Xenophobia comes under the camera lens at this year’s Tri Continental Film Festival, which screens at cinema complexes around the country in August and September 2008.

More Zen, less phobia at Tri Continental Film Festival
The Tri Continental Film Festival will kick off from 15 to 24 August at Cinema Nouveau in Rosebank, before moving to Cinema Nouveau at the V&A Waterfront from 22 to 31 August. Thereafter, the film festival travels to Pretoria’s Brooklyn Nouveau from 29 August to 4 September, and wraps up at Gateway Cinema Nouveau from 5 to 11 September.

The films are sourced from Africa, Latin American and Asia and this year, the focus is on hard-hitting social and human rights themes such as racism, homophobia, HIV/Aids, the plight of migrants and xenophobia.

In the wake of the recent hate attacks against foreigners that swept through South Africa, a group of filmmakers came together to address this issue. Calling themselves Filmmakers Against Racism (FAR), these filmmaker-activists have produced a series of nine short documentaries aimed at stimulating dialogue and debate, which will be screened at the festival.

The Tri Continental Film Festival promises an array of thought-provoking documentaries, shorts and feature films. Several of the filmmakers will be in attendance and will be available for Q and A sessions with audiences.

The festival opens at Rosebank Nouveau in Johannesburg on Thursday, 14 August, with the African premiere of the Australian/South African film The Choir. Directed by Michael Davie, this inspirational documentary follows the life of Jabulani Shabangu, an angry young felon at Leeuwkop Prison who tentatively moves toward personal redemption after joining the prison choir.

This year, the spotlight at the film festival falls on films from Mexico, a nation with a rich diversity of stories and storytellers. Among the films being screened is the German/Guatemala co-production Assaulted Dream, directed by Uli Stelzner. This award-winning road movie, filmed on a small digital camera, tells of the dangers faced by thousands of desperate Central American migrants who cross the border every day to Mexico, intent on pursuing the “American Dream” which for these migrants feels more like an “American Nightmare.”

I Want to be a Pilot (Kenya/Mexico/Spain) is a short Mexican co-production about an impoverished East African child who watches aeroplanes fly overhead every day and dreams of becoming a pilot. Director Diego Quemada-Diez has garnered several awards for this simple yet emotionally charged story.

Bajo Juarez: The City Devouring its Daughters, a Mexican film directed by Alejandra Sanchez and Jose Antonio Cordero, tells of an industrial town where hundreds of women have been sexually abused and murdered, and the plot thickens when two journalists uncover a web of corruption that reaches to the highest levels of Mexican society.

Alejandra Islas’s The Demons of Eden focuses on the struggle by an author to expose the horrors of child prostitution and pornography that is endemic in Mexico. Tracing Aleida, directed by Christiane Burkhard, tells of a woman’s quest to track down family members and seek justice for herself and the thousands of other revolutionaries who “disappeared” during the Mexican “Dirty War” of the 1970s.

A festival highlight is sure to be The War on Democracy, directed by renowned leftist journalist John Pilger. Describing the modern history of South America as a sustained revolt against United States’ imperial designs, Pilger argues that the United States’ history of political and economic manipulation amounts to a continuing war on democracy. This forceful film was named Best Documentary at the One World Media Awards.

English heartthrob actor Jude Law features in The Day After Peace. With director Jeremy Gilley, who successfully lobbied world leaders and the United Nations for an annual day of global ceasefire and non-violence, Law undertakes a secret trip to Afghanistan. Their quest to persuade those bearing arms to stop for at least 24 hours is documented in this film, which also features Kofi Annan, the Dalai Lama, Annie Lennox, Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie.

Renowned British filmmaker Nick Broomfield produced the short film Still Human, Still Here: The Destitution of the Refused Asylum Seekers which forms part of Amnesty International’s campaign to end destitution, and focuses on rejected asylum seekers living in abject poverty in the UK.

The recent furore over allegedly anti-Islamic cartoons published in a Danish newspaper is the subject of the provocative documentary Bloody Cartoons. Director Karsten Kjaer asks whether respect for Islam, combined with the heated response to the cartoons, is leading to self-censorship and whether there should be limits to freedom of speech in a democracy.

Iron Ladies of Liberia, a film directed by Siatta Scott Johnson and Daniel Junge, takes a look at the first year in power of Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf – the first elected female head of state in Africa. This insightful documentary has garnered several international awards.

Jerusalem is Proud to Present, directed by Nitzan Gilady, is a multi award-winning look at Jerusalem’s first World Pride festivities, which were meant to culminate in a traditional gay pride parade. This stirred turmoil in the politically and religiously complex city, with Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders banding together against the planned events, which they claimed would “defile the holy city”.

Milking the Rhino is a US/South African co-production which will have its world premiere at the festival, casts new light on the human-wildlife conflict and coexistence in an increasingly globalised and shrinking world.

Shake the Devil Off, directed by Peter Entell, focuses on the historic St Augustine Church in New Orleans which, following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, faces closure. On a lighter note, Hair, Let the Sun Shine In examines the counter-culture that inspired the 1967 musical phenomenon Hair.

The Filmmakers Against Racism (FAR) short films, dealing with various facets of the May 2008 xenophobic attacks, include Affectionately Known as Alex; Angels on our Shoulders; Two Camps; Asikhuhume – Let’s Talk; The Burning Man; Congo My Foot; Baraka (Blessing); Nowhere Else To Go and Martine and Thadenka.

Go to www.3continentsfestival.co.za for the full line-up

Finally, the festival would not be possible without the support / partnership of the National Film and Video Foundation, SABC, Gauteng Film Commission, The Human Rights Media Trust, Cinema Nouveau Screened by Fish Eagle, The Swedish Embassy, The Italian Cultural Institute, The Mexican Embassy, The French Embassy, Spectrum Visual Network and Timberland.