Week two of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival features several documentaries that address the plight of refugees. In Asylum, a young woman from Ghana named Baaba searches for the father she’s never met; when she does meet him, he arranges for her marriage to a much older man and the surgical removal of her clitoris. Fleeing one kind of imprisonment in her homeland, Baaba enters another courtesy of the INS when she’s arrested and jailed, er, “detained” in the States. Sandy McLeod and Gini Reticker’s short film crystallizes the double victimization of the asylum seeker; though the graphics and editing mimic that of a sensationalist network news special, they never obscure Baaba’s story—chiefly because she tells it herself (in an interview filmed by Ellen Kuras).
Before the U.S. grants Baaba asylum, she spends a year in confinement; in 1994, roughly 50,000 Cuban rafters, or “balseros,” endured the same at America’s favorite detention center, Guantánamo, after Bill Clinton and Fidel Castro agreed to block the flow of refugees to Florida’s shores. Largely culled from segments produced for Catalonian public television, Carles Bosch and Josep M. Domenech’s Balseros focuses on a handful of rafters and their families: preparing for their journeys, languishing at Guantánamo, turning back to Cuba, or forging new lives in the States. Filmed over seven years (one rafter’s little daughter grows up in time-lapse), Balseros is organically composed and heroically comprehensive, its quilt of stories ranging from working-class idyll to displaced, drug-fogged bewilderment. (It opens July 23, at Film Forum.)
Just as expansive at 255 minutes, David Benchetrit’s impressive Kaddim Wind—Moroccan Chronicles challenges the ideal of Israel as a place of refuge by chronicling the experiences of Moroccan Jews after 1948. Excluded from post-war Arab nationalist movements but demeaned as a primitive element by the Israeli government, the small percentage of Mizrahim who were allowed to enter the newborn country were stationed in refugee or “transit” camps—human bulwarks on a volatile border. A lack of education and infrastructure fostered what one of Benchetrit’s many eloquent interviewees calls a “permanent underclass.” Some responded via protest movements, while others engaged in the equally radical process of assimilation, which one man likens to staring an enemy in the mirror: “You have to spit in your own face, erase yourself.”
“Regarding the Pain of Others: Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, Week One” by Jessica Winter