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Human Rights Watch Fest Seeks "Accountability and Justice"

Last July, the nonprofit group Human Rights Watch put out a hefty report drawn from its prior two decades of watching dogs in some 20 countries. Called Selling Justice Short, the dossier showed why accountability was a good thing for peace and, if nothing else, could help heal victims by acknowledging their anguish.

For those who didn't read it, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival supplies some visual Cliff's Notes. This year, its documentaries and fictional dramas give witness to human rights violations in 25 countries, and "Accountability and Justice" is its primary theme.

Jointly presented with the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the New York edition of HRWFF will take place June 10 to 24, 2010 at the Film Society's Walter Reade Theater (165 West 65th Street).

Now in its 21st go-round, the Festival is a top international showcase for cinema focusing on human rights. Amplifying on current events, selections are as topical as tomorrow's news. Take for example Crude, Joe Berlinger's documentary on the ravages of oil exploitation in Ecuador, which screened at last year's festival, and which again bubbled up in the media around a federal judge's May 2010 ruling to allow Chevron to subpoena more than 600 hours of its footage.

HRWFF is looking especially relevant these days for another reason: the dismal distribution and exhibition climate for independent cinema in general and issue-driven works in particular. Its sold-out screenings and radial word of mouth brings films to audiences who may have few if any other ways to catch them in a theater.

The Balibo Conspiracy is a case in point. Robert Connolly's political thriller about a war correspondent who pokes into the 1975 murders of five journalists in East Timor is being feted as the Benefit Night selection (June 10), yet to date no U.S. distributor has nabbed it.

Adversity can often add to a film's sex appeal, yet Balibo has been hard pressed to parlay its banning in Indonesia into commercial come hither in this country. And not even a quake of earth shattering proportions has launched Raoul Peck’s Haitian drama, Moloch Tropical, onto the "must have" list of stateside distributors. Yet the film will be honored as this year’s Festival Centerpiece. Just as Connolly and special guests will attend the Balibo post-screening discussion and reception, Peck will be on hand to discuss his film.

The official Opening Night screening, on June 11, is 12th & Delaware. Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady are back from Jesus Camp with this revelation of the Florida crossing where pro-life and pro-choice facilities push their mandates across from one another. The documentary, which debuted at this year's Sundance Film Festival, was shot during the year when abortionist Dr. George Tiller was assassinated. If that isn't news peg enough, what is?

Presumed Guilty/Presunto culpable
is the Closing Night film. The documentary by Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete fingers the dysfunctions of Mexico's penal system in its chronicle of a Mexican street vendor mistakenly accused of murder and sentenced to two decades behind prison bars. As with their short documentary, The Tunnel, the filmmakers' intervention led to the protagonist's release from jail. Law and Order may be a closed dossier, but Presumed Guilty is open for business.

Mexico reclaims the screen in Backyard/El traspatio, Carlos Carrera's crime drama about the real murders of young women in Ciudad Juarez. Starring Jimmy Smits and Ana de la Reguera, the film can't hope to top Carrera's 2002 film, The Crime of Father Amaro -- Mexico's biggest box office performer – however, the topic and its link to the police system in that country continue to haunt today's headlines.

Two other titles take on official systems. One is In the Land of the Free, Vadim Jean's inquiry into possible miscarriages of justice for three Black Panthers serving in Louisiana's Angola prison, and the other, a non-fiction courtroom drama from Rebecca Richman Cohen called War Don Don, about prosecuting war crimes in Sierra Leone.

Films under the aforementioned "Accountability and Justice" rubric include Enemies of the People, in which co-director Thet Sambath unearths bloody truths behind his parents' slaughter -- and that of two million other Cambodian victims of the Khmer Rouge. Sambath and his directing partner Rob Lemkin will be on hand to discuss the film and to receive this year's HRWFF Nestor Almendros Award for courage in filmmaking. Enemies of the People snared the 2010 Sundance World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Prize.

"Development and Migration" comprise the second programming theme of this year’s Festival. Pushing the Elephant is one of two films to consider migration resulting from war. Late '90s strife in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the point of departure for this non-fiction narrative about a family now living in Phoenix, Arizona and their reunion with a long-missing daughter. The film, co-presented with Mapendo International, will be followed by a Q&A with directors Beth Davenport and Elizabeth Mandel and film subject Rose Mapendo.

Nero’s Guests studies the agrarian distress and inequality that has resulted in an epidemic of suicides among Indian farmers. The award-sweeping film is by P. Sainath, rural affairs editor of The Hindu

Michael Camerini and Shari Robertson return to HRWFF with the latest two entries in their series, "How Democracy Works Now: Twelve Stories." Last Best Chance and Mountains and Clouds bring viewers into the U.S. Congress as it grapples with immigration reform. The filmmakers will entertain audience questions following the screenings.

"Societies in Conflict: Iran and Afghanistan" forms the third theme of HRWFF 2010. Highlights include Restrepo, Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington's chronicle of a U.S. platoon's deployment in Afghanistan.

Twenty-eight of this year's 30 selections are New York premieres. Youth Producing Change, now in its third version, will make its world 2010 debut at the Walter Reade. The project groups 11 short films made by teen filmmakers from around the world, and is presented in collaboration with Adobe Youth Voices. (For a related article, see our story "'Youth Producing Change' Opens Denver Human Rights Watch.")

Complementing this year's screenings will be a photographic exhibition about maternal mortality in India. Called In Silence, the collection by noted photojournalist Susan Meiselas will be presented in the Walter Reade's Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery throughout the festival.

The full Festival program is posted at
Human Rights Watch Film Festival
June 10 to 24, 2010
Walter Reade Theater
Lincoln Plaza (Upper Level, between Broadway and Amsterdam)
165 West 65th Street

New York, NY 10023

Hola México Film Festival Tours the U.S.

Just as Cinco de Mayo revelers in Miami, Florida, are starting to sober up, another Mexican fiesta is about to intoxicate them. Hola México Film Festival pours into theThe Hola Mexico Poster "capital of Latin America" May 13 to 16, 2010, with the world's largest showcase of purely Mexican cinema. Back for its second spin through the U.S., the Festival opened this year in April in Los Angeles (Apr. 29 - May 4) and will have made had another appearance in San Francisco (May 6 - 11) before the Miami event.

HMFF is a traveling pavilion curated by its founding director, Samuel Douek, and will tour to Chicago (May 20 - 25), Washington, D.C. (May 27 - June 1) and New York (June 2 - 6) before wrapping up.

Raised in Mexico City, Douek moved at age 23 to Sydney, Australia, where he'd soon rack up degrees in marketing and event management. Once down under, Douek began to visit film festivals in and around Sydney, and found Mexican titles to be conspicuous in their absence. That spurred the ex-pat to launch a series exclusively devoted to the cinema of his native country, and hola! -- the Hola México Film Festival was born.

The 2010 program presents 15 feature-length films, including two documentaries, alongside parties and live musical performances.  Miami Dade College's Tower Theater hosts the three-day event (1508 SW Eighth Street, Little Havana).

Each city on the Festival circuit kicks off with a different film. Miami's opening night selection, It Happens in One Day/Sucedió en un día), is a medley of eight shorts shot and edited by as many Mexican filmmakers during 24 hours. Adriana Barraza, whose supporting role in Babel earned her an Oscar nomination, and Joaquín Cosío, who played a henchman in the James Bond vehicle Quantum of Solace, are among the celebrated names who lent their acting talents to this clock-challenged project.

The driving concept behind HMFF is to represent authentic Mexican culture in its complexity, offering a corrective to the stereotypical images that warp most media coverage in this country. Films were selected to give a nuanced range of perspectives and themes on our neighbor to the South.

Not surprisingly, immigration rears its head in a couple of the films. Those Who Remain/Los que se quedan takes the measure of nine Mexican families and villages left behind by loved ones who crossed the Rio Grande to live the American Dream. The film, which picked up a number of prizes at previous festivals, was directed by Carlos Hagerman and Juan Carlos Rulfo.

Rigoberto Pérezcano's Northless/Norteado narrates the fits and starts of a Oaxacan man who sets out for a better life in the U.S., but who finds work and friendships while held back in Tijuana.Demian Bechir

Two of this year's titles plumb father-son relationships. To the Sea/Alamar, from Pedro González-Rubio, partly dips into documentary territory in its tale of generational bonding and fishing during one summer before the son joins his mother in Europe. Among other trophies, the nano-budget film reeled in New Director's Award at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival.

Diego Muñoz's Bitten Bullet/Bala mordida takes a shot at the corruption plaguing Mexico and its police force. The cast includes Damián Alcázar, whom U.S. audiences may recognize from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.

As a counterweight to some of the more ponderous takes on Mexico, there's Kitsch is Cool/Naco Es Chido. The comedy by Sergio Arau (A Day Without a Mexican) is about an 80s rock band whose lost recordings fetch up in a junk heap two decades after their members mysteriously vanished.

Raiding the Mexican film cache, HMFF pays tribute to Antonio Serrano's 1999 blockbuster dramedy, Sex, Shame and Tears/Sexo, pudor y lágrimas. Demián Bechir, Susana Zabaleta, Jorge Salinas and Cecilia Suárez played in this classic "battle of the sexes and the exes."

Though last year's inaugural edition also screened a retrospective work, the current mood is understandably more nostalgic. Mexico is now marking its bicentennial of independence and centennial of its revolution.

Looking ahead, Douek hopes to bring the Festival to other countries besides the US and Sydney, where the festival has been running since 2006.

For the full lineup of HMFF USA films and special events, visit:

Hola México Film Festival
Los Angeles

Apr. 29 - May 4
ArcLight Cinema Hollywood
6360 Sunset Boulevard

Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles Film School
Sunset Boulevard

Los Angeles, CA

General Admission $12.50
ArcLight member, Senior and Child (under 12) $11.00

San Francisco
May 6 - 11
Landmark's Embarcadero Cinema
One Embarcadero Center, Promenade Level

San Francisco, CA

San Francisco Opening Night tickets for STUDENTS with ID - $15.00

May 13 - 16
Tower Theater
1508 Southwest 8th Street

Miami, FL
305 642 1264

General Admission $10.00
MFS Members/ Seniors $8.00
Students $7.00
Opening Night Film and Fiesta * $25.00
*Fiesta includes Tequila, Beer, Sparkling Wine and Bocaditos

May 20 - 25
Landmark's Century Centre Cinema
2828 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60657

Washington D.C.
May 27 - June 1
Landmark's E St Cinema
555 11th Street NW

Washington, DC

New York
June 2 - 6
34 West, 13th St.

New York, NY 10011

 To order click on city below:

Antonio Banderas Curates Realism in Spanish Cinema

Even when he's just voicing Puss in Boots in Shrek movies, Antonio Banderas is one of Spain's most visible cultural exports. His collaboration with Antonio Banderasdirector Pedro Almadóvar on films such as the Oscar-nominated Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown established him as an international symbol of the Movida -- Spain's post-Franco counter-cultural movement -- while starring roles in Evita, The Mask of Zorro, Desperado and myriad other hits launched him as Hollywood royalty. And now, sharing his luster, the screen idol hopes to spotlight lesser-seen treasures from the Spanish vaults.

Banderas is the curator of a new film series, Realism in Spanish Cinema 1951 – 1963, spanning post-WWII films produced under the authoritarian dictatorship of Francisco Franco. The series is comprised of 10 classic works selected for their artistic and historical merit.

They will be screened from May 10 to 19, 2010, at New York's courtly Cervantes Institute. Banderas, who serves on the Cervantes advisory board, conceived the idea for the program. He will be on hand to open the series on May 10, prior to the screening of Furrows / Surcos, by José Antonio Nieves Conde.

Each selection mounts a veiled critique of 1950s and 1960s life in Spain, with its considerable challenges and repressions. As the Generalissimo enforced cultural politics to engineer national homogeneity, work deemed out of step with Catholic, family and fascist ideals was largely nixed. Filmmakers who failed to toe the line faced incarceration or worse.

This harsh imperative gave rise to artistic sleights of hand that make watching the era's films an adventure in decoding. Not unlike their Eastern Bloc counterparts, SpanishScene from the film filmmakers had to shroud their social and political commentary in sly intimations in order to slip past the national censors. Allusion, symbolism and metaphor entered the narrative and visual foreground, and put a fresh spin on Neo-Realism. 

A particular blend of tragicomedy also filled Spanish screens of the era. As Banderas points out, "What do expect from a country that produced Goya?" 

Most of the Realism in Spanish Cinema titles participated in or earned prizes at international festivals. (Surcos, Bienvenido Mr. Marshall!, Muerte de un Ciclista and Los golfos had a Cannes Film Festival connection, while Venice FF united El cochecito, Calle Mayor and El verdugo, leaving Luis Buñuel's Viridiana one for the film history archives.)

While French, Italian and other European productions from the post-war era have been celebrated around the world, Spanish cinema of the '50s has yet to enjoy broad distribution in the US. Realism in Spanish Cinema seeks to redress this imbalance.

All of the films are in Spanish with English subtitles. Each will receive one screening, beginning with the opening night selection. Admission is gratis.

An annotated listing of the films is available at

Realism in Spanish Cinema 1951 - 1963
May 10 to 19, 2010

Cervantes Institute New York
211 East 49th Street
New York, NY 10017
212 308 7720

Seattle Int'l Film Festival Is America's Biggest

To impress me, a guy from Seattle, Washington, once FedExed a 20-pound salmon to my New York address. Okay, that was a wow. But nothing like the Seattle International Film Festival, which envelops the Emerald City for 25 days (May 20 – June 13, 2010), raining down more than 400 movies from 67 countries in at least a dozen different venues.

America's largest film festival is a surge of independent and world cinema, with documentaries ever on the rise. It's known as more of an audience event, and not a mandatory drill for the industry. So the fact that it overlaps the last three days of the Cannes Film Festival is of no tragic concern. In 2009, roughly 150,000 cinema lovers flocked to its screens.

Yet by no means is SIFF some Pacific Northwest recess off Hollywood's trodden path. On the contrary, it's a favorite testing ground for many filmmakers -- Francis Ford Coppola zings to mind -- who swear by the sophisticated smarts of its caffeinated audiences.    

Last year's jury summed it up neatly. "This is a festival designed for a serious film-going community evocative of the Toronto International Film Festival before industry interests started dominating it," a fest rep stated.

Celebrities can also expect to feel the love here. Again to quote 2009's jury, SIFF "has a less feverish and more sane tempo than most other festivals, which also gives [it] time to take special care of its guests."

At 36, the event has the polished ways of a grown up, but a kid's penchant for grins.

Opening the 2010 edition is the comedy of manners, The Extra Man. Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor) directed this droll adaptation of Jonathan Ames' novel about an aspiring writer (Paul Dano) who takes a room in the Manhattan apartment of a gentleman escort (Kevin Kline).

Following the screening, a Gala party will unfold in downtown Seattle's Benaroya Hall.

Other venues in and around the city will host Festival gatherings, including:
Seattle Center's SIFF Cinema

Harvard Exit
Pacific Place Cinemas

IMAX Pacific Science Center
and performing arts centers in Everett and Kirkland.

One of the films arriving to SIFF with advanced hype is Waiting for Superman. Directed by Oscar-laureate Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth), this expose of public education in America nabbed the audience award for best US documentary at January's Sundance Film Festival.

Another buzz magnet among the Festival's 54 documentaries is American: The Bill Hicks Story. Told through a mesh of testimonials, performance footage and animation, Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas's bio-doc about the titular comedian and social critic was a hit at South by Southwest and other fests.

Centurion is also headed for Seattle after grabbing attention at SXSW. The sword-and-sandal thriller from Neil Marshall retraces the legend of Titus Flavius Virilus (Dominic West), the Roman Ninth Legion general whose march on Scotland met with Pict rebels and doom.  

A Little Help, one of the Festival's 25 world premieres, is getting its share of asterisks as well. In this directorial feature debut by King of Queens creator Michael J. Weithorn, a widowed single mom links up with a former beau who happens to be her brother-in-law. Jenna Fischer (The Office) stars.

Cyrus shows a similarly vexed take on romance, and it too is a sought ticket. The new dramatic comedy from Jay and Mark Duplass (Puffy Chair) features John C. Reilly as a divorcee whose new flame (Marisa Tomei) turns out to have another guy in her life -- her son (Jonah Hill).

Luckily, the Festival's own track record concerning surprises is pretty solid. Each year it programs a side bar of four undisclosed films known as a "Secret Festival". To prime the suspense, once viewers have seen a selection, they must pledge in writing that they will not divulge any details.

This being Seattle, local musicians are naturally part of the program. This year the "Face the Music Live" section has Seattle country rock band, The Maldives, performing an original live score to the 20's silent Western, Riders of the Purple Sage.

Another silent picture, Bu Wancang's A Spray of Plum Blossoms, will be screened with Donal Sosin on piano, debuting a an original composition. The 1931 film, from China, is a loose adaptation of William Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona. A third Face the Music Live program, co-sponsored witRobert Duvallh STG Presents, matches up The Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt with the 1916 silent film, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Merritt will play an original live score in duet with organist David Hegarty.

The Festival will pin its 2010 Golden Space Needle for Outstanding Achievement on actor Edward Norton. Revelries include the west coast premiere of Leaves of Grass, which he stars in, and an on-stage interview enlivened by clips of his screen roles. The film by Tim Blake Nelson laces crime drama conventions with drug comedy kicks in its quest to define happiness.

The Closing Night Gala will present Aaron Schneider's Get Low, starring Robert Duvall as a reclusive townie who stages his "living funeral" --both Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray co-star.

After the screening at Pacific Place Cinemas, celebrants will raise a last toast to SIFF 2010 at the Pan Pacific Hotel (2125 Terry Avenue; 206-264-8111, Seattle, WA 98121).

Panels, workshops and parties add to the Festival luster -- and its afterglow, stoked by the announcement of the juried Competition Awards and Golden Space Needle Audience Awards.

Look for the full sweep of this superfest at:

Seattle International Film Festival
May 20 – June 13, 2010

SIFF Cinema
Box Office
321 Mercer Street, McCaw Hall, Seattle Center
Box office opens half hour before the first show
Showtimes and Information: 206-633-7151
Phone: 206-324-9996
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Main Office
400 9th Ave N
Seattle, WA 98109
Fax: 206-264-7919
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



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