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Left behind

Human Rights film festival takes on the world
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  November 7, 2007
OPENING RIDE: The Devil Came on Horseback.

Human Rights Watch Traveling Film Festival | Oct 11-18 | most screenings at SPACE Gallery, 7 pm and 3 pm the following day | see Film Listings on p 43 for specific showtimes | Opening film free, $6, $4 students/seniors thereafter
SPACE Gallery’s annual Human Rights Watch Traveling Film Festival, now in its sixth year, is the rare local film event as essential to movie buffs as it is to concerned citizens. The festival’s broad scope — the seven films screened this year consider a diverse spread of domestic and international humanitarian issues, including genocide and the USA PATRIOT Act — is a fine snapshot of the world’s political climate.

The festival is an opportunity to examine the climate of leftist thought. The onus on the filmmakers is threefold: they need to educate viewers, explain their points, and portray their perspectives so their propaganda can have the intended impact: to incite action.

On each of these terms, Cocalero is the strongest film at the festival. Alejandro Landes’s documentary follows the successful 2006 presidential campaign of Evo Morales, the socialist leader of Bolivia considered a hero by his fellow indigenous farmers and a threat to the country’s prosperity by business owners and urbanites. Landes challenges the typical American perspective of the Latin American coca trade (that it exists to serve cocaine dealers), highlights the party’s broad education campaign (members know more about land and water privatization than most Americans), and subtly tells us that even a well-intentioned leader must be corrupt and deceptive to achieve his goals (the party punishes members who don’t attend meetings, and misleads and provokes the press).

Marco Williams’s Banished, about turn-of-the-century American ethnic cleansing and modern attempts at justice, bumbles a chance to make us care about an overlooked issue. Williams visits three southern and Midwestern towns where cleansing happened — generally, blacks were forced out of town on short notice under threat of violence and their land deeds were stolen. He follows families seeking recognition (through apologies, land, or money) from the towns that expunged them. Williams does well showing the consequences of these radical shifts in demography, but his discussion of reparations is lacking. Through voice-over narrative and appearances on camera, Williams laments that the families aren’t getting the justice they deserve, but skirts the issues (passage of time, subdivision of land) that make reparations such a thorny legal issue. His subjects seem more in touch with those nuances than he is.

It was easy to expect similar hand-wringing from Katy Chevigny’s Election Day, filmed at dozens of polling places across America on the day of George W. Bush’s re-election, but the movie blessedly spends little time bemoaning what might have been. Instead, it focuses on the drive to get marginalized voters (ex-convicts, Native Americans) to the polls and observes poor staffing and confusing voter-registration policies that may be tools of voter intimidation.

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Related: 99 percent, Caricature vs. character, Casting ballots, More more >
  Topics: Features , Elections and Voting, Politics, U.S. Politics,  More more >
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