BLANK'S NEW BAG: The festival screens Les Blank's 'All in This Tea,' a documentary about heirloom tea in China.
Bread and Circuses
The U.N. Association Film Festival encompasses trouble and triumph from around the world
By Richard von Busack
TRYING TO WAGE PEACE while dealing with the outraged egos of 150-odd nations, the United Nations needs all the friends it can get. Fortunately, it has some in Palo Alto. Each year, the United Nations Association stages a festival of documentaries on the Stanford University campus. Some of the offerings this year (the festival runs through Oct. 26) are well-known: Trouble the Waters (Oct. 25 at 8pm), released earlier this year, is a powerful eyewitness account of Katrina and the aftermath, as caught on film by a young rapper. Oct. 22 at 5:40pm sees the revival of Alex Gibney's 2007's Taxi to the Dark Side, about the death in American custody of an innocent Afghan prisoner. Oct. 23 is a night of women-focused work. Iron Ladies of Liberia (5:15pm) follows Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female president of that debt-ridden republic. Frontrunner (6:40pm) is Virginia Williams' account of a female Afghan politician who risks her life just by campaigning. La Americana (8:30pm) concerns a Bolivian illegal immigrant trying to make her way in the United States. Finally, My Daughter, the Terrorist (9:50pm) records the first time that the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka allowed foreign journalists to film them.
The session on Oct. 24 begins with a 4pm panel on the impact of oil on China and Nigeria. Then at 5:50pm, GMax's Faces is a study of a how an inspired piece of graffiti art sprouted up on both sides of the Wall of Separation in Israel. Triage: Dr. James Orbinski's Humanitarian Dilemma fills the 8:45pm slot with a profile of the 1999 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, on behalf of Médecins Sans Frontières. Blue Helmets: Peace and Dishonor (10:15pm) takes place in one of the earth's great charnel houses, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There, accusations of misconduct are coming out against the "Smurfs," the U.N. peacekeeping troops.The program for Oct. 25 program concerns waste, food and water, starting with the terroirist-love of an Italian farmer (Paul Zinder's One of the Last, 11am). Good Food (11:20am) explores organic farming in the Pacific Northwest. Garbage! The Revolution Starts at Home (12:45pm) examines one North American family's own midden, collected over the course of three months. The great Les Blank's new documentary, All in This Tea (5:45pm), takes viewers on a journey to seek out heirloom growers in China.
Oct. 26 finishes up with documentaries. Making the River (4:50pm) is the locally made documentary about Jimi Simmons, one of the victims of the longest lock-downs in Washington State penal history. On the other side of the law, Freeheld (1:15pm) is this year's Oscar winner for best documentary short. It's Cynthia Wade's account of a New Jersey police detective's public fight to get domestic-partner benefits for her dying longtime companion. The fest ends on an up note with All Together Now (6:45pm) is a feature-length documentary about Cirque du Soleil, to be followed by a closing-night fest. Now: Stop all that fighting! What's wrong with you people!
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