The ninth annual International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH) began last Friday in Geneva with a symbolically empty seat for one member of the jury: Iranian film director Jafar Panahi.
Festival organisers extended an invitation to Panahi in January, a month after the 50-year-old director was sentenced by an Iranian court to six years in jail and banned from making films, travelling abroad and talking to local and foreign media for 20 years.
Panahi, whose internationally acclaimed films including The Circle, Crimson Gold and Offside denounced the inequalities and absence of liberty in Iran, was accused of subversion, making films without permission and inciting opposition protests after the 2009 presidential elections.
This edition of the festival which runs until March 13, is dedicated to Panahi and to Syrian lawyer Haytam Al-Maleh, who, aged 79, was jailed for three years last year after he publicly criticised the continued use of the emergency laws in Syria and Syrian authorities' control of the judicial system.
The event is presenting a special focus on 'Arab Springtime,' spotlighting the Tunisian and Egyptian peoples' uprisings. Léo Kaneman, FIFDH's co-founder and co-director along with Yael Reinharz Hazan, said the festival will also tackle subjects such as “the rise of European populisms, justice in the face of history, journalists as terrorist targets (and) repression in Russia and China.”
French journalist Antoine Vitkine's feature-length documentary Gaddafi, Our Greatest Enemy, chronicles 40 years of diplomatic relations between the West and the Libyan leader and his status as 'public enemy number one.'
First-time director Mohamed Diab's 678 is hailed as the first Egyptian film to deal with the social scourge of sexual harassment of women, which is upheld explicitly by religion and implicitly by the state.
Ali Samadi's The Green Wave examines the groundswell of opinion among a new generation of Iranians who hoped for change in the 2009 elections and the violence, oppression and human rights violations that ensued.
Among the other highlights is the world premiere of Then and Now: Beyond Borders and Differences, consisting of seven short films directed by Fanny Ardant, Tata Amaral, Hüseyin Karabey, Masbedo, Idrissa Ouédraogo, Jafar Panahi and Robert Wilson, based on the themes of tolerance, non-violence and respect for differences.
Afghan-born director Burhan Qurbani's Shahada examines the arrest of illegal Muslim aliens in a Berlin warehouse. Ken Loach's Route Irish is a political thriller about two guys from Liverpool who join a private agency that patrols the road between Baghdad's airport and the security zone.
Mark Henderson's My Kidnapper is his story of how he was taken hostage by Marxist guerrillas while trekking with seven other backpackers in the Colombian jungle and why he returned to the area to come face to face with the kidnappers.
On a related topic, Juan José Lozano and Hollmann Morris's Impunity tells how the trials of paramilitary armies accused of killing thousands of Colombians were subverted by political and economic interests.
Launched in 2003, the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights was instigated by the World Organisation against Torture, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Federation on Human Rights, the University of Geneva and associations of filmmakers.