Graduation day at the first all-girls school in Deh’Sube, Afghanistan. A scene from What Tomorrow Brings.
1649 El Prado, San Diego
The Museum of Photographic Arts Joan and Irwin Jacobs Theatre once again plays home to the Human Rights Watch Film Festival which runs Thursday, February 2 through Sunday, February 5. For more information and a complete list of times and titles visit MOPA.org/hrwff.
What Tomorrow Brings
Thursday, February 2, 6 p.m.
A hush falls over the rackety classroom the moment an overdue teacher bursts through the door. When pressed to outline the day’s curriculum, an unprepared student jabbers out a couple of run-on sentences that end in apple-polishing. Sounds like a typical day in homeroom.
But this isn’t your average American grade school. It’s the first all-girls school in Deh’Sube, Afghanistan. In a society where females are prohibited from taking on leadership positions, the school’s founder and all of her teachers are women, but the headmaster is a man with a sixth-grade education.
Faculty members deserve combat pay. We frequently hear of teachers making out-of-pocket purchases to supply their students with materials not in the budget. Due to security concerns — i.e., not wanting students to be poisoned by what comes out of the faucet — Principle Hawa acts as the school’s official water-taster.
The students have it even tougher. Where I come from, a 70-year-old man walking down the aisle with a 14-year-old bride is called legalized rape. The stories are severe, the storytelling anything but. Writer-director Beth Murphy exercises great diligence, placing an emphasis on enlightenment, not exploitation. The world just might be a better place had the White House projectionist mixed up the reels and screened this, not Disney’s waterlogged Finding Dory, for President Trump.
They Call Us Monsters
Friday, February 3, 7 p.m.
Only in Los Angeles are prisoners afforded the luxury of a two-picture deal. Antonio, Jared, and Juan sign up for a 20-week screenwriting course and wind up not only writing a short, but starring in their own documentary feature!
Ben Lear’s documentary never once questions the guilt of its subjects: three teens facing life sentences, all of them between the ages of 14 and 17 when their violent crimes were committed. Nor is there any disagreement with the film’s ultimate conclusion that minors tried as adults deserve a chance at parole after 15 years. The concept is so sound that in 2014, around the time Lear — son of premier sitcom merchant Norman — began work on the documentary, California Senate Bill 260 became law.
Still, Lear is guilty of stacking the deck in favor of his trio of killers and/or attempted murderers. Friends and family profess on-screen loyalty, but Lear is not particularly concerned with putting a human face on the victims. Only one, a paralyzed young woman, is given ample screen time. The pullback to reveal the wheelchair that a drive-by shooting forever placed her in will stay in the memory long after the boy’s 15 minutes of combined fame (not to run concurrently) has faded.
Sunday, February 5, 3 p.m.
Four years after fleeing war-torn Syria, a tight-knit group of refugees find Egypt equally uninhabitable and decide to make another escape, this time to Genoa, Italy. As one evacuee points out, his people aren’t looking to upgrade their lives, they simply want a life. Together they place their fates, and in some cases the fates of their families, in the hands of inexperienced 20-year-old sailors.
Cellphone diaries of the journey comprise half the running time. After a week drifting in deplorable conditions, an oil-tanker rescues the group and deposits them on Italian soil, where, in order to survive, they must learn a foreign language, make new friends, and conform to different customs.
The sense of alienation photojournalist-filmmaker George Kurian’s congregation is asked to endure becomes so stifling, the exiles pass for human cargo shuttling from one prison to another. Thankfully, this journey has a happy ending.