and media as a means of calling attention to oppression to injustice. When asked if there have been any notable developments that have come about as a result of the HRW festival, Rogalski mentions this years’ Granito: How to Nail a Dictator as a prominent example. Director Pamela Yates’s decade spanning documentary features the only known footage of the Guatemalan army’s genocide of the Mayan peoples, and was used as evidence in an international war crimes case.

Still, the HWR festival’s irreplaceable value lies in its most base effort: to raise awareness of the issues that harrow societies and people ever closer and increasingly interrelated to our continent, all in an effort to put an end to injustice on a world wide scale.

The Price of Sex (2011)

Director: Mimi Charkova

Country: USA, United Arab Emirates, Bulgaria, Moldova, Greece, Turkey

Explaining that she left while still a youth, The Price of Sexdirector and human rights activist Mimi Charkova shows us grainy footage of her as a young girl dancing in the street her native Bulgaria. There is nothing joyous about these scenes, which quickly become eerie as Charkova’s sombre tone introduces the topic of her documentary.

It is in this dark manner that Price grounds itself, the only mode that can be used to discuss the disturbingly bolstered world of human sex trafficking that exists today. Charkova connects with sex trade survivors, most of whom explain the trickery used by traffickers in order to force victims to believe that this archaic form of human bondage is their only chance to escape their conditions of extreme poverty. Charkova goes to great and daring lengths to give us candid access to the red light districts of countries like Turkey and Dubai in which sex slaves, pimps, and police frequent as customers and proprietors alike.

Charkova gives us unfathomable access to an underworld supported by the very people appointed to protect, and risks her own life to meet face to face with the clients and pimps who enslave, exploit, and break the souls of unsuspecting women and girls. Price exists as more than a project, but instead a divine plea for the voices of thousands untraceable women to be heard.

Color of the Ocean (2011)

Director: Maggie Peren

Country: Germany, Spain

German writer/director Maggie Peren’s has a keen and intense eye, and it is this passionate gaze that is illuminated by the troubling societal issues she weaves together in Color of the OceanColour starts off with José (Alez Gonzalez), a tense Spanish police officer who is morally conflicted as to whether to give solace to his heroin addicted twin sister’s dependence.

Meanwhile the vivacious Nathalie (Sabine Timoteo) and her controlling boyfriend Paul (Friedrich Mücke)take alavish vacation on the Spanish coast, but Nathalie’s ignorant bliss is thrown off course when a group of dangerously dehydrated African refugees crash land on a beach she is sunbathing on. The borders that divide these characters in Color are obvious: societal status, money, and in the case of the two crash landed African refugees Zola (Hubert Koundè) and his young son Mamadou (Dami Adeeri), citizen status.

Still, it is Peren’s persistence to transgress these divides that unifies Color as a tale about the alienation and relentless struggle for basic survival shared amongst refugees, those who enforce the laws, and those who live within them. Impeccably well acted, the cast in Ocean shows us that fighting for the life and rights of others is paramount to coming to terms with our own.

This is My Land Hebron (2010)

Director: Guilia Amati and Stephen Natanson

Country: Italy, Israel

After being annexed by Israel in the late1960’s, Hebron’s Jewish settlements now manage to almost completely occupy the largest city in the middle of the occupied West Bank. Arabs still live in Hebron in small numbers and as documentarians Guilia Amati and Stephen Natanson show in This is my Land…Hebron, the utter hate and disrespect for life that Arabs experience on a daily basis is unfathomable.

Caged behind protective wire, Amati and Natanson interview various Arab residents of Hebron’s Palestinian sector who show us the struggles they endure just to perform simple acts like going to school or the market. Amati and Natanson’s exposé becomes most distressful when begin to include testimonies from Israeli’s and ex-Israeli soldiers who speak about the injustices and chaos they have witnessed as a result of the occupation. These moments echo the loudest, as they show that Amati and Natanson’s docu holds no moral high ground in this conflict that spans decades. Instead, Hebronstands a desperate mantra for action to be taken against the hate, brutality, and dehumanization in the streets of Hebron regardless of religion, race, Jewish or Hebrew status.

As a television screen of rough images opens and closes Hebron, it’s clear that Amati and Natanson’s message far exceeds just the issues in Hebron, but also speaks to our removal and great indifference to the injustice we see on the T.V. and our lack of inaction.

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