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War & Peace & Film

MountainTop Film Festival honors Martin Luther King, Jr., with films from around the world

By Shay Totten | Vermont Guardian

Posted December 29, 2006

Human rights and the human response to intense conflict are often the focus of some of the world’s most powerful films. And, as it has for the past three years, the MountainTop Film Festival in Waitsfield will present a five-day showcase of award-winning human rights films in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, birthday from Jan. 10-14.

More than 15 films addressing current human-rights issues from around the world will be screened, and filmmakers, scholars, and activists will answer questions and participate in a series of special screenings and workshops.

“Our mission is to utilize the power of cinema to increase awareness and understanding of the human realities of war and conflict,” said Claudia Becker, the festival’s director. “We present current and archival work made by filmmakers from around the globe, who, in the face of intense conflict, strive to illuminate the realities of the world around them — and thus foster the process of peace and conflict resolution through their vision and their art.”

Some of the themes addressed in the films are: civil disobedience and activism (Camden 28, An Unreasonable Man), fair trade (Black Gold, Total Denial), the “war on terror” (Iraq in Fragments, Home Front), the conflict in Israel and Palestine (Day on Fire, Encounter Point), the struggle of refugees (Rain in a Dry Land, Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon), exploitation of women and children (Water, The Day My God Died), and war and terror (Taxi to the Dark Side, Cite Soleil).

Becker attends numerous film festivals during the year, and researches other films online. Many of the films the festival shows comes from the Human Rights Watch Traveling Film Festival, and for the high school screenings it offers films from the Educational Video Center in New York, which works with high school youth to teach them documentary filmmaking skills.

Organizers are promising festival-goers a number of filmmakers, and others, a one-on-one experience with some of the filmmakers, and the filmmakers’ subjects.

At press time, the festival was still trying to get Ralph Nader to attend and talk about the film about him, An Unreasonable Man, directed by Henriette Matel. Matel is scheduled to be at the festival and Nader will either join in person or by video conference.

Becker said the first festival happened when the local theater in Waitsfield was being revived. “It seemed like such an opportunity to bring films that reach out to this community,” she said.

“I have been a teacher most of my life and have always liked using the power of film to inform, open minds, and spark dialogue. What started as a small idea became rather ambitious and has been growing each year into what is now a rather established, well-recognized event,” Becker said.

This year, the festival is also hosting local filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, director of Why We Fight, for a workshop that examines the role of documentary films in the current media landscape, talking about its power and its limitations.

Becker added this workshop, which Jarecki teaches at the University of Vermont and Brown University, because it takes a look at the role of documentary film, “its possibilities, its limitations,” said Becker. “I added this to the festival program as an additional chance to interact with filmmakers and am hoping to make this a series.”

Filmmaker James Longley will take questions from the audience after the screening of his film Iraq in Fragments. Andrew Levine will answer questions via I-Cam following his film about the global sex trade The Day My God Died and Alex Gibney (Enron – The Movie) will show segments of his new film — Taxi to the Dark Side — about the chain of command involved in the torture cases of Abu Graib and Guantanamo. Milena Kaneva, filmmaker of Total Denial, a film about Burmese villagers fighting two oil giants to save their homeland, will be available for questions after its screening.

In cooperation with the Educational Video Center and Human Rights Watch, the festival will also feature a youth-oriented program. From January 12-13, special screenings will be held for students and school-groups. Admission to these screenings will be free for high school students, and the screenings will be followed by workshops and discussions. The goal is to encourage Vermont students to become engaged in issues of global concern.

This year marks the first time the festival will be held at the Big Picture Theater, a completely overhauled place with a café, a performance space, upgraded projection and sound equipment, and, she notes, heat.

“Previous festival goers will know to appreciate that,” she quips.

Festival information

Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for students and seniors.
Festival passes and six packs are available at a discount rate.
Tickets can be purchased at the box office.
For tickets and information, call 496-8994, or visit

The Day My God Died (US, 70 min., doc.)
The Day My God Died is a feature-length documentary that presents the stories of young girls whose lives have been shattered by the child sex trade. They describe the day they were abducted from their village and sold into sexual servitude as “the day my god died.”

Black Gold (UK, 78 min., doc., in Amharic, Oromiffa, and English with English subtitles)
Multinational coffee companies now rule our shopping malls and supermarkets and dominate an industry worth more than $80 billion, making coffee the most valuable trading commodity in the world after oil. However, the price paid to coffee farmers remains so low that many have been forced to abandon their coffee fields.

The Camden 28 (US, 82 min., doc., in English)
How far would you go to stop a war? On Aug. 22, 1971, twenty-eight men and women in Camden, NJ, carried out a powerful act of civil disobedience against United States involvement in the Vietnam War. The group was part of a nonviolent antiwar movement popularly known as the “Catholic Left.”

Home Front (US, 93 min., doc., in English)
More than 19,000 U.S. soldiers have been wounded in Iraq. Although the media often reports on the bravery of wounded soldiers or the tragedy they endured, few reporters ask the question: “What becomes of them now?” In this intimate documentary, director Richard Hankin sheds light on this question.

Rain in a Dry Land (US/Kenya, 83 min., doc., in English, Mai Mai, and Somali with English subtitles)
In 2004, 13,000 Somali Bantu refugees realized their dream of coming to the United States. They are now living in 50 cities across the country, becoming the largest African group from a single community to settle here at one time.

Iraq in Fragments (US, 96 min., doc., in Arabic and Kurdish with English subtitles)
Iraq in Fragments is more than a singularly accomplished documentary film. Culled from 300 hours of footage, and presented without scripted voice-over, it presents Iraqi citizens in three crucial yet fractured regions — Baghdad; the Shiite south; the Kurdish north — as they struggle through a chaotic present and face a distant, uncertain future.

Encounter Point (US/Israel, 89 min., doc.)
Encounter Point is afeature documentary film that follows a former Israeli settler, a Palestinian ex-prisoner, a bereaved Israeli mother, and a wounded Palestinian bereaved brother who risk their lives and public standing to promote a nonviolent end to the conflict.