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Czech Republic: 'One World' Documentary Film Festival Opens In Prague

  • Daisy Sindelar

The third annual One World documentary film festival, which opened yesterday in Prague, is rapidly becoming one of the largest of its kind in Europe. The festival spotlights documentary filmmaking in the area of human rights. This year, over 70 international guests and jury members will be attending the week-long event, which will screen 89 films addressing issues like child labor, racism, and the role of multinationals in developing economies. RFE/RL correspondent Daisy Sindelar reports the festival has a second agenda -- bringing its films to less-traveled venues in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the former Soviet Union.

Prague, 3 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- This week, documentary filmmakers from around the world are converging on Prague for the Czech capital's third annual One World film festival. The festival, which focuses exclusively on documentaries on human rights, has grown from a relatively simple operation in 1999 to one of the foremost events of its kind in Europe.

The weeklong festival (2-10 April) will feature an appearance by Czech President Vaclav Havel (9 April) and a video presentation by UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson. One World will screen 89 films from virtually every corner of the planet, placing it in the ranks of similar festivals organized by the non-governmental organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The festival is organized by the non-governmental People in Need Foundation, which since 1992 has supplied millions of dollars in aid to Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Chechnya. The foundation's Igor Blazevic says the festival's growing prominence has helped it in its secondary role -- showing its films in an ever-greater number of cities in Central Europe. This year the festival will travel to Bratislava, Warsaw, Belgrade, Pristina, and, in an unofficial capacity, Belarus. Blazevic says:

"Our long-term goal is really to organize a real big festival here in Prague, but then really to go with a selection of these films to other Central European regions and to crisis spots, to countries that are still fighting for democracy."

Blazevic says One World organizers screened nearly 500 films before settling on the 89 titles featured in this year's festival. The roster of films reads like a laundry list of the world's most troubled areas and harrowing headlines.

Among the documentaries included in the festival are "Cry Freetown," television journalist Sorious Samura's acclaimed look at the civil war in Sierra Leone, and "Death of the Slaveboy," Swedish filmmaker Magnus Bergmar's look at Pakistani child laborer Iqbal Masih. Sold into slavery by his father at the age of four, Iqbal escaped six years later and won international acclaim in his fight for children's rights in Pakistan before he was murdered in 1995, when he was 12.

In "Argentina's Dirty War," Canadian director Nadine Pequeneza interviews survivors of state-sanctioned torture and interrogation during the South American nation's dictatorship in the late 1970s and early '80s. Croatian filmmaker Andrej Korovljev's "The Years of Rust" portrays workers at a privatized shipyard in the port city of Pula who are systematically worn down by long hours of dangerous work and exploitation by their employers.

A number of festival films -- including "Birds of Naukan," Russian director Aleksei Vakhrushev's portrayal of an Eskimo tribe forced to leave its native Siberian village -- focus on the particular problems of indigenous peoples. The crises in the Balkans and Middle East also figure largely: "Kosovo -- from the Darkest Spring," by Norway's Maria Fulevaag-Warsinski, follows the work of forensic pathologists attempting to identify victims of the war and uncover evidence for future war crimes trials. Palestinian filmmaker Tawfik Abu Wael's "Waiting for Salah Al Din" examines the lives of Jerusalem's Arabs.

Blazevic says the aim of the One World festival is to help build awareness of the world's human rights issues by providing a dimension of subtlety and depth that daily news headlines cannot provide:

"The ordinary newspaper or TV crew will come there [and] will have half an hour, or six hours, to shoot something very quickly. They will come already in advance knowing what they want to shoot, whatever is happening on the ground, and they will come there as a parachutist and say: 'Give me quickly a little bit [of] fighting, give me quickly a couple of victims, give me quickly one raped woman, give me quickly one family who have just lost their youngest daughter, and give me quickly, let's say, blood and tears.'"

He continues:

"What the documentary filmmakers are doing, they are taking time. They are taking time -- spending days and days, nights and nights -- with people, and they get the human dimension of the events. The news [is] never doing that. The news [is] reporting about the people who have power -- [whether] they are good or bad -- and they (that is, filmmakers) are reporting about the masses. What is going on inside these masses, we never get from the ordinary, mainstream media coverage."

The festival will grant awards in a number of categories. Some are traditional, like best film and best director -- and based as much on artistic merit as on content. Others are more unusual, like an award, to be presented by President Havel, for the film making the most outstanding contribution to human rights awareness. There is also the Rudolph Vrba award, named after the Slovak-born Jew who escaped from the Auschwitz death camp and was one of the first people to furnish the world with detailed evidence of the numbers of people murdered there and the methods used by the Nazis.

The festival juries are made up not only of other documentary filmmakers but also of victims of repression and racism from places like Burma, Tibet, and Vietnam. One panel -- which will grant the Mayor of Prague award for the most powerful story -- is composed exclusively of victims of racial attacks in the Czech Republic.

Blazevic says this strategy of using both directors and actual people affected by issues of repression and discrimination helps maintain the integrity of the festival's mission by reminding audiences that these are real issues. Still, Blazevic says he has no illusions that this week's festival will do much to change the world, saying it would be "too ambitious" to expect that a single film can help anybody to get out of prison or save anyone from a devastating war. He says the films being shown this week are only a small part of a gradual process toward education and inspiration.