Still from "The Price of Sex" (Mimi Chakarova)
March 21st is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In Winnipeg you can mark the day by attending the third annual Human Rights Film Festival.
Organized by the Manitoba Association for Rights & Liberties, the fest features three days of documentaries and shorts. And just as important as the films themselves are the guest speakers, who include academics, advocates and activists. (Screenings take place at the IMAX Theatre in Portage Place and the Millennium Library. All events are free.)
Here are some standouts:
The Price of Sex (Thursday, March 21, 7:00 p.m.):
In this harrowing look at human trafficking and sexual slavery, award-winning American photojournalist Mimi Chakarova follows the tragic routes of young women from impoverished Eastern European villages. Lured with promises of jobs as cleaners or waitresses, these girls are sold into prostitution in distant countries.
Stranded in cities where they know no one and don't speak the language, they are hidden in brutal criminal underworlds that are often supported by corrupt law enforcement.
The film is a thorough and tenacious piece of investigative reporting, but it's also profoundly personal. Chakarova was born in Communist-era Bulgaria and left with her mother in 1990 after the breakdown of the Soviet Bloc. She remains haunted by the thought of what might have happened if they had stayed.
Poor No More (Thursday, March 21, 9:00 p.m.):
Examining issues of poverty and politics, this passionately polemical Canadian film searches for economic and social models that are good for everybody--"not just the barons of Bay Street but the workers of Winnipeg." (Hey, that's us!)
Performer and comedian Mary Walsh narrates, taking us into a world of precarious, poorly-paid part-time labour. Walsh points out that while a job was once considered a route out of poverty, now people holding a job--or even two or three jobs--can end up stranded in the ghetto of "the working poor."
The film has the snappy look and feel of a Michael Moore doc, mixing up explanatory inter- titles with emotionally affecting stories of regular folks. It's a quietly furious little doc, and there are moments when you wish "Princess Warrior" Marg Delahunty would appear and cause a little mayhem.
Hard Time (Friday, March 22, 7:00 p.m.):
Directed by former Winnipegger Ron Harpelle, who is currently teaching at Lakehead University, this documentary centres on Robert Hillary King, the only freed member of "The Angola Three." Initially imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit, King became active in the Black Panthers in prison and spent 29 years in solitary confinement.