An annual spring event at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater in New York City, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2010 will host thirty socially themed documentaries and dramatic features from twenty-five countries this year. Many of the directors will be present for discussion following the presentations, and twenty-eight of the films are NYC premieres. The Festival runs June 10th through 24th.
There are several features this year touching on a topic rarely explored in movies, the economic injustices inflicted upon a troubled world, and how economic issues permeate multiple aspects of society and individual lives in significant ways. Carlos Carrera’s Backyard is a fact based dramatic feature from Mexico, delving into the many unsolved, horrific torture/rape femicides of hundreds of women that began in 1996 in a desolate, no man’s land terrain on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez.
Ana de la Reguera stars in Backyard as a frustrated detective probing the mysterious murders, while experiencing interference in her relentless investigation from politicians and even police brass within her own department. One major sex crimes suspect is a wealthy businessman and ex-con, played by Jimmy Smits.
What eventually appears to come to light is not any specific psychopath, snuff pornographer or even organ traffickers. But perhaps a disparate cross-section of otherwise normal men who have succumbed to the warped values of a society no longer cherishing human life, and in particular the debased lives of women.
Also figuring into the dismal equation, is the unregulated exploitation, abuse and dehumanization of the many young women lured into the maquiladores, or sweatshops proliferating under globalization. And the ensuing commodification of these economically desperate, rootless and therefore easily targeted primarily teenage girls from the countryside. Whether solely in terms of their monetary value calculated as slave wages, or as corresponding ruthlessly violated objects of sexual plunder.
Deepa Bhatia’s documentary Nero’s Guests: The Age Of Inequality likewise considers the terrible plight of the victims of globalization, in this case the nearly half a million impoverished farmers who have committed suicide in India. Ironically as India actively entered the global market economy and with an emerging flourishing elite business class, the nation’s poor conversely suffered deepening rural destitution, displacement and urban unemployment at levels not seen since the colonialist period.
This tragic situation is explored on camera firsthand by Palagummi Sainath, the rural affairs editor for the newspaper, The Hindu. Overwhelmed by shame and despair when no longer able to support their families, farmers kill themselves in increasing numbers, even as Sainath journeys through villages in pursuit of their stories.
In the film, Sainath also rails against a media with no interest in covering any news about poverty. And in one segment we catch a glimpse of a televised beauty pageant parading garments made with cloth from one cotton growing area that is the scene of a rash of such suicides. And this state of affairs continues to escalate, even while it’s reported that there are 311 current billionaires in India.
Sainath also offers clarity regarding root causes, and the mass pauperization of farmers following the corporate commercialization of agriculture for export profits, rather than feeding the hungry at home. And while Indian grain is exported to feed European cattle in what is termed livestock ‘food security,’ the far less valued masses in India are starving and driven to suicide. And though the documentary provides no strategy for solutions, the final cautionary image evoked back in time of Emperor Nero’s lavish revelry, with illumination provided for his indifferent guests by the bodies of prisoners brought in to be burned at the stake for lighting, is indelible indeed.