BY Margaretta wa Gacheru
Film festivals have been in the foreground of cultural events in Nairobi over the past few weeks. Last week, there was the African Documentary Film Festival organized by former Kenya International Film Fest director Charles Asiba and the Goethe Institute.
This week the Human Rights Watch Film Festival has been on every day from 6pm at Alliance Francaise, with one more documentary film screened tonight, which is a ‘must-see’.
And this weekend, there will be the third annual Out Film Festival at the Goethe Institute, the most controversial of the three, but one, like the other two, that puts issues within not just a local but a broad global context.
The issues that have been addressed over this past week during the HRW film fest have been specially selected for their relevance to our Kenyan context by Neela Ghoshal, the senior researcher with the Nairobi Office of Human Rights Watch.
For instance, on Monday, the documentary film by Harry Freeland, In the Shadow of the Sun, was an intimate portrayal of two young Tanzanian men with albinism. It was a deeply disturbing yet compelling story of the terrible discrimination, ostracism, and abuse that albino people endure.
In Tanzania, albinos are not only abused; they are hunted and murdered due to the superstitious belief that owning an albino limb will literally make someone rich.
The film charts the courageous journey of Josephat Torner, an albino human rights activist who took up the challenge to go around his country, from village to village, debunking the lethal lie and speaking truth to his fellow Tanzanians.
All five HRW films shown this week have been just as powerful, compelling and enlightening as the albinism film. On Tuesday, the Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck’s doc film Fatal Assistance was a devastating indictment of the international donor community’s post-disaster ‘aid’.
Exposing the self-serving interests of most foreign donors who came to Haiti after the disastrous 2010 earthquake, Peck challenges mainstream notions of the idealism of foreign aid. Again, the film is disturbing but it also reveals in graphic detail the ways that foreign aid is not only ‘dead aid’ as the Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo puts it in her book of the same name. It has most likely made matters worse for the Haitian people.
The one feature film of the week was about child marriage and the ingenious secret plan devised by a young West African girl to save her little sister from an arranged marriage.
Tall as the Baobab Tree by Jeremy Teicher is set in Senegal, but it could have been made almost anywhere in Africa, including Kenya.
Thursday’s film The Act of Killing encapsulated years of Indonesian genocide, suffering and repression by focusing on the life of one small-time gangster who, following the 1965 coup d’etats, became a death-squad leader working with the army to kill more than a million alleged Communists, ethnic Chinese and intellectuals.   
And tonight, the public will still have a chance to watch the last HRW film on the Occupy Wall Street movement that came into being following the economic collapse of the US economy in 2008.
Highlighting the main issue of economic inequality in the US, the movement claimed to represent the country’s 99 percent of ordinary American people who were and still are most affected by the financial collapse.
The movement also aimed to expose the remaining one percent of the population who were not only unaffected by the Crash; they benefited from it, remain uber-rich and righteously claim it’s their right not to pay taxes or assist the other 99 percent.
The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film is one more eye-opening doc film that makes the annual HRW Film Festival one of the most enlightening cinematic events of the year.
Finally, the third annual Out Film Festival opens tonight at the Goethe Institute. Coordinated jointly with the Gay Kenya Trust, the two-day fest features eight feature and documentary films, including the film classic Anders als die Anderen (Different from the others) which was made in 1919 by Richard Oswald. Banned soon after it was screened, the film was re-discovered in the 1970s and is considered a classic because it is first portrayal of homosexuals in the history of cinema.
The other films that will be shown on Saturday, November 30, include New Year’s Eve, You Are Not Done, Face Off, A Girl Like Me, The Package (O Pacita) andFinn’s Girl.
Admission to the Out Film Festival is free; however the Goethe Institute requests that individuals who wish to attend the screenings ask for an invitation by writing to
Finally, the eighth Lola Kenya Screen Film Festival will run from December 2-7 at the Goethe Institute. The Lola Kenya Fest is specially designed for children and youth and is part of a worldwide network of Lola children’s film festivals.

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