Scholars, artists, curators, activists, local historians and members of the public will convene at Syracuse University Oct. 6-7 to discuss the rightful place of monuments in our society and the increasing complexity they represent today in terms of their cultural,…
Human Rights Film Festival: Changing the World, One Conversation at a Time
From the rural landscape of Michigan, to the devastated landscape of Bucha in the Ukraine, to the virtual landscape of the African diaspora, filmmakers address social issues and the fight for human rights around the globe at the 21st annual Syracuse University Human Rights Film Festival. The festival, a cherished annual event on the University calendar, has been held over two decades, representing an dynamic interdisciplinary collaboration across schools and colleges. The Newhouse School of Public Communications and the Humanities Center in the College of Arts and Sciences partner to co-present the festival.
“The film festival provides a space for faculty, students, staff and community members not just to view impactful films, but more importantly have a space in which we can share our reactions to them, ask questions of their filmmakers and learn more about the situations, people and events they depict,” says Roger Hallas, associate professor of English and director of the festival. “This is how films can change the world, one conversation at a time.”
Founded by Tula Goenka, professor and graduate director of television, radio and film in the Newhouse School, the festival has consistently engaged the urgent issues of our time, from climate change to institutional racism to ongoing wars. Two films about the current war in Ukraine, to be presented Saturday, Sept. 23 at 1 p.m., were made by filmmakers with Syracuse connections. Shashkov Protyah’s short film “My Favorite Job” offers an intimate look of Ukrainian volunteers rescuing civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol. “I was struck by how powerfully this short film conveyed the courage and resilience of the rescuers,” says Hallas. Protyah is a member of Freefilmers, a film collective from the city, whose members include Oksana Kazmina, who is also a current graduate student in the M.F.A. film program in the College of Visual and Performing Arts.
“My Favorite Job” is paired with the feature film “When Spring Came to Bucha,” directed by Mila Teshaieva and Marcus Lenz, which follows the lives of the Ukrainian village outside Kyiv after liberation from Russian occupation as the full extent of the atrocities committed there come into full view. Photographer and filmmaker Teshaieva was an artist in residence at Light Work in 2016. Teshaieva, Protyah and Kazmina will all participate in the post-screening discussion.
The film festival is part of Syracuse Symposium, which is marking its 20th anniversary. The Symposium theme of “Landscapes” weaves throughout the films. “The film festival’s 2023 lineup takes up diverse meanings of the concept, from the politics of memory to questions of grief and trauma to human trafficking to war, traversing national boundaries and engaging in different genres and visual technologies,” says Vivian M. May, director of the University’s Humanities Center. “Juxtaposing local and global human rights issues and weaving questions of justice across contexts is what SUHRFF does best.”
Opening the festival on Thursday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. is “North by Current,” a searing look at family trauma, grief, addiction and transgender identity captured by the filmmaker Angelo Madsen Minax when he returns home to rural Michigan after the death of his niece. Minax will introduce the film and participate in post-screening discussion.
The dual national landscapes of Greenland and Canada are featured in “Twice Colonized” by Lin Alluna, featuring the lifelong struggle for the rights of Indigenous people by Inuit lawyer Aaju Peter who will be available for Q&A after the film screening on Friday, Sept. 22 at 7 p.m.
Similarly, director Sanjeewa Pushpakumara will discuss his film “Peacock Lament” that closes the festival on Saturday evening, Sept. 23, at 7 p.m. Hallas calls the film an “enthralling drama” into the corrupt world of trafficking babies from unwanted pregnancies in Sri Lanka.
Festival founder Goenka remains both engaged and enthusiastic about this year’s screenings. “Collaborating with Roger on SUHRFF since 2010 has been one the most professionally rewarding and inspiring experiences I have had in all my years on campus,” says Goenka. “I am extremely thankful that he has now taken over as its sole director. The 2023 program is stellar and topical as always, and I am very excited about it.”
The festival also includes a new collaboration with the Urban Video Project (UVP), another program at Light Work, which presents large-scale architectural projection of the artist’s work onto I. M. Pei’s Everson Museum building in downtown Syracuse. “UVP’s director Anneka Herre suggested that our shared commitment to social justice and art would provide a strong opportunity for collaboration,” says Hallas. On Saturday afternoon, Sept. 23 at 4 p.m. there will be an artist talk with School of Education doctoral candidate Evan Starling-Davis about his work “Fracture,” which presents an Afro-Surreal poetic virtual reality experience featuring 3D renderings of objects from Afro-diasporic culture in local archives.
May points out that the film festival helps advance the mission of the Humanities Center, “showcasing the humanities as a public good, and enhancing the scholarly community by bringing people together to confront some of the most pressing issues of our time.”
All screenings are free and open to the public (no tickets are required). The website has more details describing each screening with specific dates and times. All films are closed-captioned or subtitled and audio described in English. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is available during all Q&A sessions. For other accommodations, contact Jacqulyn Ladnier (email@example.com) or 315.443.7192.