By Evan Leahy
Human rights awareness took center stage at the 16th Annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival last week, which featured films exploring social, cultural and environmental issues facing the world today. The festival ran Feb. 19-27 and included screenings at Whatcom Community College, Western Washington University and Bellingham Technical College, along with Pickford Film Center, local public libraries and other venues, giving viewers plenty of chances to catch films they might not have otherwise gotten a chance to see.
“BHRFF is an occasion for our community to explore critical rights issues together and to deliberate how we might respond to promote human rights near and far,” says the event’s website. Over the festival’s nine days, a total of 26 films were shown, with many at multiple different screenings. While attendance records are not kept for the festival, Ross Marquardt, a spokesperson for the festival committee said that audiences have clearly grown in recent years.
Marquardt said questionnaires were given to attendance members after screenings as a way of getting feedback and that one of the questions asked was what issues audience members would most like to see films about in coming years.
“We have seen in the past four years a significant increase in interest in environmental and Native American issues,” said Marquardt. He added that the selection process was about ten weeks of “preview and discussion of quality, diversity and interest to the community.”
The event kicked off opening night with a screening of “El Canto del Colibri” at Whatcom’s Syre Hall presented by the Whatcom Diversity Committee, followed by and a reception and auction preceding a screening of “Groundswell Rising” held at the Pickford Film Center.
“El Canto del Colibri” is a story of Latino fathers dealing with issues of immigration, faith, marriage equality, machismo, culture, and the process of their LGBTQ children coming out,” said the film’s IMDB listing. A second screening was also held at Bellingham Technical College, presented by the BTC Diversity Committee.
The festival also featured screenings of 2016 Academy Award Shortlist Documentary Nominees “3 ½ Minutes, 10 Bullets” and “The Hunting Ground”. “The Hunting Ground” may be familiar to some students from the screening of the film during Whatcom’s Sexual Awareness Week presented by the Whatcom’s Social Justice, Equity and Pluralism Committee this past January. The film deals with sexual assault on American college campuses and the minimal response the issue has drawn from universities and has received numerous awards nominations.
“3 ½ Minutes, 10 Bullets” examines the events and aftermath of a 2012 parking lot altercation between a black teenager and an older white man regarding music volume in which the teen was killed. In addition to the Academy Awards nomination, the film won an African-American Film Critics Association Top 10 Films of 2015 Award, tying for 6th with the critically-acclaimed coming of age film, “Dope.” “3 ½ Minutes, 10 Bullets” also won Best Documentary Feature at RiverRun International Film Festival, a Youth Jury Award at the 2015 Sheffield International Documentary Festival and a Special Jury Prize at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
Also co-sponsored by the BTC Diversity Committee was a screening of “Honor Totem,” which chronicles the memorial totem pole project that has been a community response to the fatal police shooting of John T. Williams in downtown Seattle on Aug 30, 2010, along with sponsoring screenings of “Homeless in Bellingham: Cold, Dirty and Scary,” “El Canto del Colibri” and “The Hand That Feeds.”
Whatcom’s Diversity Committee also co-sponsored a screening of “El Canto del Colibri” and Whatcom’s Sustainability Club presented a screening of “The True Cost,” a film exploring the global economic and ecological impacts of the fashion industry.
Marquardt said that the festival committee had made an effort to make films available to a wide audience, which is why so many films were shown on college campuses and around the community, also saying that “we have expanded to other county locations recently to give non-Bellingham residents as easier chance to see a few of our films.”
The festival is entirely volunteer run, and “volunteers are always needed and welcome,” said Marquardt. Those interested in learning more are encouraged to visit the festival’s website at bhrff.webs.com.