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June 2004


New York, June 10-24 2004

Graphic photographs from Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison remind us that in the battle for human rights, image is ammunition. The power of the image - and the individuals behind them - resonate in the twenty-seven films and videos featured in the 15th annual Human Rights Watch International Film Festival. All but four of these are New York premieres. Co-presented by Human Rights Watch and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the festival will run from Friday, June 11 to Thursday, June 24 at the Film Society's Walter Reade Theater in New York City.

The festival's special June 10th Benefit will feature the New York premiere of Joshua Marston's Sundance Audience Award-winner MARIA FULL OF GRACE, the riveting story of a young Colombian woman who is thrust into the dangerous world of international drug trafficking. The gala will also feature the presentation of the HRWIFF's annual Irene Diamond Lifetime Achievement Award to Peruvian filmmaker Francisco Lombardi for his lifelong commitment to human rights filmmaking. Lombardis latest film, WHAT THE EYE DOESN'T SEE, a stirring mosaic of fictive stories set against the real-life collapse of President Fujimori's regime, will screen on opening night. The festival's other major honor, the Nestor Almendros Prize for courage and commitment in human rights filmmaking, will be given this year to New York filmmakers Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman for BORN INTO BROTHELS, a deeply compassionate look at the lives of the children of prostitutes in Calcutta's red light district.

The lives of marginalized youth on American soil - in this instance, juvenile offenders serving brutally long prison sentences - is given unflinching treatment in JUVIES, a documentary born out of filmmaker Leslie Neale's experience teaching video at Los Angeles Juvenile Hall. Here in New York City, the Education Video Center (EVC) gives at-risk youth the opportunity to document their daily struggles through access to video cameras, and in FIGHTING TO LEARN AND LEARNING TO FIGHT, a number of these compelling youth-produced works will be shown.

The American justice system is the focus of two of the festival's most ;provocative documentaries: In Katy Chevigny and Kirsten Johnston's DEADLINE
we are thrust directly into the complex and highly emotional debate around the death penalty, while in PERSONS OF INTEREST filmmakers Alison Maclean and Tobias Perse look at the civil rights abuses perpetrated by the U.S. Justice Department on thousands of immigrants of Arab or Muslim background who were detained after the September 11th terrorist attacks.

In a year when events in the Middle East and the war against terror continued to dominate the international media, it was easy to be distracted from the profound human cost of wars fought in other parts of the world. In LIBERIA: AN UNCIVIL WAR, director Jonathan Stack journeys to the heart of the decade-long civil battle where thousands died in the last year alone and the U.S. did little to respond to the growing crisis. In REPATRIATION, Korean filmmaker Dong-won Kim eloquently explores the tragic separation of his homeland through the story of two North Korean men who served thirty dehumanizing years as political prisoners in the south and are finally free to return home.

The festival ends on a buoyant note with the wonderfully subversive THE YES MEN, which follows two merry pranksters-cum-political activists as they impersonate World Trade Organization officials at business conferences around the world.

Other festival highlights include THE CORPORATION, which deftly analyzes the very nature of the corporate institution, its impacts on our planet, and what people are doing in response; SAINTS AND SINNERS, the emotional journey of a devoutly Catholic gay couple determined to marry in a Catholic church; ONE SHOT, a disturbing look at snipers in the Israel Defense Force through their own words; DISCORDIA, which charts the turbulent progress of three Montreal campus activists on opposing sides of the Israel/Palestine debate; and THE KITE, a touching Lebanese drama about two young lovers separated by politically imposed borders.

The festival is also pleased to present with MediaRights, the 4th annual online Media That Matters Film Festival. For more information go to www.MediaThatMattersFest.org.

For schedules on other films, go to http://hrw.org/iff/2004/ny/schedule.html