AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper


Eleven years ago, Amnesty International USA started its annual human-rights film festival in Seattle. Until now it has run in only two other cities: Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. How did Pittsburgh this year get to be No. 4?

It's largely due to the initiative of volunteers from Amnesty's local chapter, whom area coordinator Scott Roller says had talked for a while about organizing their own series of rights-themed films. Last year the group couldn't manage it. But Amnesty was holding its 2003 Annual General Meeting here, April 4-7. So with the help of nonprofit media-arts organization Pittsburgh Filmmakers, the local chapter brought to town the venerable rights group's ready-made series of films and videos about issues including the world AIDS crisis, the child sex trade, political asylum, environmental protection and racial discrimination..

The Amnesty International Film Festival, Pittsburgh division, runs Fri., March 28, through Fri., April 4. Tickets are $6, and $3 for students (at campus screenings only). Films screen at the Melwood Screening Room, 477 Melwood Ave., Oakland; David Lawrence Hall 120, University of Pittsburgh campus; and McConomy Auditorium, Carnegie Mellon University campus. For more information, call Pittsburgh Filmmakers at 412-681-5449 or see

Following are reviews and descriptions of the films. All films are in English unless otherwise noted.

STATE OF DENIAL. Filmmaker Elaine Epstein explores the AIDS epidemic in South Africa's climate of unequal care and government paralysis, framing personal stories of the epidemic's victims with in-depth interviews with politicians, activists and health-care professionals. To be screened by video projection. 8 p.m. Fri., March 28. Melwood

TEN. This fearlessly simple, genre-bending feature by Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami (And the Wind Will Carry Us) is composed of 10 conversations between a woman motorist and a series of passengers as she drives through the city. Each is shot by a stationary digital-video camera mounted on the car's dashboard as the middle-class career woman engages in thoughtful, sometimes heated discussions with, among others: her younger sister; an old woman headed to a mausoleum to pray; and a giggly passenger who's a prostitute. The tight space and surveillance-cam format creates an unflinching, long-take style that captures words, gestures and tones of voice viewers can assemble like puzzle pieces into a picture of women's place in modern Iran. A key are the conversations between the woman and her tantrum-prone 8-year-old son -- her only male passenger -- who is upset that she divorced his father and then remarried, and who doesn't want her to even talk ("You drive me mad with your words"). Their relationship provides a context for statements like the one by a young passenger whose boyfriend refused to marry her: "It's selfish to think everything I like will come true." Kiarostami's deca-logue is urgent and quietly devastating. In Farsi, with subtitles. 8 p.m. Sat., March 29. Melwood (Bill O'Driscoll) * * * 1/2

THE MURDER OF EMMETT TILL. In the deep-fried Southern town of Money, Miss., existed a peculiar currency exchange in which a simple glance at a white woman could cost a black man his life. Anyone believing this a gross exaggeration need look no further than the example set when 14-year-old Emmett Till's head was bludgeoned to a bloody meringue, but not before he was shot through his right temple, for whistling at a white lady. Stanley Nelson's documentary takes less than one hour to tell the story and provide the wrenching images that would make the hardest thug cringe. Chicago native Till made the aforementioned gesture that ultimately found him in a riverbed weighed down by a cotton-gin fan tied with barbed wire around his bashed neck and head. This took place not during slavery or Reconstruction, but in 1955. The film provides footage of the controversial hearing where the white men accused of the murder were acquitted by an all-white jury of their friends. A few months later the scot-free sold their story to a magazine where they admitted in micro-detail how they lynched and tortured Till. Nelson delivers key interviews with blacks present at the time who heard the mob do its business with Till in an old barn. The textbook documentary doesn't add anything new, but a story such as Till's needs no sensationalizing, and what's already been revealed is no less relevant even 50 years later, today. Screens with Fueling the Fire, a short fiction film about the differing perceptions among witnesses to a murder. To be screened by video projection. 8 p.m. Sun., March 30. Melwood (Brentin Mock) * * *

THE DAY MY GOD DIED. Young Nepalese girls stolen from their rural villages and sold into servitude in the brothels of India tell their own stories in filmmaker Andrew Levine's examination of the international child sex trade -- an industry in which everyone profits but the girls. Screens with Asylum, a documentary short about a Ghanaian women seeking political asylum to escape an arranged marriage. To be screened by video projection. 8 p.m. Mon., March 31. Melwood

BUS 174. This documentary very effectively uses a Rio de Janeiro hostage-taking in 2000 to indict as the perpetrators Brazil's slums and jails. The film at times seems like an American action movie and at other times like a knowing parody of one. At age 6, Sandro Rosa di Nascimento sees his mother murdered and descends into a street life of crime, drugs, juvenile homes and jail. He escapes prison many times, but never the poverty and addiction that culminate in a botched bus robbery. Despite a heavy-handed musical soundtrack, and voiceovers whose origins are sometimes unclear, the film gives us close-up, cringe-inducing glimpses of the incident as it plays out in front of incompetent SWAT teams, before ever-present television cameras, and in the minds of the hostages. The film is so well done that one fears for the lives of the bus riders held in Sandro's arms, threatened with his gun, right there on "vivo" news reports, even as they calmly narrate the scene for us years later. "This ain't no action movie!" Sandro calls to police from a bus window. "This here is some serious shit." In the end, "A boy with a gun can make us feel something," explains a sociologist whose assessments seem not the least bit academic. "Fear," concludes the sociologist -- and, for once in Sandro's life, visibility. In Portuguese, with subtitles. 8 p.m. Tue., April 1. Melwood (Marty Levine) * * *

BROTHER OUTSIDER: THE LIFE OF BAYARD RUSTIN. A documentary portrait of the veteran civil rights activist and "troublemaker" who was also openly homosexual. Directed by Nancy Kates and Bennett Singer. To be screened by video projection. 6:30 p.m. Wed., April 2. David Lawrence Hall (A discussion on the civil rights movement will follow the screening.)

BURMA: ANATOMY OF TERROR. Director Isabel Hegner alternates between two views of contemporary Burma: a vibrant, practically joyous one in which villagers, street-dwellers, monks and children frolic in the dusty roads, near their thatched houses, and amid the bustle of life under the hot sun; and a dismal one on the brink of collapse that has suffered for 30 years under the erratic rule of an illegitimate military regime. That said, Hegner somehow manages to show both with equally matter-of-fact tones, despite the gravity of the Burmese situation. Meaning, your mind's eye must focus for several seconds before you realize you're looking at a corpse lying in the shrubbery. Hegner's documentary, narrated by actress Susan Sarandon, rests upon the experiences of two very different proponents of democracy -- Robin, a freedom fighter who has fought the regime with armed ethnic groups, and Democratic Party leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Sun Kyi, who spent a decade under house arrest. Without their testimonies, the film would read like a well-researched report more than a full-bodied documentary. Most natives feared government reprisal for speaking on camera. Screens with A Monk's Voice, a documentary short about a Tibetan monk preserving his culture in exile. To be screened by video projection. 8 p.m. Wed., April 2. Melwood (Sharmila Venkatasubban) * * *

DAM/AGE. Celebrated Indian writer Arundhati Roy and filmmaker Aradhana Seth collaborated on this 50-minute documentary about how Roy ended up in jail for campaigning against a dam project in her home country. Screens with "Ah, The Money, The Money, The Money": The Battle for Saltspring, Mort Ransen's 50-minute documentary about how residents of a British Columbian island tried to halt logging in their idyllic countryside. To be screened by video projection. 8 p.m. Thu., April 3. Melwood

THE EXECUTION OF WANDA JEAN. A chronicle of the final months in the life of Wanda Jean Allen, on Oklahoma's death row for killing her lover, Gloria Leathers. Filmmaker Liz Garbus tracks preparations for a clemency hearing and final visits from family and friends. To be screened by 16 mm projection. 5:30 p.m. Fri., April 4. McConomy. (A discussion with Amnesty's OUTFront Program will follow the screening.)

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