Human Rights Spotlight

War, peace and everything in between

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Those looking to expand their worldviews will have plenty of opportunities to do so in the near future. And, although the following events won’t require you to leave the continental United States, there’s a strong possibility that participating in them might inspire you to drop what you’re doing and travel the world in order to discover more about it.

The Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival (BHRFF) begins Feb. 21 and continues at various locales through March 2, closely followed by the Skagit Human Rights Festival (SHRF), which features a number of discussions and events from March 7-28 in Mount Vernon. And, since most events happening during both festivals is free, there’s simply no excuse to not expand your mind. 

In the 10 days that the Bellingham Human Rights Festival shows its 20 documentary films focusing on themes ranging from the environment to war and peace, Israel/Palestine issues, educational alternatives, indigenous rights and activism, those who attend can double up on their newfound knowledge. Whatever movie you watch—whether it’s about Israeli and Palestinian activists who protest the takeover a home by settlers (My Neighborhood), the often-harmful effects of western education on indigenous cultures (Schooling the World), or the origins and nature of civil war in Syria (The Suffering Grasses)—will be followed by an audience discussion facilitated either by the film’s directors, human rights activists and/or local experts, ensuring that the questions the documentaries raise can be answered while they’re still fresh in your mind.

And, while many of BHRFF’s films focus on issues beyond our country’s borders, there are plenty of mind-altering cinematic offerings focusing their lenses on issues closer to home. The Invisible War, for example, takes a close—and disturbing—look at sexual assault in the U.S. military. In Precious Knowledge, Tucson’s ethnic studies program gets support from its students. And, on closing night, longtime Bellingham peace activist Howard Harris gets the spotlight at a viewing of Peacemaker.

While the Skagit Valley Human Rights Festival isn’t billed as a “film festival,” per se, the series of events also features a number of documentaries, which are also followed by community-centered events.

“This year, we’re looking at food and agriculture from a few different angles, with a night on GMO foods and a night on local food systems,” organizer Jodie Buller says. “We’re also looking deeper at the issues that transgender people experience, offering a free concert with Dana Lyons, investigating Women in Leadership in media and politics, and talking about health care.”

With a tagline of “celebrate community, honor diversity,” the Skagit-based gatherings—most of which take place at Skagit Valley College—are centered a little closer to home, with panel discussions featuring local and regional experts. 

One event, “The Skagit Food System”—which takes place March 14—is wide-ranging in its efforts to bring attention to state of the food system locally, and also aims to discuss what’s going on to improve food security, food sovereignty and food justice. Local food system advocates such as Rita Ordonez (community food access manager for Community Action Skagit), Jim Meyer (Cascadian Home Farm general manager), and Karen Parnell (Skagit 1095) will be on hand, and community participation is encouraged.

Whether you’re interested in finding out more what’s happening in places you’ve never been or important issues closer to home, you’re sure to find things that will interest you at both festivals. If you can’t, well, you really need to expand your worldview—and now you know where to start.

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