The ninth annual United Nations Association Film Festival (running October 25-29, 2006 at Stanford and through 2007 as a touring entity) unspools a program of 31 films from all over the planet. Established in 1998 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UNAFF is a product of the collaboration between the grassroots nonprofit United Nations Association (UNA) and the Stanford Film Society. Perhaps more than any other film festival, UNAFF is committed to reaching into every corner of the globe to find documentary features and short subjects illuminating important issues of the day. Though centered at Palo Alto's Stanford University, the fest radiates—via a Traveling Film Festival program—through California (East Palo Alto, San Francisco, Berkeley, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Davis, Sonoma, San Diego, and Los Angeles), as well as points east (Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Honolulu, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington DC, New York, New Haven at Yale University, Waukesha at University of Wisconsin, Boston and Cambridge at Harvard University). The festival's commitments to human rights and filmmaking excellence make for a uniquely rich festival experience. For a complete, current schedule and festival archive, visit http://unaff.org/
Below are some featured selections:
Busting Out (57m) USA. Francine Strickwerda and Laurel Spellman Smith directed this, um, well-rounded look at America's obsession with breasts. Despite an ill-advised choice to make Busting Out a personal essay film for Strickwerda—who tells of her breast neurosis following her mother's lost battle to breast cancer—the film delves into plenty of illuminating topics, including historical trends in how breasts have been viewed, breast-implant surgery, the commodification of the fight against breast cancer, and how America's obsessive sexualization of the breast is out of step with the rest of the globe. It's a brisk and mostly informative doc that's most effective when guided by expert talking heads.
Epitaph (13m) France/USA. Exclusively screened at festivals, exhibits, and schools, Mikael Lubtchansky's photographic collage takes still photos of the events of September 11 and its aftermath; airbrushes, digitizes, and recolors them; and sets them to elegaic music by King Crimson. Without political comment, the film offers an opportunity for cathartic personal meditation on a defining 21st century event. For some, it will be powerful; for others, off-putting (do we need a reminder of 9/11?). Either way, here's a video tombstone for every soul lost that day.
Interview with an Executioner (13m) USA. Produced by Terry McCaffery of Amnesty International and directed by Ken Russell and Nancy Brown, this eye-opening and emotional doc delivers exactly what it promises: a no-nonsense talk with Don Cabana, one-time warden of Parchman Penitentiary in Mississippi. Cabana, a Catholic, explains why he's now defiantly against the death penalty, a practice that he cannot justify, especially given the doubt that often surrounds death row inmates who maintain innocence.
The Shape of Water (13m) Brazil/India/Israel/Palestine/Senegal/USA. "This is a story lived and told by women," narrates Susan Sarandon. Producer-director Kum-Kum Bhavnani ably films and compiles interviews with women at the center of social changes taking place in Brazil, India, Jerusalem, and Senegal. Female circumcision, environmental protection, economic independence, and war are among the divisive issues taken on by the women who speak frankly to Bhavnani's camera. The film clearly delineates the issues and puts a human face on the struggles for positive change in struggling communities.
Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars (80m) Sierra Leone/USA. Three years in the life of the titular band, which answers with art the horrors of an eleven-year civil war. From the refuge of the neighboring Republic of Guinea, these six musicians make their way back home as they share their music with fellow refugees and share their stories with filmmakers Zach Niles and Banker White. A story of enduring spirit under hardship, Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars locates the good vibrations emerging from an otherwise fruitless conflict.
Small Town Gay Bar (81m) USA. From Kevin Smith's View Askew Productions comes Small Town Gay Bar, a documentary by Malcolm Ingram. Executive produced by Smith and edited by Smiths right-hand-man Scott Mosier, the film tells the stories of two small town gay bars in Mississippi: Rumors and Crossroads. Both bars see a change of ownership—interiews with owners and patrons underscore the need for an "outlet" for gays and lesbians in their communities. Ingram explores some side roads, like the hate killing of Scotty Joe Weaver and the agendas of Bible Belt-based anti-gay reverends Fred Phelps and Donald Wildmon; the clear message from the patrons is a simple desire for the freedom and respect afforded to their heterosexual counterparts.
True Whispers: The Story of the Navajo Code Talkers (59m) USA. Hollywood producer Gale Anne Hurd (The Terminator) joins forces with producer-director Valerie Red-Horse to revisit the story of the unique World War II outfit that found Navajos in the U.S. Marines anchoring a program for inpenetrable encoded messages. Extensive interviews, exhaustive archival footage, Navajo music, and William H. Macy narration tell the ever-engrossing story of these men, the Navajo history and culture, a creative military strategy, and a triumph over discrimination (even though fifty years passed before the Code Talkers have been properly, publicly recognized).