From Syria To South Dakota, IIFF Docs Presents Stories Of Life And Resistance In A Changing World

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Three days of groundbreaking human rights documentaries in the heart of New York City.

Over three days, a selection of groundbreaking documentaries will shed light on the powers that be and on those resisting them.

ALBA’s human rights documentary film festival, Impugning Impunity, returns to New York for its 2017 season, opening Friday, September 22, at the historic Downtown Community Television Center (DCTV) and running until Sunday, September 24. Over three days, a selection of groundbreaking films will shed light on the powers that be and on those resisting them. The festival will highlight the documentary’s unique ability to contest the status quo and offer strategies for resistance by fostering a dialogue about justice, activism, and equality. ALBA’s human rights documentary film festival honors the heritage of the 2,800 American men and women who, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) joined the International Brigades to fight against fascism.

This year’s festival will present 18 non-fiction features and shorts from 11 countries. The lineup includes three world premieres, three US premieres, and six New York premieres. The festival’s jury is composed of Spanish investigative filmmaker Montserrat Armengou, Emmy-winning director Laurens Grant, and Richard Peña, former program director of the Film Society of the Lincoln Center, Director Emeritus of the New York Film Festival, and Professor of Film Studies at Columbia University. They will honor the best film from the Official Selection with the Harry Randall Award for Best Human Rights Documentary Feature. The festival will also award a prize to the Best Documentary Short.

This year’s program offers a wide range of non-fiction modes, perspectives and aesthetic approaches: from the desire to bear witness through rigorous investigative work and participatory camera work to first-person approaches and poetic observational pieces, including performative films that approach documentary in fresh and exciting ways. The range of compelling subjects showcased throughout the films is as wide as their narrative styles.

With a special focus on marginalized perspectives and loyal to the festival’s belief in dealing with today’s most pressing issues, the films in the official selection address the Syrian refugee crisis, the rise of neo-nationalist movements, the plight of workers in the global economy, genocide accountability, and racial and gender violence, among other issues. In Profiled, Kathleen Foster knits the stories of mothers of black and Latin youth murdered by the NYPD in order to trace the roots of police brutality in the US; in Clean In: How Hotel Workers Fought Harvard for a Union – And Won, Rebecca R. Rojer navigates feminism and class as it charts the struggle to form a housekeeper’s union at a Harvard-owned hotel; and in I Cherish Women the words of Donald Trump are scored for chamber choir and a cast of all-women narrators.

Special attention is also given to the volatile political climate rising around the world and also those who are seizing this moment to create positive change. Jeremy Williams’ On a Knife Edge follows an intergenerational story of despair and activism on the Pine Ridge reservation in Southern Dakota in the lead up to the Standing Rock protests. Sebastian Junger and Nick Quested’s Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS tells an informative and compelling account of Syria’s descent into chaos and the rise of ISIS and Catherine van Campen’s poetic an subtle account of the dreams of Syrian children living in a refugee camp in Zaatari Djin.

ALBA Human Rights Documentary Film Festival has lined up several special events with daily Q&A’s, a filmmakers’ party on Saturday night, and a double bill that includes Sunday brunch. Filmmakers Pamela Yates, Peter Kinoy and Nick Quested, will be present for a Q&A with the audience on Friday. Directors Judith Lynn Stillman, Molly Stuart, Kathleen Foster and producer Eli Cane will hold discussions after their screenings on Saturday giving us a space to discuss Donald Trump’s sexism, civil disobedience, police racial violence, and Native American rights.

And on Sunday festival goers will have the opportunity to watch three films on European matters while enjoying free food and drinks: in Golden Dawn: A Personal Affair, Angelique Kourounis, a left-wing feminist journalist, explores the rise of a neo-fascist party in crisis-laden Greece, while Spanish politics are brought to life in creative and exciting ways: Luis Parés’ The Corpse of Time is a performative movie about a cinephile’s (humorous) attempt to kill the ghost of dictator Francisco Franco, and Pau Faus’ Ada for Mayor chronicles the emotional debut in institutional politics of a well-known Spanish activist. Director Pau Faus and Rebecca Rojer will be present after the screening.

Impugning Impunity is a celebration of the documentary form and its ability to challenge the status quo, stand witnesses to the fragility of human rights anywhere in the world, and, at the same time, offer stories that present successful alternatives to our current system.


About Impugning Impunity (
The festival provokes dialogue about justice, resistance, and equality through a slate of groundbreaking new documentaries on human rights issues, post-screening Q&A sessions with filmmakers, and community talk-backs with human rights advocates and activists. Through its open call, the festival gives voice to unheard communities and filmmakers across the world.

The Harry Randall Award for best film was created in memory of Harry W. Randall, Jr. (1915-2012) who served in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade as Chief Photographer of the Photographic Unit of the 15th International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.

About ALBA (
Mission: The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA) is an educational non-profit dedicated to promoting social activism and the defense of human rights. ALBA’s work is inspired by the American volunteers of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade who fought fascism in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Drawing on the ALBA collections in New York University’s Tamiment Library, and working to expand such collections, ALBA works to preserve the legacy of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade as an inspiration for present and future generations.

Vision: Inspired by the anti-fascist activism of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ALBA works toward a more widespread, profound, and nuanced awareness of the history of America's progressive traditions among high school students, college students, scholars, and the public at large. We hope and intend that this awareness will allow progressive communities in the United States and elsewhere to develop effective strategies to meet the present and future challenges faced by the world, and to work more consciously and effectively toward a better and more just society.

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Michael McCanne
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