Susana Kaiser, USF professor of Media and Latin American studies, stood in front of the Presentation Theater glancing out into the crowd to see just how far things have come. Nine years ago, the USF’s Human Rights Film Festival (HRFF) was a one-day event endorsed by five sponsors. Since then, Kaiser has seen the event grow into a weekend-long festival with the support of 35 sponsors.
The university is almost certain to expand the event to four days in 2012 given the success of this year’s festival.
Each year Kaiser has maintained a basic objective for the USF film festival.“Film is a strong medium in which we can discuss human rights,” she said.
Kaiser termed the strategy in which film can be used to explore human rights issues as a “Documentation and Intervention” method. Filmmakers first look to identify the perpetrators and victims of human rights concerns. Then, they identify any possible solutions.
HRFF can generate public action apart from giving filmmakers an opportunity to showcase their work.
This year’s festival opened up with three short films directed and produced by USF students and alumni. The short films were a precursor to the human rights issues and worldwide regions that were explored throughout the event.
Elle Robinson’s Nice Country offered glimpses into the brash policies and attitudes of the Italian government towards its immigrant population. If Streets Could Speak, a documentary film by Erika Myszynski, followed an organization in Peru that is helping to liberate its young population from extreme poverty and homelessness.
Meanwhile, Laura Waldron’s Queer in Phoenix tracked the growth of gay and lesbian youth groups and injustices taking place.
Each film was followed by a question and answer session. Audience members were able to interact with filmmakers and activists who have personally dealt with the human rights issues and continue to expose such breaches through their films.
The second day of HRFF highlighted social issues in both Latin America and the Middle East. Two of the four films were based on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a struggle that has plagued the Middle East region for a more than a quarter of a century.
Other films presented at the event included Budrus, by award-winning filmmaker Julia Bacha, as well as David Zlutnick’s Occupation Has No Future: Militarism + Resistance in Israel and Palestine, which underlined the success of a Palestinian-led nonviolent movement and the push for civic dialogue.
While many films provided moviegoers an in-depth look into several international human rights violations, some documentaries explored human rights violations occurring in the United States.
Director Vadim Jean’s In the Land of the Free… explored what the UN General Assembly has called the largest human rights abuse–the prison-industrial complex. The documentary examined the imprisonment of the famed Angola 3.
Robert King, the only member to have been released from Louisiana’s prison at Angola, engaged in a remarkable conversation about this serious issue with those in the theater that day.
Kaiser and media studies professor Dorothy Kidd chaired a panel discussion about media and film’s role in protecting human rights. Audience members crafted solutions and shared criticisms about USF’s sale of KUSF 90.3 FM radio frequency. The conversation then quickly turned to a larger dialogue about the importance of public control of the means of communication.
The festival concluded with a piece by Mustafa Eck titled Ana Mish Fahim. Egyptian filmmaker Eck has been traveling to Egypt for years. It was only recently that he pieced together this film in an attempt to expose the misconceptions of Egyptians in the West prior to the Revolution. The piece showed a different side of Egyptian society not seen in the media.
During the opening, President Stephen A. Privett, S.J. said, “Film is a wonderful way to commit ourselves to pursuing the truth and fashioning a more humane and just world, following the Jesuit tradition of 450 years.”
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