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Provocative Line Up For Human Rights Watch Festival

Lindy Lou, sitting in the jury box, in

Credit: Courtesy still

Above: Lindy Lou, sitting in the jury box, in "Lindy Lou," Juror Number Two

— Ever wonder what it is like to be a juror for a death penalty trial? Or how activism in cyberspace challenges and reworks what it means to be a citizen? These and other issues are front and center in this year’s traveling Human Right’s Watch Film Festival, screening at the Museum of Photographic Arts Feb. 1 — 4. It’s a compelling festival with a global breadth and local meaning that is fascinating and thought-provoking.

According to Janelle Iglesias, Film and Community Programming assistant at the MOPA, this year’s festival marks the eighth year San Diego has hosted the screenings.

“We’re really excited and proud of being part of the circuit,” said Iglesias, noting that the festival screens only in Los Angeles and New York in the U.S. and in several international venues such as London and Beirut.

While the festival has a large curated group of films, local locations tend to look for selections that fit the venue. According to Iglesias, MOPA looks to screen films that have a broad reach and yet resonate in the San Diego area.

“We look for films that have the most impact and make sense for the region (as well as) films that stand out and how well made they are,” said Iglesias.

This year’s selection features films that touch on hot tissues in recent national debates as well as films with direct resonance in the San Diego region.

For example, the opening film, “Lindy Lou: Juror Number Two,” takes a unique look at the death penalty, an issue recently before California voters. The documentary follows a juror, Lindy Lou, haunted by the fact she voted for the death penalty in a trial 20 years ago. Like many Americans, Lou, a profoundly conservative woman from the Deep South, the idea of the death penalty seemed like the right and just response to murder — until she sat on a jury and had to vote yes or no herself.

Directed with a firm but flexible hand by Florent Vassault, the documentary shows how Lou became friends with the man she convicted, and how witnessing his final hour brought her to a crisis of both faith and moral conviction. Her conversations with her fellow jurors 20 years later are often shocking and sometimes surprisingly touching.

Lou will be on hand for a reception and to answer questions after the screening.

Recent concerns over net neutrality make the documentary, "Black Code" all the more timely and a cautionary tale for anyone who posts on the interet.

“Black Code” follows the cyber sleuths of Toronto-based Citizen Lab looking to lay bare global digital espionage, threats to online privacy, and human rights abuse. Based on Citizen Lab Director Ron Deibert’s book of the same name, “Black Code” takes the viewer on a fascinating and somewhat disturbing trip through the underbelly of the ubiquitous internet with stories ranging from tales of programmers to harrowing accounts of torture of artists, writers, and activist.

It's compelling and sober viewing and many of the accounts of citizens struggling against larger entities with global reaches and interests, as well as governments bent on using the internet to control civilians should sound familiar.

“Black Code” screens Friday.

Saturday and Sunday are the festival's biggest screening runs with two screenings a day.

“Home Truth,” an all too familiar story of domestic violence and trauma that recalls several high profile cases in San Diego, plays Saturday. In 1999, Jessica Gonzales experienced one of a parent’s greatest fears — her three daughters were killed after their father abducted them in violation of a domestic violence order. Feeling the police did not do enough to protect her family, Gonzales courageously takes her grievances not only to the U.S. Supreme Court, but also as far as an international human rights tribunal. A discussion with filmmakers April Hayes and Katia Maguire follows the film.

“Silas,” also showing Saturday, is another look at the difference one individual can make.

Set in the African nation of Liberia, the documentary follows Liberian environmental activist Silas Siakor as he fights for community rights and opposes the corruption that is stripping his country of its natural resources and impoverishing his people. Shot over a period of five years, “Silas” chronicles the election of Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, whom the 35-year-old Siakor believes will help bring about the necessary changes.

However, when Sirleaf appears to be more aligned with the problem than the solution, Siakor and other young activists take to cyberspace to show the world what Liberia does not want others to see, at great risk to themselves and their families. Brilliantly shot mostly on cellphones for a feeling of immediacy, “Silas” and its passionate protagonist provide a hard but necessary look at how multinationals looking for resources for developed nations can so badly damage a developing one.

The HRW Film Festival closes Sunday with two films that may hit uncomfortably close to home.

Do you have a cellphone? How about an Apple product? The documentary “Complicit” is guaranteed to make you wonder about your gadget. Shot undercover in China, “Complicit” follows Yi Ting, a former factory worker diagnosed with job-induced leukemia at 24, likely caused by Benzene poisoning while working on Apple products. Yi is fighting for better working conditions and acknowledgment that the factories that produce products for the West are also producing work-related diseases in young Chinese workers.

Like the multinationals in "Silas,” companies like Samsung and Apple are not that keen on telling customers what is happening in their factories in China and Yi has a harrowing uphill battle in seeking justice for himself and safer conditions for his fellow workers. In Mandarin with subtitles.

The festival closes with the stunning documentary, “The Blood Is At The Doorstep,” which has garnered major attention everywhere it has shown. An intimate cinema-veritè documentary, “The Blood Is At The Doorstep” looks at a phenomenon common to many American cities — the police shooting of unarmed people with mental health challenges — and provides an uncomfortable but necessary reminder of a recent shooting in El Cajon. The filmmaker, Erik Ljung, is currently in San Diego and will be at the screening.

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival runs Feb. 1-4 at the Museum of Photograph Arts in Balboa Park. See The Human Rights Watch Film Festival for times and ticket prices.

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