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Human Rights Watch World Report 1998


The Human Rights Watch Film Festival was created to advance public education by illuminating human rights issues and concerns using the unique medium of film. Each year, the festival exhibits the finest human rights films and videos in theaters, at universities and on cable television throughout the United States and a growing number of cities abroad-a reflection of both the scope of the festival and the increasingly global appeal that the project has generated.

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival was established in 1988, in part to mark the tenth anniversary of the founding of what has become Human Rights Watch. After a hiatus of three years, it was resumed in 1991 and has since been presented annually. The 1997 festival featured twenty new films from fifteen countries over a two-week period first in New York, as a collaborative venture with the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and then in Los Angeles with the Museum of Tolerance, and in London in partnership with the Institute of Contemporary Art. A majority of the screenings were followed by discussions with the filmmakers and Human Rights Watch staff on the issues represented in each work. The festival included feature-length fiction and documentary films as well as works-in-progress and experimental films.

In selecting films for the festival, Human Rights Watch concentrates equally on artistic merit and human rights content. The festival encourages filmmakers around the world to address human rights subject matter in their work and presents films and videos from both new and established international filmmakers. Each year, the festival's programming committee screens over 600 films and videos to create a diverse and challenging program that represents a broad array of countries and issues. Once a film is nominated for a place in the festival, staff of the relevant division of Human Rights Watch also view the work to confirm its accuracy in the portrayal of human rights concerns.

Each year the festival is launched in New York with an opening night that features a film's U.S. premiere. In 1997 the festival's opening night centerpiece was "The Truce", by Italian director, Francesco Rosi. The award-winning film is based on Primo Levi's autobiographical novel which traces his return to Italy at the end of the Second World War.

In conjunction with the opening night, the festival annually awards a prize in the name of cinematographer and director Nestor Almendros, who was a cherished friend of the festival. The award, which includes a cash prize of $5,000, goes to a deserving new filmmaker in recognition of his or her contributions to human rights through film. The 1997 recipient of the Nestor Almendros Award was Zimbabwean filmmaker Ingrid Sinclair, for her outstanding film "Flame," a fictional account of two young women's fight against white minority rules in what was then Rhodesia. Because of a short scene in the film in which its heroine is raped by her commander, "Flame" was almost banned before its completion and for more than one year provoked widespread debate within Zimbabwe. "Flame" also became the centerpiece of the festival's Women's Day Program- a day and evening exclusively devoted to films and videos that address women's rights around the world.

In 1995, in honor of Irene Diamond, a longtime board member and supporter of Human Rights Watch, the festival launched a new award, the Irene Diamond Lifetime Achievement Award, which is presented annually to a director whose life's work illuminates an outstanding commitment to human rights and film. The 1997 award went to American director Alan J. Pakula, for his role in encouraging American independent filmmakers to produce provocative, challenging human rights films for wider audiences.

Highlights of the 1997 festival featured thematic screenings including films dealing with ethnic conflict, land rights, international conspiracies and the right to education. The 1997 festival also included a retrospective of the work of African-American director Charles Burnett, whose latest film, "Nightjohn," had its commercial theater premiere. Unlike Burnett's other films, "Nightjohn" is a period piece set in the antebellum South, a compelling story of a slave who gives up freedom in order to teach fellow slaves how to read and write. The retrospective of Burnett's work highlighted his thirty- year career of making films chronicling everyday lives in black families and communities and celebrated him as one of America's greatest social realist filmmakers.

In 1997 the festival continued its collaborative screenings with the New York African Film Festival, highlighting human rights themes in new African-American cinema.

During the festival's two-week run in New York, its high school project offered daytime screenings for students followed by interactive discussions among the students, their teachers, visiting filmmakers, and Human Rights Watch staff. Special high school screenings were also held in Los Angeles.

In an effort to reach a wider audience and satisfy the growing demand for these films, the festival continued, for the third year, its "Global Showcase," a touring program of films and videos, which appeared in seven U.S. cities. A tailored version of the global showcase also traveled to Bogotá, Colombia and to Gent, Belgium.

In December, in collaboration with the International American Institute for Human Rights, the festival appeared in San José, Costa Rica exhibiting new films from the Americas dealing with human rights themes. The festival also assisted with the programming for the first human rights festival organized by university students in the Philippines, at the end of December.

The second annual full-scale Human Rights Watch Film Festival in Europe, opened in London on September 30. The collaborative venture between the festival and the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) presented an opening-night British premiere of the dramatic feature "Prisoner of the Mountains," about Russian-Chechan conflict. The film was directed by Sergei Bodrov and adapted from a Tolstoy novella. A one-week festival of film and video screenings followed, along with panel discussions with filmmakers from around the world and Human Rights Watch staff. The 1997 London series showcased a weekend of films and discussions with filmmakers from the former Yugoslavia as well as films from Northern Ireland, Japan, Taiwan and the U.S.

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