Preview: Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, London

Distant voices, still living
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The Independent Culture

"'Human rights' are no longer dirty words," says Bruni Burres, director of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, which marks its 10th anniversary this year. The 22 feature films and documentaries from 20 countries will explore many global issues, from democracy in Peru, in the film State of Fear, to the fragile existence of the citizens of Baghdad in Fragments. "We look at more than 500 submissions every year," says Burres. "And we select the works that address the most important human-rights issues and that are also works of art that take you into other people's lives."

The road to showing at the film festival can be a traumatic one for the film-makers. This year, the screening of the film No More Tears Sister, based on the experiences of a former female Tamil militant and political prisoner, has meant that extra security is being put in place. "There is a lot of controversy in Sri Lanka, but the film-makers and their families feel that it is important and want us to show and talk about it," says Burres. "The festival is a safe place for people to see the films and to have discussions about them. It gives the audience an entry point if they are interested in human- rights issues but don't have any information."

The refreshing honesty with which the films portray subjects that the world is often reluctant to discuss has lead to the growing popularity of the festival. "People are more hungry and more eager to come. They come for an alternative view, and not just a quick news view but an in-depth story and a way to connect to what's happening," says Burres.

The success of the festival is also testament to the fact that film is the medium to which people can best relate, and that enables them to digest often disturbing fact in a realistic context. Many of the screenings are followed by discussions, with the film-makers and Human Rights Watch staff, of the issues raised.

15-25 March, various London cinemas (020-7437 0715; www.hrw.org/iff)

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