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Human Rights Film Fest Gets the Big Picture

State of the Arts


Published January 9, 2008 at 12:50 p.m.

Last weekend, Waitsfield's Big Picture Theatre screened ski movies - from Warren Miller's Cold Fusion to Ski School 2. This weekend it welcomes Amy Goodman, the host of "Democracy Now!" Part first-run movie theater, part ski-town hangout and part community gathering place, the venue owned by Claudia Becker is a typical Vermont study in contrasts. This week it opens itself to the world with the fifth annual Mountaintop Human Rights Film Festival, which Becker directs.

In the past, the festival has hosted Hollywood director Mario van Peebles, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Ralph Nader, the last via webcam. This time, Goodman will discuss democracy "in the context of the war," in keeping with the festival's focus this year of "expanding human rights to the concept of democracy around the world," says festival manager Kimberley Ead. The organizers hope to give Vermonters "a view of the different ways people have power in their countries."

Most of the films at Mountaintop come from the "Why Democracy?" series commissioned by a group of BBC journalists to "stimulate a global debate about democracy," in the words of Project Organizer Nick Fraser. Two of them have been short-listed for the Academy Awards: Please Vote for Me, in which democracy gets a trial run in a Chinese elementary-school classroom; and Taxi to the Dark Side, which uses the case of an Afghan cabbie who died in U.S. custody to ask whether "terrorism can destroy democracy."

The fest also will run the documentaries Occupation 101 and Democracy in Dakar and the Iraq home-front drama In the Valley of Elah. A short film called "Deserter" will be accompanied by webcam interviews with real U.S. Army deserters.

The festival and Green Mountain Global Forum are cosponsoring a Sunday evening talk by University of Texas journalism professor Robert Jensen, author of The Heart of Whiteness and Writing Dissent. A Saturday afternoon Democracy Fair, with reps of local organizations, ups the activist ante.

Ead says the film festival draws more than 1000 people each year. Waitsfield is no Park City or Telluride, but that's still quite a crowd for a small ski town. "Vermonters are really looking for something to put their creative energy into," she notes, "and we provide it to them."