2017 Human Rights Watch Film Festival “The Apology” (by guest blogger, Wendy Moscow)

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June 14, 2017.  “The Apology” is one of many amazing documentary films that are being screened during the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

When “The Apology” opens, we see a group of elderly Korean women at a protest demonstration in Tokyo, Japan, peacefully demanding that the Japanese government apologize to them for their abduction and imprisonment as military sexual slaves during World War II. Japanese businessmen walk past shouting, “Go home Korean whores,” and worse, as the camera focuses on the dignified faces of these long-suffering victims. Needless to say, the apology is not forthcoming.

This moving and often surprisingly funny documentary interweaves the personal journeys of three of these so-called “comfort women,” now in their 80’s and 90’s, who were among the 200,000 young women and girls who were forced to endure this horrific nightmare. And like the victims of the Nazi Holocaust, their time to speak from personal experience is dwindling. Referred to, affectionately, as “the grandmas” these women are seemingly indefatigable as they travel around the world pursuing justice, peace and healing. Much of that healing comes from opportunities to sing together, cry together, and celebrate birthdays together in support groups, such as Las Kampaneras in the Phillipines. There, in the company of other women who share her experience, Grandma Adela speaks of not being able to tell her story to her family. Sadly, feelings of shame prevented her from making her now-deceased husband aware her of her painful history. But this remarkable woman, during the course of the filming, summons the courage to tell her son. The director, Tiffany Hsiung, chooses to protect their privacy by not revealing their conversation. Instead, she allows the eloquence of their faces speak for itself, and the bond between the two is obvious.

Grandma Cao, who lives in a rural Chinese village, still chops wood at age 92 (over the objections of her granddaughter) and relaxes by smoking cigarettes. When she tells her story, it is hard to bear. In fact, all three stories are hard to bear, but a necessary part of the narrative. Juxtaposed with the quotidian details of daily life – hand washing, sneaking (forbidden) beef jerky, watching TV – the stories are even more shocking. When Adela revisits the garrison in the Phillipines where she was held captive, you can almost hear the screams coming from those dingy rooms – 70 year old echoes embedded in grey walls.

Grandma Gil, an 86 year old Korean woman who has been participating in protests in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul for over 22 years, says, “I have not lived like a normal person” because of the unimaginable trauma. Nevertheless, she tours Japan in an effort to educate a new generation about something that’s purposefully not in their history books. We see a group of high school girls who are visibly shaken by what they learn of her suffering, many softly crying.

In 2014, Grandma Gil was invited to speak in Geneva before the UN Human Rights Council. In her impassioned speech, she speaks not only for herself, but for all victims of war. And even though the apology (or reparations, for that matter) will probably not come in her lifetime, the urgency of her message is being heard by a newly inspired generation. The torch has been passed.

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival runs through June 18th. For complete program and schedule information, visit ff.hrw.org

 

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on June 14, 2017, in 2017 Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Documentary, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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