New Yorkers can watch award-winning films from around the world at “Illuminating Oppression,” Syracuse University’s 8th Annual Human Rights Film Festival, which begins Thursday. The three-day event will present eight films in the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium in Newhouse 3 on campus. The films are free and open to the public.
What films are you most looking forward to showing?
Well, I’m excited to show the Indian film, because it’s by a legendary filmmaker, Shyam Benegal. It’s the closing film for Saturday night. There’s also a film called “October Country.”
That was made in Herkimer County, right?
Right. And I think that’s important. I’d heard about the film, and I was really excited when the filmmakers said we could have the rights to screen it. It’s a local story.
I never heard about it until now. Why wasn’t it shown in local theaters?
I don’t know. One purpose of this festival is to screen films that are out there, which the Syracuse community has not heard about or had access to, for one reason or another. “October Country” is a good example. A film like this doesn’t get out into the movie theaters, so if not here, where else would you see it?
What’s the movie about?
It’s about a family living in Herkimer — the filmmaker’s family. He’s a photographer. It’s a year in their lives and all the things they face. It’s a documentary … very gripping, a very human story. I think people in Syracuse will really respond to it, because it’s about life in all these towns, where there is a lot of poverty, even among the working class, and it’s about how families are struggling to get through it.
What do you think will be the most controversial film?
I think the film that will generate the most debate is the opening-night film, “The Response,”which is based on a trial at Guantanamo Bay. The whole purpose of this film is to have a debate. We will have a panel of experts to discuss it. After the film is screened, we will hold another discussion with the audience about what the results, the verdict, should be. The filmmaker is coming, along with one of the actors, Peter Riegert. (Of “Animal House” and “Crossing Delancy.”)
Will panel members have seen it beforehand, or will they react along with the audience?
Some will have seen it, and some have not.
Yeah, I guess Peter Riegert will have seen it.
Yes, and the filmmaker, (laughs), I guess he will have seen it, too. But you know, I have not seen it. … For this one, I just want to react to it that day, right with the audience.
Do these movies have traditional good guys and bad guys?
All the films we’ve chosen are about social injustices, in some way or another. So, yes, there are good guys and bad guys. Sometimes, the bad guy may be the system — not one individual.
Do they wear white hats and black hats?
No. I think that’s for viewers to judge — who is the good, and who is the bad. For everything, there are always two sides to the story, isn’t there?
Do you think these films make a difference?
That’s a good question. I’m not sure I have the answer. … You know, I wish this festival was not necessary, because that would mean there were no social injustices in this world, and no filmmakers would have to document them. But I think these films do make a difference — because people see them, and people talk about them. That’s when they make a difference.