Relocating this year from Facets Cinematheque to Gene Siskel Film Center, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival runs Friday, May 18, through Wednesday, May 30. Tickets are $11, $7 for students, and $6 for Film Center members. Following are reviews of selected films through May 30; for a full schedule see siskelfilmcenter.org.
The List This informative documentary calls attention to the tens of thousands of Iraqis currently targeted by extremists in their own land for having assisted reconstruction efforts by the United States Agency for International Development. Their predicament is not only tragic but also infuriating, because the U.S. government has denied most of them refugee status. Director Beth Murphy (Beyond Belief) highlights the privately funded efforts of Kirk Johnson, a former USAID employee, to help these people escape political persecution. His story is uplifting but, given the huge number of Iraqis still in the crosshairs, hardly cause for optimism. In English and some subtitled Arabic. —Ben Sachs 84 min. Murphy and Andrea Prasow of Human Rights Watch lead a discussion at the Friday screening. Fri 5/18 and Mon 5/21, 8 PM
Reportero U.S. journalists who think they’ve got it tough should consider the situation in Mexico: according to this documentary by Bernardo Ruiz, 40 investigative reporters have been killed or have gone missing there since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels in December 2006. Ruiz focuses on Zeta, an employee-owned newsweekly in Tijuana whose reporting on government corruption and organized crime has been accompanied by a succession of assassination plots against its employees (in 1988, columnist Hector Felix Miranda was shot to death by security guards linked to a local gambling kingpin; in 1997, publisher Jesus Blancornelas was ambushed by a phalanx of gunmen but miraculously survived; and in 2004, editor Francisco Ortiz Franco was snuffed in a drive-by shooting). If that isn’t discouraging enough, one citizen interviewed for the documentary explains, “Most people don’t read [Zeta], because it’s too wordy.” In Spanish with subtitles. —J.R. Jones 70 min. Ruiz leads a discussion after the Friday screening. Fri 5/25, 6 PM, and Sun 5/27, 5:15 PM.
Under African Skies Paul Simon returns to South Africa for a 25th-anniversary performance of his celebrated 1986 album Graceland. Though destined for VH1, this feature by Joe Berlinger (Metallica: Some Kind of Monster) opens out more than most music documentaries, if only because the political controversy surrounding the album still doesn’t seem quite resolved. To record with an assortment of black players in Johannesburg, Simon violated the United Nations’ cultural boycott of South Africa; his move angered the African National Congress, and protests dogged the ensuing concert tour. Ultimately, Graceland became a potent weapon against apartheid, communicating the indomitable joy of black South Africa, though as Dali Tambo of Artists Against Apartheid recalls in the film, “At that moment in time, it was not helpful.” With Harry Belafonte, Quincy Jones, Hugh Masekela, Joseph Shabalala, and Oprah Winfrey. —J.R. Jones 108 min. Liesl Gerntholtz of Human Rights Watch leads a discussion after the Saturday screening. Sat 5/19, 7:30 PM, and Wed 5/23, 6 PM.