Human Rights Watch 2012 (February 29 – March 9)
Toronto’s most humanist film festival is back for its ninth year, once again taking place at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Human Rights Watch is actually a traveling festival that brings a specially curated selection of about a dozen films to nine major cities in North America, and also to London, England. This year’s festival includes a couple of titles from TIFF last September (The Island President, Habibi) as well as one of the bigger audience hits from last year’s Hot Docs (The Bully Project). Tickets are on sale now; regular Lightbox prices apply to all screenings.
One particularly strong title in this year’s festival is Fernand Melgar’s Special Flight, a candid documentary about a Swiss prison for detained residents ‘suspected’ of being illegal immigrants — they can, by law, be held here for up to two years, purely because of suspicion, until it is decided whether or not they will receive that ‘special flight’ back to their home country. The prisoners, guards, and staff are shown in their every day environment, and help to frame an image of a prison scenario that flips our pre-conceived notions of what life is like in the big house. Guilty or innocent, the glimpses of these human beings quietly subverts the phobias and prejudices created by that arbitrary thing we call a border.
“..Whether documentary or fiction, films on human rights issues can not only change the way people see the world and affect their future actions, but in some cases — such as Pamela Yates’ Granito — can actually become instruments of justice in themselves. Offering sobering accounts of oppression, violence, and intolerance occurring worldwide, the films in this year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival also allows us to experience the courage of the victims of and fighters against injustice, who share their stories of survival and their inspiring will to rebuild their lives. In their unblinking confrontation with suffering, these films offer hope that the very act of bearing witness can in itself help prevent the occurrence of further atrocities. — Alex Rogal