This weekend, the 3rd annual Jayu Human Rights Film Festival takes over The TIFF Bell Lightbox to provide a socially conscious pause from the usual gratuitous Oscar bait December programming. Jayu, meaning “Freedom” in Korean, came to fruition after executive director/programmer Gilad Cohen traveled to North Korea in 2008. The festival originally featured exclusively North Korean-focused films, but today programming has diversified to a global scale. Cohen and his team, who all work completely on a volunteer basis, are especially excited about this year. Here are Studio Beat’s festival picks:
First to Fall, Rachel Beth Anderson and Timothy Grucza (2014)
First to Fall the festival’s opening night film, deals explicitly with change, as it follows two Libyan brothers living in Montréal as they return to their home country to involve themselves in the 2011 Civil War against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. With absolutely no military training, Ahmed and Tarek Ben-Kura made a decision based purely in Nationalism to become freedom fighters in Libya to help oust Gaddafi. The film is intensely emotionally and parallels both the changes that occurred in Libya during the war as well as those faced by the brothers. All in attendance will also get the bonus of viewing local filmmaker Rodrigo Michelangi’s short film Bullets of Peace, an experimental short inspired by the student protests in Venezuela earlier this year.
Cantos, Charlie Petersmann (2013)
Cantos is the most visually engaging film in the festival. It follows the everyday lives or four people living in present-day Cuba as they struggle to negotiate the country’s current identity. Cantos depicts Cuba beyond the travel and tourism locales, as a country where many of the civil liberties that we enjoy and take for granted in North America are restricted. The film also reminds the viewer of the long standing trade embargo between Cuba and The United States, which is one of the most restrictive in the world.
A Quiet Inquisition, Alessandra Zeka and Holen Sabrian Kahn (2014)
Directly related to the women and children’s rights theme of the festival, A Quiet Inquisition is the brave story of Nicaraguan OB/GYN Dr. Carla Cerrato. Cerrato faces the challenge of working in a public hospital as the country passes a new law that bans all abortion, even in cases of rape, incest or to save a women’s life. A Quiet Inquisition explores how Cerrato and her team must navigate consequences of whether to obey the law and allow women to die or offer their help and be persecuted as the country becomes one of five countries in the world where any termination of pregnancy is illegal. It’s certainly one of the festival’s most important films for all genders. Similar to the opening night film, this screening also includes the thoughtful short film Conceived by Eui Yong Zong, another local filmmaker.
Last Stop, Julie Shiles (2014)
Israel and Palestine’s conflict was recently brought to the forefront of North American news outlets again this summer as the fighting between the two groups resulted in deaths of civilian children. Last Stop continues to hold our attention on the topic, as it documents the daily happenings of Tel Aviv’s labyrinth-esque Central Station. The Palestine/Israel conflict, however, is not the main focus of the film which more than anything illustrates the issues faced in a chaotic space that brings together people of many different socio-economic situations. Last Stop is truly about the struggle to coexist in Israeli society amongst harsh racism and xenophobia.
In Between, Maria Stodtmeier (2013)
In Between, the closing night film, brings programming back to the festival’s roots in North Korean issues. The film profiles the controversial Isang Yun, a man who is equally both revered and detested in both Koreas. Yun is known most commonly for his legacy as a musician and his pro-North Korean activities while living in Paris and Berlin in the mid 20th century. In Between explores the puzzling choices made by Yun in his life-time, as he chose to support the brutal dictatorships that once both imprisoned and tortured him. This screening will definitely appeal to those who like a Q& A with their films. Jayu has invited two North-Korean defectors, author Lucia Jang and former street-child gang leader Sungju Lee, to discuss the issues addressed in the film.
Polytechnique, Denis Villeneuve (2009)
December 6, 2014 marks the 25 anniversary of the horrifying Montréal Massacre at École Polytechnique that resulted in the unnecessary death of six women. With senseless violence against women being an unfortunate continuing trend as of late, Jayu presents a special screening of Villeneuve’s telling of the tragic event. Fifty percent of all ticket proceeds will go to a Montréal-based women’s rights organization.
All screenings of the Human Rights Film Festival take place Dec.5th-7th at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Tickets are now available here.
Candice Napoleone currently works at the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre. Prior to the CFMDC, she held various positions at Papirmass, Art Metropole and C Magazine. Read her picks for TIFF ’14 art films here.