Real life stories light up big screen

The best films about human rights from around the world will be showing downtown this week as part of this year’s Amnesty International Film Festival. Audience members can take part by viewing the movies as well as getting involved with campaigns surrounding the issues.

Amnesty International is a global movement of 2.8 million supporters in more than 150 countries who work to end the abuse of human rights and improve people’s lives everywhere. Don Wright is the staff organizer for Amnesty International, Pacific Region (B.C., Alberta, and the Yukon).

“We try to find films that haven’t been seen before,” said Wright by telephone. The programming committee spends a lot of time reviewing and choosing the final lineup. “All of them are worthy to see.”

Many of the films have speakers in attendance, who can talk directly about the issue of the film or link it to what’s happening in Canada and tell people how they can respond to the issues. They help the audience debrief about how they might respond or become involved. There will also be other activist groups at the theatre with petitions and information about related campaigns.

“It’s unique in that way for a film festival―it’s action oriented,” said Wright.

Celebrating its 15th year, the film festival was started by then-Vancouverite Allison Urowitz and activists from AI Group 17 (East Vancouver), one of the earliest collectives formed in Canada sometime in the mid-1970s. While Urowitz moved to Toronto recently, local people like Zoe Hunter carry on the festival. Group 17 still meets on Commercial Drive the second Saturday of the month to continue with campaign work.

“For activists to be in a room full of people, who are concerned about the issues, it is really life affirming,” Wright said about the weekend event.
While all the films have their merit, The Source previewed a few to help readers choose.

Sounds Like a Revolution

A documentary featuring extensive personal interviews with musical artists―like David Crosby, Michael Franti, NOFX’s Fat Mike and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello―about the effects of the corporate monopolization of music. The film shows the grassroots activity of indie musicians who are willing to speak out about political issues affecting the United States and the subsequent censorship of their work. A fascinating film that makes the viewer want to go buy and listen to all their music.


An award-winning fiction film, in French and English, dramatizing the predicament of migrants from the Middle East as they try to gain entry to England from France. Set on the coast in Calais, the story focuses on Bilal Kayani, a teenaged Iraqi-Kurd who is trying to follow his girlfriend to London. After a failed attempt to illegally cross the channel by truck, Bilal decides he will learn to swim it.  He hires French swim coach Simon Calmat to give him lessons. A tenuous relationship forms between the two with unexpected results. The film clearly illustrates the legal and moral issues faced by both migrants and citizens in an enthralling manner.

Nero’s Guests

Follow P. Sainath, a rural affairs editor for The Hindu newspaper, as he investigates the epidemic of farmer suicides taking place in India. He argues that the agrarian crisis is being driven by corporate farming and its predatory commercialization of the countryside which is causing the biggest displacement of poor people in agricultural history. A compelling and articulate film about modern India.

The Big Sellout

A journey to four countries on as many continents, this documentary looks at the privatization of services and their effects on the local citizens―healthcare in the Phillipines, electricity in South Africa, railways in Britain, and water in Bolivia. In particular, the film shows how active resistance campaigns in Soweto and Cochabamba have led to victories both small and large. A cautionary tale for citizens around the globe.

See the films Nov. 18–21. All play at the VIFF Vancity Theatre. General admission for most films is $9. Matinees, students, seniors, and underemployed persons admission is $7. For details,

About Kerry Hall

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