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A Righteous Film Fest Spans Lubbock to Northern Ireland - With A Stop At Mardi Gras

As our long nuclear winter of human rights abuses continues with authorization to build the Great Wall of the Rio Grande as well as desecration of privacy rights, particularly of the people we honor on this Memorial Day weekend, there comes a glimmer of sanity from the North Side. Beginning this evening, the Human Rights Watch Traveling Film Festival stops at Facets for a one-week engagement.

Human Rights Watch, the festival's sponsoring organization, started its international film festival in 1994, "in recognition of the power of film to educate and galvanize a broad constituency of concerned citizens." Organizers rigorously fact-check
selected films for accuracy, though no point of view is censored. Until four years ago, the festival played only in New York City and London. Recognizing that the enemy of freedom is ignorance, HRW started making a sampling of the best of the fest available to venues anywhere in the United States and Canada that wanted to host them. Facets has been showing them ever since.

The 2005-2006 selection of 12 films includes both features and documentaries. I caught two of the films on The Sundance Channel and both are worth a look. The Education of Shelby Knox focuses on the attempts of a conservative, evangelical Christian teenager to force her Lubbock, Texas, school district to offer sex education classes to stem the high rate of teen pregnancies and STDs. Shelby Knox proves that, yes, conservatives have brains, too, and can use them in the service of the common good - she's really a remarkable person. I saw Mardi Gras: Made in China on the eve of New Orleans's first such celebration after Killer Katrina drowned its streets. I became the official killjoy in my office when I rejected the beads my co-workers were handing out by saying, "I know the near-slave who burned herself putting those beads together is very happy for you." Yes, definitely don't invite me to your next party. But do see this movie.

If you've got the scratch ($75-$250), I strongly urge you to support Human Rights Watch by attending the benefit showing of Omagh on June 1 at the Museum of Contemporary Art. This feature, written and produced by Paul Greengrass, is one of the miracles I occasionally run across in my filmic adventures. Greengrass has carved an indelible niche in the film industry making docudramas about atrocities. Omagh tells of the 1998 bombing of the Northern Irish city of Omagh by a splinter group of the IRA four months after the Good Friday Accords brought peace to Northern Ireland. Although the aftermath of the bombing looks a bit like a disaster drill, the film quickly penetrates deeply into the grief and outrage of the families who lost loved ones as they seek truth and justice from their police force and elected officials. Omagh highlights how politics can often run over innocent bystanders and leaves us with questions about what actions truly serve the greater good. This film will move you and make you think. You must purchase tickets in advance by phoning (212) 216-1805.

Greengrass is also the director of another film I want to recommend, one particularly relevant to Memorial Day in its broadest context, but one that many of you may have been avoiding and possibly condemning sight unseen - United 93. I was one of the people who thought it was too soon for a movie dealing with the 9/11 tragedy. I am relieved to say that Greengrass has produced a genuine masterpiece - sensitive to a still-traumatized public, reportorial when he could have been sensational, sympathetic with the very real confusion such an unthinkable event causes its players, and ever-so-slightly critical of a president and vice president who were nowhere to be found when they were needed most. See Omagh first to assure yourself that Greengrass can be trusted with delicate material. Then, take a deep breath and go see United 93. You actually might hurt less if you do.



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Posted on May 26, 2006


MUSIC - Muddy Waters Museum Has Mojo.
TV - Comic-Con 2020: Fans vs. Critics.
POLITICS - When Bigotry Masquerades As Choice.
SPORTS - Notre Dame's Deception.

BOOKS - Searching For The World's Largest Owl.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - YOU BE MY ALLY.


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