Friday marked the launch of the 15th annual
Human Rights Watch International Film Festival (HRWIFF), a showcase of some of 2003-4's most important
films covering subjects such as child prostitutes in Calcutta, international drug trafficking and the debates
surrounding the death penalty in the United States. Co-presented by Human Rights Watch and the
Film Society of Lincoln Center, the festival runs through June 24th at the Walter Reade
Thearer in Lincoln Center.
All but four films in this year's program are New York premieres, including last Thursday's special benefit screening of Joshua Marston's award-winning film, Maria Full of Grace. The film is a story of a young Columbian woman forced into becoming a mule for the drug cartels. Set to be released in the US on July 16th by Fine Line through their deal with HBO, the film won the best actress Silver Berlin Bear for Catalina Sandino Moreno and the Alfred Bauer award at this year's Berlinale, as well as the dramatic feature audience award at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
This year's Irene Diamond Lifetime Achievement Award was awarded to Peruvian filmmaker Francisco Lombardi "for his lifelong commitment to human rights filmmaking." Lombardi's latest film, What the Eye Doesn't See, is a mosaic of fictional stories set against the real-life collapse of the government of Peru's former president, Alberto Fujimori and screened on opening night.
HRWIFF's other major award, the Nestor Almendros Prize for courage and commitment in human rights filmmaking, will be awarded to first time New York filmmakers Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman for Born Into Brothels, their documentary look at the children of prostitutes in Calcutta.
Other films screening during the fest include Persons of Interest from filmmakers Alison Maclean (Jesus' Son) and Tobias Perse, "a investigation of civil rights abuses committed by the U.S. Justice Department on thousands of immigrants of Arab or Muslim descent who were detained after September 11th. Also included in the fest are a new film by Jonathan Stack (The Farm: Angola USA) and upcoming releases The Corporation by Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar and The Yes Men by Dan Ollman, Sarah Price and Chris Smith.