20th Human Rights Film Festival expected to spark conversations of change

Human rights film fest aims to inspire conversation

The annual Newhouse School screening event uses movies to bring awareness to students about global social justice issues.
Published: September 22, 2022 | Updated: September 26th, 2022 at 9:11 am
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'Tantura' is a documentary directed by Alon Schwarz.

When a movie has a profound impact on an audience, it has the ability to motivate daunting, yet essential conversations.

And organizers of this year’s lineup of award-winning films at the 20th Syracuse University Human Rights Film Festival hope they will do just that.

The festival will feature four documentaries and one Bangladeshi feature film, each addressing a different global social justice topic that relates to this year’s Syracuse Symposium theme of “Repair.”

The free film festival is open to the public with Thursday and Friday’s screenings scheduled in the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium in Newhouse 3 and Saturday’s showings in Shemin Auditorium.

Tantura – 7 p.m. Thursday

The festival’s opener is director Alon Schwarz’s documentary, Tantura, which places a critical lens on the massacre that happened in the Palestinian village of Tantura when war erupted in 1948.

“It’s about repairing the pain or the silencing of a community by people in power,” said television, radio and film Prof. Tula Goenka, founder and co-director of SUHRFF.

Tantura instigates the silence of the Israeli government and the taboo that surrounds the discussion of the nation’s past and what truly happened in Palestinian villages like Tantura.

Goenka said Tantura is a unique documentary because it was created by an Israeli filmmaker and also told from the perspective of Israeli citizens. Many documentaries on this topic are told from the Palestinian point of view, she said.

“I’m hoping that by watching this film, we’ll get people to question the history that they have been taught,” Goenka said.

Framing Agnes – 7 p.m. Friday

Directed by Chase Joynt, Framing Agnes broadens its audience’s scope of trans history. The documentary brings forgotten medical archives to life as trans stars vividly reenact the histories of trans people in ‘60s Los Angeles.

“Joynt uses inventive formal devices to repair trans histories,” Goenka said.

Framing Agnes aims to heal the pain that has been inflicted upon the trans community and silenced by medical science, Goenka said.

Hidden Letters – 1 p.m. Saturday

Directed by Violet Du Feng and Zhao Qing, Hidden Letters explores a centuries-old secret text called Nushu that was developed by women in China to inform and empower each other.

Hidden Letters follows two modern women in China struggling with their cultural identity who bond over their appreciation for Nushu. The documentary explores the tensions between the ability Nushu has to empower women and the government’s intent to commodify it.

“There’s that battle between something commercial, or official and something organic,” Goenka said.

Aftershock – 4 p.m. Saturday

Aftershock, directed by Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee, examines how the U.S.’s high rate of maternal mortality disproportionately affects Black women. The documentary follows the grieving families of two young mothers who died because of this, as they make efforts to spark social change.

Rehana Maryam Noor – 7 p.m. Saturday

SUHRFF will close Saturday night with Rehana Maryam Noor, a Bangladeshi feature film directed by Abdullah Mohammad Saad. Rehana Maryam Noor follows a doctor who advocates justice for a student who was sexually assaulted by a colleague.

Viewers can’t always make direct change in the world after merely watching a movie. But Goenka said she hopes this year’s SUHRFF will help broaden students’ knowledge of social justice issues and inspire them to make change in the Syracuse community.

“There’s a lot of things going on in the world that we aren’t aware of because we just tend to live in these bubbles of social media, news or work life and I think it is incumbent on all of us to care about what is happening around the world,” Goenka said.