SOCIAL JUSTICE is the focus of this year's Syracuse International Film Festival. For the past 4 years Le Moyne College has sponsored and hosted a special showcase on social justice but for 2012 this theme takes on even more significance in light of the killing of Bassel Shehade, a Graduate student in the College of Visual and Performing Arts’ Film Program. Bassel was killed while training citizen journalists in his home country, Syria, to document on video what was happening in his country. Bassel’s love for his people and desire to help them fight for political, social, and economic freedom led to his decision to take a leave from his studies in Syracuse. Bassel’s honesty, personal integrity, and love for peace and opportunity was acutely felt by all who knew him. He was a model fighter for social justice.
Social justice, when seen in terms of the individual’s right to equal opportunity and respect regardless of economic class, race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality or religion also must include a person’s physical and/or mental abilities or disabilities. In this sense, social justice includes another long standing feature of our festival, Imaging Disability in Film, a program created by the School of Education at Syracuse University.
We all know that social justice is about equality, fairness, and equal opportunity, basic values of all major religions and of all democratic societies. So, in selecting the films for this year’s festival, particularly for the Social Justice and Imaging Disability showcases the festival’s selection committees were given the directive of finding the best and most diverse films to honor Bassel and the festival’s social justice theme.
DISLECKSIA: THE MOVIE by Harvey Hubbell – 85min, documentary – USA
Harvey Hubbell V and crew explore Hubbell's own experiences about growing up as a dyslexic while also looking into the latest scientific research and educational developments regarding the condition. They examine how the education system in the US handles students with learning disabilities, and explore ways in which this treatment can be changed to improve the social status of dyslexics. And along the way, they meet a variety of dyslexics from very different backgrounds who share their experiences and demonstrate that dyslexics are not disabled - just different.
PRINCESS by Arto Halonen – 100 min, fiction – Finland
Inventive, funny, beautifully acted and ultimately heart warming Princess is based on real-life events and a real person. Cabaret dancer Anna Lappalainen, drifting from one foster home to another, ends up in psychiatric care and soon the hospital staff and her fellow patients see that she’s suffering from severe delusions. She claims to be “Princess”, a member of the English royal family from Buckingham Palace. Although Princess herself numbers among the patients, helping others becomes her life mission.
GIRLFRIEND by Justin Lerner – 94min, fiction – USA
The film depicts the evolution of a friendship between a young man with Down’s Syndrome and a single mother in a small town in Massachusetts (Wayland). Lerner cast a former high school classmate, Evan Sneider, who actually has Down’s for the part. When Evan’s mother dies, she leaves him an inheritance in the form of cash in a box. Evan tries to help his neighbor, a single mom, Candy, by dumping cash gifts in her home. But Candy’s problems are bigger than what Evan can comprehend. They include an unforgiving landlord, and a very jealous ex-boyfriend Russ, who then tries to manipulate Evan.
INTO PARADISO by Paola Raudi – 100min, fiction – Italy
Alfonso is a Neapolitan scientist, shy and awkward, who has just lost his job. Gayan is a charming former Sri Lankan cricketer who has not a penny has just arrived in Naples and is convinced of finding heaven. Alfonso has spent a lifetime studying cell migration and watching soap operas with his mother. Gayan has traveled, knew fame, glory and money. What connects these two men? In a multiethnic Naples, intertwined destinies of Alfonso and Gayan, meet to share a shack erected illegally on a roof of a building in the heart of the Sri Lankan city.
ONE DAY AFTER PEACE by Miri Laufer – 86min, documentary – Israel
Can the means used to resolve the conflict in South Africa be applied to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? As someone who experienced both conflicts firsthand, Robi Damelin wonders about this. Born in South Africa during the apartheid era, she later lost her son, who was serving with the Israeli Army reserve in the Occupied Territories. At first she attempted to initiate a dialogue with the Palestinian who killed her child. When her overtures were rejected, she embarked on a journey back to South Africa to learn more about the country's Truth and Reconciliation Committee's efforts in overcoming years of enmity. Robi's thought-provoking journey leads from a place of deep personal pain to a belief that a better future is possible.
OUTSIDERS IN ISRAEL by Juliano Mer Khamis/Ran Tal/Tomer Heyman – 90min, documentary - Israel
A film project created by Jewish and Arab teenagers from Israel's outskirts, in collaboration with directors Juliano Mer-Khamis ("Arna's Children"), Ran Tal ("Children of The Sun") and Tomer Heymann ("Paper Dolls", "I Shot My Love", "The Queen Has No Crown"). The teenage directors from Israel's 'twilight zones', whose voice is rarely heard, got cameras and the guidance they needed in order to film their communities, their families and themselves. The goal of the project was to supply them with tools and faith in the power of the 'story' - a first-hand, personal and intimate story - and for them to stop serving as an object of others' films and reports and to gain some control over their own image. The themes they chose provide a glimpse of what it feels like to be an outsider in Israel. Powerful, insightful, and original.
300 MILES TO FREEDOM by Richard Breyer and Anand Kamalakar – 40min, documentary – USA
This totally engaging film tells the story of John W. Jones, a fugitive slave who escaped bondage in Leesburg, Va., in 1844 and traveled the Underground Railroad to Elmira, N.Y. Arriving as a 27-year-old illiterate with $1.46 in his pocket, by his death in 1900 he was a respected, wealthy member of society.
WAR’S DAUGHTER by Lana Hijazi - 9min, documentary – Gaza/USA
A powerful look at the consequences of chemical warfare on innocent children, and one child in particular, now a young woman
UNFIT: WARD VS. WARD by Edwin Scharlau & Katie Carmichael – 75min,doc - USA
In 1995 in Pensacola, Florida, Mary Ward lost custody of her 11 year old daughter, Cassey, to her ex-husband, John Ward, solely based on her sexual orientation. John, a convicted murderer and alleged child molester, was deemed a better parent by the court system that said the child deserved to be raised in a non lesbian world even though the courts own appointed social worker testified in defense of the mother. An appeal court upheld the decision in 1996. Mary Ward died of a heart attack in January of 1997 while awaiting the outcome of her second appeal. In 2002, Cassey, then 18 and an adult, came forward in defense of lesbian mothers everywhere.
HOMECOMING by Gursimran Sandhu – 26min, fiction –USA/India
When 12 year old Nina Patel is nominated by her classmates to represent her seventh grade class at Homecoming, she’s thrilled. However, Nina’s Indian heritage comes with pride and restrictions, and her traditional parents refuse to let their daughter assimilate into such an American tradition. Beautifully made, powerful, and very well acted.
TAKING A CHANCE ON GOD by Brendan Fay – 55min, documentary – USA
Former Le Moyne College professor of philosophy, a POW in Nazi Germany, Vietnam peace promoter, leading gay rights advocate and partner of 46 years to Charles Chiarelli, the film follows the life of 86-year-old Jesuit priest John McNeill, telling his story of faith, love and perseverance in the face of oppression and rejection. McNeill, the co-founder of the LGBT Catholic group Dignity NY, author of the revolutionary “The Church and the Homosexual,” and leader in the gay community during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, has refused to let his voice be silenced despite being expelled from the Jesuits after forty years of faithful service.
MARY AND MAX by Adam Elliott – 92min, animation – Australia
This is an extraordinary Claymation. The two main characters are, Mary, a poor, unloved little girl from Australia and, Max, a heavyset middle-aged New Yorker with Asperger's syndrome. They become penpals after Mary's random encounter with a telephone directory, and their exchange of letters swiftly emerges as the emotional lifeline for their unhappy existences. Mary is taunted by the children at her school for the birthmark on her forehead. Her only friend is the man for whom Mary collects mail, a WW11 veteran who lost his legs in combat and has developed agoraphobia. Expect to be entertained and emotionally moved by this masterpiece.
CAMP UNITY by Ryan White – 83min, documentary – USA
A diverse group of Iraqi performing arts students unite through hip hop, jazz, orchestra, and Broadway at an American arts academy in Iraqi Kurdistan. Arabs and Kurds, Christians and Muslims, Americans and Iraqis, everyone must work together to prepare for the big show. Along the way, cultures collide, egos clash, dreams come true, and the viewer is offered a candid and revealing look at the troubles and triumphs of this life-changing event. Written by Ryan White
A.L.F.: ANIMAL LIBERATION FRONT by Jerome Lescure – 94min, fiction – France
What happened, that 24th of December ? This is what officer Chartier wants ton find out. To understand, he will have to go back 48 hours earlier: Franck's Christmas Eve. Franck: insignificant drama-teacher, Franck belongs to a nameless and leaderless commando: the Animal Liberation Front. These characters are bound by a limitless empathy towards mistreated animals, and will have to show courage to complete a mission they have been preparing for months. Their goal: to free dogs, condemned to be sold to laboratories for the purpose of live experiments. Their philosophy: when something has gone beyond the boundaries of reason, you have to forget about what's legal, and care about what seems right. During the questioning, Franck understands that one of his fellows betrayed him. A unique thriller with a powerful message.
CROOKED ARROWS by Steve Rash – 105 min, fiction - USA
A Lacrosse movie produced, in part, by the Onondaga Nation. A mixed-blood Native American, Joe Logan, eager to modernize his reservation, must first prove himself to his father, the traditionalist Tribal Chairman, by rediscovering his spirit. He is tasked with coaching the reservation’s high school lacrosse team that competes against the better equipped and better trained players of the elite Prep School League.
Joe inspires the Native American boys and teaches them the true meaning of tribal pride. Ignited by their heritage and believing in their new found potential, coach and team climb an uphill battle to the state championship finals against their privileged prep school rivals…will they win?