Human Rights Watch Film Festival | Movie Sidebar | Chicago Reader

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 

Featuring Afghan Star, Burma VJ: Reporting From a Closed Country, and more

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This touring program runs Thursday, June 3, through thursday, June 10, at Facets Cinematheque and the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago. Unless otherwise noted, tickets are $9, free for Facets members. Following are selected screenings; for more information and a complete schedule call 773-281-4114 or see

Afghan Star After the people of Afghanistan voted to lift restrictions on public singing and dancing in 2004, the independent Tolo TV channel, inevitably perhaps, launched a native version of Britain's Got Talent and American Idol, called Afghan Star. This fascinating documentary by Havana Marking traces the program's third season from open auditions in Kandahar, which drew some 2,000 hopefuls, through the final episode, which was watched by 11 million Afghans. In a country still dominated by Islamic fundamentalism and marked by ethnic tensions, the show became a lightning rod: the 22-year-old Setara, one of two female singers to appear, was forced into hiding after she spontaneously let her head scarf drop during a number, and the last three contestants became causes for their respective factions. 82 min. —J.R. Jones  Sat 6/5, 3 PM, and Sun 6/6, 7:30 PM, Facets Cinematheque

Burma VJ: Reporting From a Closed Country Since the 1962 military coup that overthrew the elected government in Burma (now Myanmar), citizens there have been subjected to censorship and flagrant human rights abuses. But in 2007, when skyrocketing fuel prices sparked protests in Rangoon, a tiny network of video journalists—the Democratic Voice of Burma—smuggled out footage from cell phones and DV-cams that quickly jumped to global TV and the Internet. For this chilling exposé, Danish director Anders Ostergaard mixes the clandestine images with artful reenactments to show how revered Buddhist monks galvanized people to demonstrate, only to be met with tear gas, beatings, and, in the case of a visiting Japanese journalist, murder. In English and subtitled Burmese. 86 min. —Andrea Gronvall  Fri 6/4, 9 PM, and Thu 6/10, 7 PM, Facets Cinemathetheque

Crude Ace documentary maker Joe Berlinger (Paradise Lost, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster) anatomizes an ongoing, multibillion-dollar class-action lawsuit pitting 30,000 rural Ecuadorians against the Chevron Corporation, which has allegedly been dumping toxic waste into their sustaining length of the Amazon River. Eco-docs are bummers almost by definition, but here Berlinger's superb explanatory skills compensate for any tax on the viewer's conscience; what might have been a rote exercise in green sentimentality becomes a gripping, multifaceted thriller about media politics, global economics, and legal infighting. Wherever your sympathies fall, this may teach you a lot about the way the modern world works. 105 min. —Cliff Doerksen  Mon 6/7, 9 PM, Facets Cinematheque

The Oath Laura Poitras directed this documentary about the divergent fortunes of two men who served Osama bin Laden: his bodyguard, Abu Jandal, now living freely in Yemen, and his driver, Salim Hamdan, now a prisoner at Guantanamo. Screening as part of the opening-night program, which also includes a reception at 5:30 PM and a post-show discussion with Poitras and Joanne Mariner, terrorism/counterterrorism director for Human Rights Watch. Tickets are $75-250.  Thu 6/3, 6:30 PM, Museum of Contemporary Art (Education Center entrance)

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