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5 films to watch at the 2013 Human Rights Watch Film Festival in Toronto

Posted by Johnny Larocque / February 19, 2013

No La PeliculaNow in its 10th year, the Toronto Human Rights Watch Film Festival returns with a ten film lineup of politically charged, inspiring stories covering themes of oppression, violent struggle and resilient humanity.

Co-presented with TIFF, the festival opens at TIFF Bell Lightbox next Tuesday (February 26th) with films that highlight human rights issues around the world, from North Korea to Northern Ontario, and telling many empowering stories in the process.

Here are five films not to miss.

Tall as the Baobab Tree (Senegal - 2012)
Amongst a selection of bleak and often disturbing films, Tall as the Baobab Tree stands out for its themes of peace and hope. A beautiful window into a kind of life in Africa, a young girl hatches a secret plan to save her kid sister from an arranged marriage, while trying to cope with a changing landscape and rapidly evolving culture. An honest, and somewhat innocent look at a culture that is completely alien to me, I found this film "based on true stories" to be gripping.

The Act of Killing (Denmark / Norway / UK - 2012)
This is a frightening but inventive documentary featuring unrepentant former members of Indonesian death squads, challenged to re-live their "gangster" lives and re-enact some of their many murders in the style of American movies they love. Warning, this film was difficult to sit through. These "men" (it would be insulting to animals to even call them that) brag about brutally murdering communists as members of government sponsored death squads. There seems to be no redemption for these monsters as they walk around free and laughing while they recall treating human beings like dogs. They also enjoy a kind of celebrity, known as patriotic heroes, which is mind-boggling.

Camp 14: Total Control Zone (Germany - 2012)
A powerful documentary telling the tale of Shin Dong-hyuk whose escape from a North Korean labour camp propelled him into a strange new world he was unprepared for. After his entire youth was wasted in the camp, Shin has to learn how survive in an entirely different way. This documentary features intimate interviews and animated sequences to tell Shin's dramatic story. The partial English narration was a nice break from a marathon of subtitled films.

No (Chile - 2011)
Gael Garcia Bernal (Motorcycle Diaries) stars as a fresh faced ad exec in Chile during the late 80's who is recruited to craft the political opposition's publicity campaign when the rule of oppressive dictator Augusto Pinochet faced increasing international pressure to legitimize. The government forced a referendum where the people would vote whether or not to keep him in power. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film, No is about selling democracy as "a happy product" to older people who feared change, and to the younger generation who would embrace it.

The People of the Kattawapiskak River (Canada - 2012)
A timely look at human rights violations in our own backyard. Brilliant filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin offers a scalding look at the Attawapiskat First Nation community in Northern Ontario where shamefully low living standards -- and the irresponsible mismanagement by the Canadian government -- compelled Chief Theresa Spence to declare a state of emergency, and later famously begin a hunger strike.

Tickets to the Human Rights Watch Film Festival are currently on sale now. Tickets are $12 ($5 for students). Discounts apply for seniors/members. Tickets can be purchased online at, by phone 416-599-TIFF(8433) and 1-888-599-8433 or in person at the Steve & Rashmi Gupta Box Office, Reitman Square, 350 King Street West, Toronto.



jacs14 / February 19, 2013 at 12:26 pm
I read about Shin's story in the NY times and more recently saw this documentary at TIFF and it was an eye opening expierience to say the least. The director was present for the screening and stayed for an incredibly long Q&A session and his passion for the subject matter is inspiring. He was actually surprised by the full theatre watching his film first thing on a Sunday morning.

It's difficult to watch at times and is unsettling because there is certainly no clear happy ending, particularly for Shin who is so incredibly and deeply damaged from his experiences at the camp. Former prison guards are also interviewed and are surprisingly candid about the atrocities they have committed. This very important piece of work highlights the plight and atrocities that are still happening today within the North Korean border. This is a must see documentary. Highly recommended.
Johnny replying to a comment from jacs14 / February 21, 2013 at 12:07 pm
Agreed. Deeply moving, a worth your time.
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