On the Hill

Film festival to honor student’s memory, work

Syracuse University’s Human Rights Film Festival, starting Thursday evening, will be dedicated to Bassel Al Shahade, a graduate student who was killed while making a documentary in Syria in May. 

Roger Hallas, co-director of the film festival, met Al Shahade at last fall’s Human Rights Film Festival. He described Al Shahade as exciting and exuberant. His commitment to show the social and political injustices in his home country of Syria through film truly inspired Hallas.

“He really embodied the ethos of our festival,” said Hallas, an associate professor of English.

The festival, which will run Thursday through Saturday, will showcase five documentaries highlighting injustices all over the world. The films will be viewed in the Life Sciences Complex Auditorium and admission is free, according to an Aug. 29 SU news press release.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the film festival, which was started in 2003 by Tula Goenka, a television, radio and film professor, in response to Sept. 11. When it first began, the festival showcased stories from South Asia, but it has since become an international film festival exposing social injustices.

Goenka said she hopes dedicating the festival to Al Shahade will remind viewers that violence occurring in the Middle East can still affect SU.

“It brings it home to the SU community that we always think that violence is happening far away from us,” she said. “But we are affected by it as human beings all the time.”

At the festival, Al Shahade’s life’s work will be acknowledged. His short film will also be highlighted, Hallas said.

“It’s a really beautiful film, but also a very timely film about the time of conflict and war,” he said.

Unlike previous years, representatives from all of the films will be at the festival participating in discussions regarding social injustices.

Last year, he said, Skype was used to communicate with filmmakers.

The planning for the festival took place over the summer, Goenka said. Both she and Hallas chose the five films based on research and current social issues. The festival makes an effort to show films that are not easily available to the public.

“These are important issues. Even if students had not heard about them, they should know about them,” Goenka said. “The festival has a very much teaching mission and that is why we pick these films and raise these topics with the community.”

The festival opens with the viewing of “The Invisible War,” a documentary investigating the epidemic of rape within the U.S. military on Thursday, according to the release.

Other films include “The Mexican Suitcase,” a documentary that shows the political nature and trauma in Mexico; “Somewhere Between,” which follows the lives of four Chinese girls adopted by American families; “Call Me Kuchu” which chronicles David Kato, Uganda’s first openly gay man, and his attempt to defeat homophobic legislation and “Valley of the Saints,” which shows the life of a young boatman on Dal Lake who deals with conflict in Kashmir.

The film festival will also showcase “Undesired,” a series of photographs revealing the difficult societal pressures Indian women face, according to the release.

The biggest challenge the film festival faces, Hallas said, is attendance. Through the years, the festival has started to create a following in the SU community.

“We’ve really been making a strong progression of building an audience that knows of the festival, is around and looks forward to it every year,” Hallas said. “We’ve also created an opportunity for students to engage in dialogue.”

Abrar Almjally, an information management graduate student, said he thinks the festival is an excellent idea because it can help the different cultures around the world come together.

Said Almjally: “The film festival might help SU students have a better understanding of the injustices that are taking place around the world.”

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