Films tell hidden human stories

March 21, 1998|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

Baltimore filmgoers will have a rare chance to see the Oscar-nominated documentary "Waco: The Rules of Engagement" at this year's Human Rights Watch Global Showcase International Film Festival, which starts Monday in the auditorium of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, 615 N. Wolfe St.

"Waco," which had its world premiere at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival, has been critically acclaimed throughout the country for its powerful portrait of the siege at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993. Weaving together C-SPAN testimony, interviews, David Koresh's "home videos" and infra-red film of the fires that engulfed the compound and killed most of its members, "Waco" paints a damning picture of the federal government, specifically the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The film makes a convincing case that the BATF staged the siege in order to get funding from Congress and that the fires were a result of government forces looking for a face-saving way to get out of the confrontation.

The Global Showcase includes nine other films culled from the 1997 Human Rights Watch Film Festival, held each June in New York. The 8-year-old festival programs documentaries, dramatic features and short films that tell the human stories behind some of the world's most vexing social problems.

"What's great about these films is that they spark debate and discussion," said John Anderson of the festival. "The titles are chosen and grouped together with that in mind. There are important issues here that people need to talk about and keep on the radar."

Among the other acclaimed documentaries being shown are "It Ain't Love," Susan Todd and Andrew Young's film about teen- agers grappling with violence in a theater improvisation group; "Blacks and Jews," about the relationship between blacks and Jews in America; and "Fear and Learning at Hoover High," Laura Angelica Simon's film about the effects of Proposition 187 on one school in Los Angeles that won a Freedom of Expression Award at Sundance last year. Each showing will be introduced by a local person with expertise in the film's subject.

The showcase will also feature "The Betrayed," about the mothers of Russian soldiers sent to fight in Chechnya; "Chronicle of a Genocide Foretold," which probes the roots of the Hutu-Tutsi war in Rwanda; "Devils Don't Dream!" a portrait of Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, a popularly elected leader who was toppled by the CIA; "15 Children," about Brazilian dissidents who were "disappeared" by their government; "Ricardo, Miriam y Fidel," about a young Cuban woman coming to terms with her revolutionary father; and "Stories of Honor and Shame," a collective portrait of Muslim women living on the Gaza Strip.

"Too often we just get headlines and gory photos and you don't know the individual stories behind them. That's what these films do," explained Andrea Holley, co-chair of the Health and Human Rights Group of Hopkins School of Public Health, which is sponsoring the showcase.

"The reason that we brought it here to the school of public health is specifically because health professionals, whatever their capacity, are privy to a lot of [human rights] violations before and after the fact," Holley explained. "Then you have the larger issues. Physicians and health professionals have a responsibility. usually talk in terms of ethics here, but it's not too hard to translate that into human rights on a societal level."

Indeed, it's not too hard to translate what these films have to say on a general level. Although these films -- all of which will be shown on video -- are geared toward public health practitioners and students, they hold tremendous appeal for anyone who has wanted stories deeper than what they get from the news. This is the first time this showcase, from one of the country's most prestigious film festivals, is being brought to the Baltimore-Washington area.

Don't miss this chance to see great films that are rarely shown. You will be engrossed, moved, enraged and provoked, which is more than can be said for most big-screen movies these days.


Monday: "The Betrayed," noon

Tuesday: "Stories of Honor and Shame," noon

Wednesday: "It Ain't Love," noon; "Ricardo, Miriam y Fidel," 7 p.m.

Thursday: "Devils Don't Dream!", noon; "15 Children" and "The Betrayed," 7 p.m.

Friday: "Fear & Learning at Hoover High," noon; "Waco: The Rules of Engagement," 7 p.m.

Saturday: "Blacks & Jews," "Waco: The Rules of Engagement" and "Chronicle of a Genocide Foretold," noon-7 p.m.

Human Rights Watch Global Showcase International Film Festival

Where: East Wing Auditorium, Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, 615 N. Wolfe St.

Tickets: $3 (students $1; JHU employees $2)

Call: 410-534-6267

Web site: http: //

Pub Date: 3/21/98

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