Monday, November 24, 2008

Humanity's Power on Film

In a matter of weeks, it will have been sixty years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was passed. National Geographic has produced an excellent illustration to commemorate the act:
Since 1961 Amnesty International has drawn attention to countless atrocities that contravene the declaration and this weekend they commemorated the charter with their annual Film Festival. I could only attend on Saturday, but was glad I chose this day since the Pearson College choir skilfully performed a number of carols and traditional songs before the first movie. USA VS AL-ARIAN, a story which subsequently has had a happy ending (he was released), details the incarceration of Sami Al-Arian, an SFU professor and outspoken Palestinian activist. I couldn't help feeling uncomfortable with the similarity between the strong-arm tactics of Florida's judicial branch and those found in less esteemed countries. The film does a good job of presenting the facts, as much as a film can, and like any good documentary does not neglect character development. The focus of much of the film is Sami's wife, Nahla, an inspiring and authoritative figure whose story is compelling and well filmed: on one occasion, on the verge of a breakdown, she turns to the camera and states that she's a poor actress and not acting for the camera. In stark contrast his wife and family, Sami is filmed in his prison cell; however, this background does not diminish the poignancy of his sentiments. At one point he states that the government is wearing down his family to get to him; tragically no one truly realizes what he meant until a malicious judge hands him more prison time for the plea bargain he'd had signed at the urging of all his family.

After the film Andrew Wender, who gave a detailed introduction on the Patriot Act and Bush's executive orders, fostered much discussion on the film and future of the U.S. justice system: How much can change under Obama? This film was followed by Justice Without Borders, an Amnesty production, which provided a good history of the International Criminal Court and some of its successes. The film also covers fairly America's initial encouragement for the ICC and its recent reticence. The last film, My Daughter the Terrorist, was a film I was fairly sceptical of: I wasn't really in the mood for an indoctrination film like Jesus Camp, though it's excellent in its own right, or its unintended (ironically so) counterpart Obsession. Unexpectedly this film was much less about two daughters who become brainwashed suicide bombers; these women are professional soldiers who train very hard. It is very touching how the mother deals with the separation from her daughter, especially at the end where she tearfully watches the same documentary you have just watched, the closest connection to her daughter she's had in years.

Ana de Lara's latest film First Winter Last is a semi-finalist in the Migr@tions contest. (You can view and rate a number of good films from around the world that address immigration.) First Winter Last documents the experience de Lara had in coming to Canada, in which she was called a "chink." De Lara notes that coming from the Philippines she did not know what one was, but sensed it was derogatory. I felt that this part of the film which takes place at the end was overplayed and detracted from the film. Nevertheless, the beginning, especially the animation sequence, was excellent, so the film warrants its average rating of 3.5.

Ari Folman's latest, Waltz with Bashir, masterfully deals with the impact of war, here the Lebanon War. As he notes in an interview, he will have done his job if he deters youth from going to war. He purposely presents this simple message and avoids glorifying war with the spectacular animation.

On the other hand, if you require some entertaining distraction turn to A Colbert Christmas. As expected this film is witty, satirical, and full of excellent performances by Elvis Costello, Feist, Willie Nelson, Toby Keith, John Stewart and John Legend.

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