Human Rights Film Festival 'fights on' through film

by Saniya More

October 10, 2017

Acclaimed films from around the world speak to social justice issues, theme of belonging

The Newhouse School and the Humanities Center in the College of Arts and Sciences hosted the 15th annual Syracuse University Human Rights Film Festival Sept. 28-30.

The festival featured five critically acclaimed films which explore social justice issues in different communities around the world. The screened films were: “For Ahkeem,”  about a black American teenager; “Memories of a Penitent Heart,” about a woman discovering new things about her family; “The Good Postman,” about a small Bulgarian village making big choices; “Plastic China,” about a family that lives near a plastic waste dump; and “Lipstick Under My Burkha,” about the struggles women face in a traditional society.

Co-directed by Newhouse television, radio and film professor Tula Goenka and College of Arts and Sciences English professor Roger Hallas, the film festival was free and open to the public. Films were either close-captioned or subtitled in English.

The film festival is part of the Syracuse Symposium, an annual public event series hosted by the Humanities Center. Each year, the center picks a theme and follows it throughout the year through lectures, screenings, performances and other events. This year, the theme was “Belonging.”

The film festival has always followed the Syracuse Symposium theme.

“The themes are very broad. Any film that’s well made and is about social justice can fit into many different themes,” Goenka says.

Syracuse University 15th Annual Human Rights Film Festival Photo Gallery

“Lipstick Under My Burkha,” directed by Alankrita Shrivastava and produced by Prakash Jha, follows the lives of four women in India, all from different ages and backgrounds. The film explores their struggles, dreams, failures and accomplishments. After its July release in India, “Lipstick Under My Burkha” was banned in the country, but won numerous awards at film festivals elsewhere around the world.

According to Goenka, the layout and advertising aspects of the event haven’t changed much since it began in 2003, but this year was different because it involved students.

“The biggest change has been in our branding and all our publicity materials,” Goenka says. “Last spring, we worked with professor Kevin O’Neill’s advertising class, where the students pitched ideas for the film festival campaign, and we chose one of them.”

The event’s tagline, “Through Film, We Fight On,” was part of the winning campaign presented by the students.

Goenka says she hopes the films at the festival this year touched attendees in some way.

“For all students, whether they’re Newhouse students or not studying media, I think it’s extremely important that they start realizing at this age, as they are getting educated, that one of their responsibilities is to be informed and good citizens of the world,” she says. “It’s beyond politics—it’s about making a difference. Whatever skills you’re learning, in media or outside Newhouse, I think it’s very important to give back to society and to find your niche in which you can make a difference. That’s one of the reasons we do the film festival.”

Goenka  says she thinks much of American media tends to focus on just one issue, often at the expense of reporting on other stories around the world.

“We’re all connected, so if one thing is happening across the oceans, that does affect us,” she says. “We just need to broaden our minds.”

Saniya More is a junior broadcast and digital journalism major at the Newhouse School.