Human Rights Watch Film Festival Shines a Light on Dark Stories
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Human Rights Watch Film Festival Shines a Light on Dark Stories

Still from The Color Of The Ocean, courtesy of TIFF.

Toronto Human Rights Watch Film Festival
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Running through March 9
6$-$13 for individual tickets

The Color Of The Ocean

A small boat washes ashore on an island off the coast of Spain. There are upwards of twenty African refugees aboard, dehydrated and close to death, including Zola Kalala (Hubert Kounde), a man desperately seeking a better life for his son. A vacationing German woman, Nathalie (Sabine Timoteo), understandably wanting to help, provides the little water that she has and rushes off to get more. While she’s gone, the authorities arrive, including Jose (Alex Gonzalez), a young officer with a troubled personal life and a cold demeanor. He has seen many boats like this and will see many more—they are merely part of the job to him.

These three characters and their disparate but always intertwined stories make up Maggie Peren’s The Colour of the Ocean, a hard-hitting drama that uses this set-up to explore the inherent virtues and dangers of compassion.

Perhaps because of the structure, which recalls the work of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel, Amores Perros), the three narratives are not always equally absorbing. Zola’a forlorn quest remains undeniably engrossing—Kounde is a compelling screen presence—but the other two threads do meander at times before eventually revealing a larger purpose. They do compliment each other thematically, however, and manage to satisfyingly tie together by the film’s conclusion.

The Color of the Ocean screen Saturday March 9 at 8 p.m.

Burma Soldier

Following on the heels of the Paradise Lost documentary series detailing the story of the West Memphis Three, HBO brings us another tale of a man unjustly imprisoned and repressed in Burma Soldier. This one concerns Myo Myint and his transformation from the titular dedicated soldier to stifled political activist. Through archival footage and interviews with Myint, the film illuminates the long tumultuous reign of a brutal military government.

With few other career opportunities available, Myint joined the army at a young age. Despite bearing witness to corruption and horrendous abuse of power, he served his country well—his dutiful acceptance of orders eventually put him in the path of a mortar shell, costing him an arm and a leg.

After much soul searching, Myint decided to learn more about the history of his country and, in turn, teach others about the elusive facts that the powers-that-be wished to keep hidden from its people. This led to him speaking at rallies and eventually organizing protests during the major uprising that took place in 1988. It also made him an target for arrest, though that didn’t cause him to change his views. “I don’t believe in military government,” he said during his trial; Myint was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Burma Solder screens Sunday March 4 at 8 p.m.

The Price Of Sex

The subjects of Mimi Chakorova’s documentary The Price of Sex are young Eastern European women, lured from their poverty-stricken towns by the certainty that there must be something better awaiting them in the larger cities beyond. It’s only when they find themselves being all but forced to service their first clients that they realize there is no waitress job awaiting them there—just a bleak, degrading future.

This is an obvious passion project for Chakorova and her dedication to the cause is admirable—and at times, startling. She spent seven years exploring the subject, amassing a wealth of contacts and interviews. From cops to lawyers and, of course, the women themselves, Chakorova elicits candor and heart-wrenching emotion from all involved. And yet this is still not enough to paint as thorough a picture of the seamy world as she would like. Instead, she takes her cameras to the streets and, in one dicey sequence, goes undercover as a prostitute herself with a hidden camera to get an inside look at a brothel.

The film is a travelogue from hell, taking the viewer across the globe to pockets and back alleys of cities like Istanbul and Dubai while pulling back the curtain on exploitation and degradation of the worst kind. The only drawback of the film is that the narration (done by Chakorova herself) is slightly stilted and monotone, but it can hardly be considered much of a gripe, especially considering the lengths to which she has gone to document these atrocities.

The Price of Sex screens Tuesday March 6 at 8 p.m.