Rights way

Pub date February 24, 2009
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

Ask any filmmaker: facts and figures may horrify, but images are what leave the most lasting impression. With raw and shocking footage of worldwide atrocities, the movies featured in this year’s Human Rights Watch International Film Festival speak multitudes — even when their narrators are silent. Rather than attempt to encapsulate the entirety of the injustices committed, these films focus on the human side of things. And so we get glimpses: a mother weeping over the daughter taken from her, a student cradling her bloody head as she leads a protest.

Two particularly effective films restrict their focus to the women involved in these struggles—as perpetrators and as victims. Tamar Yarom’s To See If I’m Smiling (2007) avoids such labels and focuses on female Israeli soldiers as individuals. Some might criticize the film for its apolitical tone. While many of the women lament war crimes, they have little to say about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole. But the story that emerges from these interviews is a unique one, and a valuable addition to the ongoing debates. To See If I’m Smiling doesn’t seek to justify the actions of the Israeli Army, but rather to give its subjects space to reflect — both on their rights and on the rights they served to protect.

The scope of Julie Bridgham’s The Sari Soldiers (2008) is considerably wider. Her female subjects are the civilians of Nepal, the Maoist rebels, the Royal Nepal Army soldiers. Some are loyal to the king, while others march in protest. Bridgham wisely avoids coming down on one side or the other, allowing us to see that these women are united not by ideologies, but by their shared belief in a better Nepal.

One film can’t sum up a human rights quandary — and it surely can’t solve it either. At the very least, though, this festival gives a voice to people in dire need of speaking, whether through pictures or words.


Wed/27–Fri/27, $5.50–$9.50

Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk.

March 5–26, $6–$8

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF