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Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Co-presented by TIFF and the Human Rights Watch Canada Committee, the ninth edition of the Toronto Human Rights Watch Film Festival opens February 29 at the Bell Lightbox. Running until March 9, the festival’s 2012 programme is comprised of seven documentaries and two dramatic features, and includes four films that screened to critical and popular acclaim at local festivals last year.

Most notably, Jon Shenk’s The Island President claimed the Cadillac People’s Choice Documentary Award at TIFF ’11, and will screen as the festival’s closing night selection. Shenk’s film has become all the more timely in recent days, after its subject, Mohamed Nasheed, was ousted as president of the Maldives in a February 7 military coup. A former pro-democracy activist and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, Nasheed was elected to office in 2008, and gained world-wide notoriety for his campaigns against climate change. Rising sea levels pose a particularly grave threat to the low-lying Maldive Islands, and Nasheed was a prominent participant at the 2009 Copenhagen climate change summit, where Shenk’s cameras captured his urgent efforts to secure political allies. The Island President also relates Nasheed’s history of personal persecution, which has evidently taken yet another dramatic turn.

As it happens, persecution and displacement appear to be overarching themes of this year’s selections, with several films explicitly addressing the plight of refugees. Opening night screening Special Flight documents the anxieties of various asylum-seekers at Switzerland’s Frambois detention centre, as they await word on the status of their potentially life-changing applications. TIFF ’11 selection Color of the Ocean is a moral drama set on the Canary Islands, in which the lives of a pair of African refugees, a German tourist, and a Spanish border guard become fatefully entwined. Burma Soldier explores the brutality of Burma’s 50-year military junta through the recollections of a former solider of the regime, now a refugee in neighbouring Thailand.

Also screening are Lee Hirsch’s The Bully Project (read our Hot Docs 2011 review here), Susan Youssef’s Habibi (our TIFF ’11 review is here), The Price of Sex by Mimi Chakarova, Pamela Yates’ Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, and This Is My Land … Hebron, co-directed by Giulia Amati and Stephen Natanson.

For tickets and a full screening schedule, visit TIFF’s Human Rights Watch 2012 page.

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