Fri, Jun 10, 2005 - Page 17 News List

Movies move ever closer to political action

The Human Rights Watch Festival in New York marks a point in film history when documentaries shown signs fo moving closer to the forefront of international cinema

By Stephen Holden  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

It has been more than six years since a terrorist bomb killed 29 people and injured more than 300 on a busy Saturday afternoon in the worst atrocity in the 31-year history of the Irish troubles.


Nothing casts a sharper focus on the human cost of terrorism than an examination of its impact on a single family. In Pete Travis' film Omagh, the Gallaghers, who live in the Northern Ireland town of Omagh, are devastated when a car bomb explodes in August 1998 in the center of town, killing more than two dozen people, including their son, Aiden.

The docudrama, which was to open the 16th annual Human Rights Watch International Film Festival at the Walter Reade Theater in New York yesterday, is so skillfully assembled and powerfully acted that fiction merges with reality.

Responsibility for the bombing was claimed by dissident Irish Republican Army members, who call themselves the Real IRA.

They were determined to disrupt the peace process that began four months earlier with the signing of the Good Friday peace accords.

Weeks after the bombing, Aiden's father, Michael (Gerard McSorley), a mild-mannered auto mechanic, becomes chairman of a support group for the victims' families.

he presses for an investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators, he is awakened to the painful realities of police incompetence, foot-dragging, coverups and poor communication between investigative agencies. The resemblance between these events and the revelations of the mistakes and confusion surrounding 9/11 is inescapable.

Omagh exemplifies a principle guiding the selection of films in the festival, which is showing 26 movies from 20 countries through June 13. Most of these films view the struggles of ordinary people waging uphill battles against social, political and economic forces beyond their control from a ground-level perspective. The individual counts.

David Redmon's punchy documentary critique of globalization, Mardi Gras: Made in China, looks at the conditions in a factory in the Chinese city of Fuzhou, where young workers, mostly women, are paid US$1.20 a day to work 14- to 20-hour shifts in enforced silence making the beads showered onto revelers in New Orleans in exchange for baring their breasts at Mardi Gras.

The Chinese factory owner, who sees himself as a good guy and model manager, boasts of the punishments he exacts in wages from the workers toiling in sweatshop conditions when they don't meet their quotas. In a nifty turnabout, the filmmaker asks the revelers if they know where the beads come from. They don't, of course, and even when told, few seem to care. When he also shows the Chinese workers pictures of how the beads are used, they giggle in embarrassment.

The 15-year-old subject of the documentary The Education of Shelby Knox is a brave, smart, independent high-school-age crusader for sex education in Lubbock, Texas, a city that has one of the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases among teenagers in the country. Because the local high schools teach abstinence as the only safe sex, Shelby's efforts are tolerated only to a point by the city's conservative, Christian political establishment.

The movie is a pungent civics lesson on what can and cannot be accomplished by one plucky, idealistic girl.

Margaret Loescher's Pulled From the Rubble, filmed and narrated by its creator, is an intimate, inspiring portrait of courage and resilience. On Aug. 19, 2003, her father, Gil Loescher, an expert on refugee issues, was attending a meeting at the UN headquarters in Baghdad when a truck packed with explosives destroyed the building and killed everyone at the meeting but him. The movie is his daughter's journal of his recovery after losing both legs above the knee and much of his right hand. He subsequently learned to walk with prosthetic legs; he has said that the explosion was the beginning, not the end, of his life.

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