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Reeling World

The United Nations Film Festival screens features from 27 countries

By Sura Wood

SINCE ITS founding seven years ago, the United Nations Association Film Festival has presented documentaries by international filmmakers that address some of the most pressing concerns of our time: human rights, women's issues, the environment, racism, disease, war and peace. Given the volatility of the modern world, this year's theme, "The Values of Tolerance," seems especially apt. "It's more important than ever to have this kind of film festival," says UNAFF director and founder, Jasmina Bojic. "Only a sense of tolerance and dialogue can solve the problems between people."

Twenty-seven films from 27 different countries will be screened at Stanford University, Oct. 20-24, with two special screenings at the Delancey Street Theater in San Francisco Oct. 14. They cover a range of controversial global hot topics, from the "lost boys" of Sudan and slave traffic in Turkey to the singular problems of dwarves and our own 2000 presidential election. Bojic says that she established the festival as a response to the failure of the media and the educational system to "focus beyond the borders of the United States" and to provide a venue for films that might not otherwise be picked up for distribution or broadcast because of their politically charged subject matter.

An example of such a film is Dorothy Fadiman's When Abortion Was Illegal (Oct. 21, 6pm, Annenberg Auditorium), which revisits the era before Roe v. Wade, a time when women were forced to seek back-alley abortions and doctors who performed the procedure could be sent to jail. Fadiman's film can be seen as a cautionary tale at a time when Roe hangs in the balance. Doctors and health-care workers share their memories and the filmmaker speaks with the women who lived through the period, some of whom suffered medical complications and still carry emotional scars.

The events of Sept. 11 and the war in Iraq have forced the American gaze outward and stimulated curiosity about the Middle East and South Asia, particularly Afghanistan under the repressive Taliban regime. Afghanistan Unveiled (Oct. 21, 8:15pm, Annenberg Auditorium), directed by Brigitte Brault, was made by an all-female team of journalists trained in Afghanistan. They examine the impact of Taliban rule and the looming threat of its return—as well as the U. S. military presence—on rural and city women. Haram-Yemen: The Hidden Half Speaks (Oct. 21, 9:20pm, Annenberg Auditorium) reveals that Yemeni women have little more status than animals; a young girl risks her life to go to school and her father nearly kills her for the infraction, women cannot venture out of the house unless accompanied by a man, they are beaten with impunity and are essentially prisoners in their own homes. Despite being deprived of an education themselves, the women say they hope for a better life for their daughters. Both films recount tales of oppression that are chilling to Western ears.

Closing the festival, Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election (Oct. 24, 5:40pm, Cubberley Auditorium), brings the fight for fair and free democracy home with Richard Ray Perez and Joan Sekler's examination of the debacle in Florida. It screens a week before the country votes for president.

The United Nations Association Film Festival takes place Oct. 20-24 at the Annenberg Auditorium and Cubberley Auditorium at Stanford University. For schedule details see www.unaff.org online.

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From the October 20-26, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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