Toronto Human Rights Film Festival

The 2011 Toronto Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Now in its eighth season, the Toronto Human Rights Watch Film Festival continues to inspire me with a wide range of new films. Co-presented with TIFF, the festival opens at TIFF Bell Lightbox today with 10 new films that highlight human rights issues around the world, and tell amazing stories in the process.

Since I won't have time to see all ten, I've gone through the list and pulled out five films for my short list. These selections from this year's roster covered a variety of topics and are guaranteed to leave me thinking.

The Green Wave
The Canadian premiere of this documentary-collage is set to open the Festival. The Green Wave is a motion comic that explores the issues surrounding Iran's 2009 presidential election and the protests that came to be known as the Green Wave. The fictional storyline surrounding the characters in the film is derived from Twitter posts, Facebook updates, YouTube videos, and blog entries from the front-lines of the upheaval. There is a still a lot of controversy about the role social media played in Iran's revolution and others, but this tech-savvy film is a great example of the insight social media can give about its users.

Life, Above All
As a heart-warming fictional drama, Life, Above All hits the spot. Stunningly acted, this film tells the story of misunderstandings and innuendos surrounding AIDS in a remote African village. Chanda is a young girl left behind when superstitious rumours about her mother's illness spread, forcing her mother to flee. Unwilling to accept the widespread lies, Chanda decides to fight back and leave her village and school after her mother in pursuit of the truth. This drama is all about fighting the statuo-quo as Chanda pushes to shed light onto her mother's ordeal.

The Oath
This documentary is a great followup to this week's headlines about Al-Qaeda and the "war on terror." The Oath tells a fascinating story of two brothers-in-law who used to work for Osama bin Laden. One, Salim Hamdan, is imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, while the other,Abu Jandal, drives a taxi in Yemen. Jandal was responsible for both recruiting Hamdan to Al-Qaeda in the first place and for later giving up his brother-in-law to US government in exchange for his own freedom. The film captures Jandal, once a notorious jihadist whose name was recognized the world over, struggling with internal conflict about his relative's situation which he helped create.

When We Leave
Action-packed and full of tension, When We Leave is a thriller in its own right. Based on a an honour killing in Berlin in 2005, this fictional drama explores issues surrounding patriarchal societies where women do not have the same rights and freedoms as men. When a woman escapes her abusive husband with her child and seeks refuge with her family, she is crushed that the loving support she expected is replaced with retribution from a family feeling ashamed and betrayed. This gripping, emotional story is guaranteed to be an edge of the seat experience.

Enemies of the People
This documentary about the Khmer Rouge and Cambodia's infamous "Killing Fields," is the host of a shocking confession of murder by Nuon Chea, aka "Brother Number Two," Pol Pot's second-in-command in the notorious regime. Thet Sambath, one of Cambodia's leading journalists, spent years visiting "Brother Number Two" and gaining his trust before this film, and the first-ever admission of guilt from a Khmer Rouge leader, could be recorded. History in the making, this film delves into a mind behind one of history's brutal eras, and presents a shocking and important revelation.

In addition to daily screenings, there will be an opening reception hosted by Human Rights Watch Canada Committee, and a closing reception hosted by the Human Rights Watch Toronto Network. Tickets for the receptions can be purchased by calling the Human Rights Watch office at 416-322-8448 or by emailing

The 8th annual Toronto Human Rights Watch Film Festival opens February 22, 2011 and runs until March 4, 2011. All screenings take place at 8 pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Tickets can be purchased online, by phone at 416-599-TIFF (8433) and 1-888-599-8433, or in person at TIFF Bell Lightbox Box Office, Reitman Square, 350 King Street West, Toronto.

Writing by Casandra Campbell

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