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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Illuminating Oppression: 8th Annual Human Rights Film Festival to feature award-winning films

Festival theme focuses on conflict

Sept. 27, 2010, by Kelly Rodoski

Members of the Syracuse University and Central New York communities will have an opportunity to view award-winning films from around the world during “Illuminating Oppression: 8th Annual Human Rights Film Festival,” Thursday, Sept. 30, through Saturday, Oct. 2. The three-day festival is part of the 2010 Syracuse Symposium, “Conflict: Peace and War,” which is presented by The SU Humanities Center.

All of the films will be shown in the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium in Newhouse 3 and are free and open to the public. On Thursday, Sept. 30, and Friday, Oct. 1, public parking will be available for $4 in the University Avenue Garage. On Saturday, Oct. 2, free public parking will be available in any open lot.

“I wish that we lived in a world where no social injustices existed, and therefore no Human Rights Film Festival was needed,” says Tula Goenka, associate professor of television-radio-film in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and co-director of this year’s festival. “But that is not so, and here we are in the festival’s eighth year. I am very grateful for the continued appreciation of HRFF, and this year we have many new partners, including the Syracuse University College of Law and the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism, who are co-sponsoring the opening night event.”

“We are very proud of this year’s program, not only for its continuing global scope, but also for the exciting variety of approaches to putting human rights on the screen—in documentaries, narrative feature films, docudrama, animation and experimental film,” says Roger Hallas, associate professor of English in The College of Arts and Sciences and co-director of this year’s festival.

The festival will open on Thursday, Sept. 30, at 7 p.m. with a panel discussion and screening of the award-winning short film “The Response” (Adam Rodgers, U.S.A., 2008), a gripping courtroom drama based on actual transcripts from the Guantanamo Bay military tribunals. Three military judges decide the fate of a Middle Eastern detainee, played by Aasif Mandvi, of “The Daily Show with John Stewart.”  The judges—and the audience—must decide whether the detainee is an enemy combatant, guilty of material support to al-Qaeda and the deaths of U.S. soldiers, or is an innocent victim as he claims. Screenings of “The Response” have generated vigorous debate on this ongoing issue at film festivals, law schools and community screenings around the country.

A panel discussion will follow the screening. Panelists will include William C. Banks, director of SU’s Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT); writer and producer Sig Libowitz; Gabor Rona of Human Rights First; Capt. Brendan Gilbert of the U.S. Army; David M. Crane, professor of practice in the College of Law; Mallika Dutt, president and CEO of the international human rights organization, Breakthrough; and actor Peter Riegert (”Law & Order,” “Animal House,” “Crossing Delancey”).

This year the festival is also inaugurating a new aspect of its programming with the Digital Witness Symposium, to be held on Friday, Oct. 1, at 11 a.m. The symposium will bring together internationally recognized experts in the field of human rights media to discuss the ongoing innovations and future implications of this increasing turn to new media by human rights activists. The three speakers are Dutt; Sam Gregory, program director at WITNESS; and Fred Ritchin, professor of photography and imaging at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

As well as screening films about Africa, Asia, Europe and the Pacific, the festival is also highlighting important social, economic and political issues in the Central New York area. Illuminating Oppression will present “October Country” (U.S.A., 2009), Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher’s stunning cinematic portrait of Mosher’s family in Herkimer, N.Y., which struggles for stability while haunted by the ghosts of war, teen pregnancy, foster care and child abuse. Among its many international accolades, “October Country” won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize at the prestigious SilverDocs Festival in Maryland, and the Maysles Award at the Denver Film Festival, and was a nominee at the Independent Spirit Awards.

The festival concludes on Saturday, Oct. 2 with a screening of legendary Indian filmmaker Shyam Benegal’s new feature film, “Well Done, Abba!,” a wily satire on the politics of development in rural India. After months away from his job as a Mumbai chauffeur for a senior executive, Armaan must explain his absence to his boss or lose his job. In his hilarious tale of misadventure, mayhem and matchmaking, Armaan returns to his village in order to wring a profit out of living below the poverty line and find a suitable husband for his only daughter. “Well Done, Abba!” just won the prestigious National Award in India for best film on social issues.

Major co-sponsors of the festival are the Mellon Central New York Humanities Corridor, an Andrew W. Mellon initiative; the Newhouse School of Public Communications; the Syracuse University Library; the South Asia Center at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Institute for Global Affairs; INSCT; the College of Law; the Office of Multicultural Affairs; and SASSE: Students Advocating Sexual Safety and Empowerment.

Daily themes and the additional films to be screened during the festival include:

Thursday, Sept. 30, at 7 p.m.

• “The Response” Adam Rodgers (30 min., U.S.A. 2008)
A gripping courtroom drama based on actual transcripts from the Guantanamo Bay military tribunals. A panel discussion will be held after the screening.

Friday, Oct. 1, at 7 p.m.

• “Bound By Promises: Contemporary Slavery in Rural Brazil”
WITNESS, Comissao Pastoral da Terra, and Center for Justice and International Law (17 min., Brazil/U.S.A., 2006)
This activist video tells the harrowing story of men enslaved by landowners in the Amazon regions of rural Brazil.

• “Good Fortune” Landon Van Soest and Jeremy Levine (73 min., U.S.A./Kenya, 2009)
This revelatory documentary exposes how massive international efforts to alleviate poverty in Kenya may be undermining the very communities they aim to benefit.

Saturday, Oct. 2, at 1 p.m.

• “Rex vs. Singh” Ali Kazimi, John Greyson and Richard Fung (30 min., Canada, 2008)
Restaging a sodomy trial of Sikh men in early 20th century Vancouver, this experimental video explores homophobia and racism in a little known chapter of Canadian history.

• “An Island Calling” Annie Goldson (76 min., New Zealand, 2008)
This compelling murder mystery about a prominent gay couple in Fiji traces a morally complex tale of a postcolonial country deeply divided along tribal, class and ethnic lines.

Saturday, Oct. 2, at 4 p.m.

• “Slaves “ Hanna Heilborn and David Aronowitsch (16 min., Sweden, 2008)
This award-winning animated documentary visualizes traumatic testimonies of child kidnapping and slavery in Africa.

• “October Country” Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher (80 min., U.S.A., 2009)
A stunning cinematic portrait of an American family struggling for stability while haunted by the ghosts of war, teen pregnancy, foster care and child abuse.

Saturday, Oct. 2, at 7 p.m.

• “Well Done, Abba!” Shyam Benegal (132 mins., India, 2009)
Legendary Indian filmmaker Shyam Benegal crafts a wily satire on the politics of development in rural India.

For more information on Illuminating Oppression, visit