Untitled Web Page SEVENTEEN DOCUMENTARIES in five days might seem like a lot to deal with, but the Seattle Human Rights Film Festival, organized by Amnesty International, proves that the world remains a troubled placewith cameras always following close behind those troubles. For instance, in the riveting Jeremy Hardy vs. the Israeli Army (9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 7, at 911 Media Arts Center), British comedian Hardy joins a small but determined band of peacekeeping "internationals" in the West Bank bent on making their presence (and strong disapproval) known to Israel's military forces. Sending a stand-up comic into the fray smacks of irreverence, but Hardy's keen narration shows his awareness of the obvious risks, and sometimes dubious rewards, of protesters placing themselves in harm's way (illustrated most recently by the March death of Evergreen student Rachel Corrie).
Spotting the approach of Israeli jeeps, Hardy quips: "I knew I should have brought a yarmulke with me." The film offers valuable insights into both the Palestinian condition and the role of the activist. At one point, Hardy voices his concern that, given the might of the Israeli military, a few unarmed, pasty Europeans are unlikely to sway them.
The 26-minute Tulia, Texas: Scenes From the Drug War (5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 8, at 911) begins with this comment from Jerrod Ervine, an African-American Tulia resident convicted on drug charges: "The only difference from 1920 to now is they can't hang us on a tree." In this case, "they" refers to undercover agent Tom Coleman, whose work in Tulia and subsequent testimony resulted in 46 drug arrests in the small Texas town. The rub: Forty of the alleged felons were black. Tulia delves trenchantly into the inner workings of small-town Texas life, where overt racism finds a worthy rival in men like Jeff Blackburn, director of the Tulia Legal Defense Project, who becomes the primary spokesperson for the victims of Coleman's specious drug busts. (Almost all were subsequently overturned.)
SOME NOTEWORTHY titles also include Suspino: A Cry for Roma (4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 9, at Seattle Art Museum), which provides a sad, challenging look at the worldwide plight of the Roma (once known as "Gypsies") in such disparate places as Canada and Italy. Persecuted throughout Eastern Europe, many Roma seek freedom in other countries, only to find themselves forced into jam-packed refugee camps on the outskirts of major cities. Director Gillian Darling Kovanic (who will attend the screening for Q&A) follows one such family in Rome to illustrate the daily grind of poverty, from raising three kids in a closet-sized hovel to begging on the street each day. Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death (9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 8, at 911) investigates reports of horrific war crimes on the part of the U.S. military that may have put thousands of Afghans in mass graves.
Other festival highlights include an archival presentation of The Killing Fields, Roland Joffé's powerful 1984 portrait of genocide in Cambodia (1:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 9, at SAM). The festival's closing-night program features a screening of The Day My God Died (6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 9, at SAM) by Andrew Levinewho will be in attendance, along with Rep. Jim McDermott. At SIFF this year, Seattle Weekly's Brian Miller panned this documentary about Nepalese and Indian girls kidnapped into sex slavery, calling it "an instant classic of the drop-your-jaw-in-horror variety," because of its simpering narration by Winona Ryder. (Sample: "I am a free spirit under a free sky. The sky is my family. The stars are my friends.") But I'm casting off his cruel shackles and telling you to go anyway.
For the entire festival schedule and program details, visit www.amnestyusa.org/filmfest/seattle/2003/.