Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 9, 2017

Films From the Battlelines: the 2017 Human Rights Film Festival

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 12:27 pm


Opening tonight in New York, the annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival is a reminder that as a genre, the documentary can offer far more compelling drama than any narrative film for the simple reason that reality itself confronts us in a way that fiction cannot. If the narrative film often enjoys its greatest success as an escape from the cares of quotidian existence, the documentary succeeds by showing real people facing the frightening obstacles capitalist society throws in their path.

While Indiana Jones is the prototype of derring-do escapist fantasy, I much prefer the humble people seen in three of the festival documentaries starting with an Iraqi male nurse who is the subject of “Nowhere to Hide” that opens the festival tonight (screening information is here). I regret that this might not be enough lead time for most New Yorkers but it is worth changing your plans to see courageous filmmaking at its best. After all, it is time better spent than watching Seinfeld reruns or the new Wonder Woman movie.

Five years ago, Norwegian-Kurdish documentary filmmaker Zaradasht Ahmed approached male nurse Nori Sharif with a project that sounded almost like making a home movie. He would give Sharif a high-end DSLR camera and tripod to capture scenes of daily life in Jalawla, where he lived and worked in the emergency room of the local hospital. This is a town of about 80,000 people that breaks down into 70% Sunni Arab, 20% Feyli Kurd and 10% Shia Turkmen. The film reveals nothing about Sharif’s ethnicity. He identifies solely as an Iraqi throughout the film and his most frequent observation about the state of his country is that it has gone mad.

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