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  • Nowhere to Hide

    Nowhere to Hide

    The 28th edition of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival takes place this year from Friday, June 9, through Sunday, June 18. With 21 feature documentaries and panel discussions that showcase the courage and resilience of activism in these challenging times, the event seems more relevant than ever. The festival is co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and IFC Center, and all screenings are followed by discussions with filmmakers, their subjects, Human Rights Watch researchers and special guests.

    Several films address the worsening refugee crisis and migration, including opening night presentation Nowhere to Hide, directed by Zaradasht Ahmed. Using a camera given to him by the filmmaker, Iraqi nurse Nori Sharif documents the catastrophic events surrounding his family as war and ISIS devastate their region.

    The need for change in U.S. law enforcement and the justice system is another festival theme, represented by films including Erik Ljung’s The Blood Is at the Doorstep, about a fatal shooting by Milwaukee police, and Peter Nicks’s The Force, about the long troubled Oakland Police Department. One of the films addressing the changing face of journalism and how we get our information, closing night’s Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Pressdirected by Brian Knappenberger, explores the recent Hulk Hogan vs. Gawker case and others.

    The Resistance Saga, a daylong special event, includes a trilogy of films by Pamela Yates on the plight of the Mayan people of Guatemala. When the Mountains Tremble (1984), Granito: How to Nail a Dictator (2001), and 500 Years: Life in Resistance (2017) all document the events surrounding first trial in the history of the Americas to prosecute the genocide of an indigenous people.

    Other highlights of the HRWFF:

    Sophia and Georgia Scott’s sad, moving Lost in Lebanon closely follows four Syrians out of the 1.5 million who have fled their country’s war for neighboring Lebanon. Sheikh Abdo, a solid community leader and family man; Nemr, a thoughtful student who never finished high school because of the war; Reem, a wry, English-speaking architect; and Mwafak, a cheerful, long-haired artist, each tell their stories as we watch them grapple with insurmountable challenges in attempting to re-start their lives. Unable to work, attend school, or even obtain exit visas in an overwhelmed country that has grown increasingly hostile to their presence, they volunteer teaching children at refugee camps, worried that future generations of war-displaced Syrians will be illiterate. Initially persevering and optimistic, the subjects’ intense frustrations are palpable by the end of the film.


    Nicholas de Pencier’s Black Code follows the activities of the Toronto University-based research unit Citizen Lab. Led by Professor Ronald Deibert, these “internet sleuths” travel the world, uncovering digital espionage by corporations and governments, while partnering with local activists. Citizen Lab made its name by exposing Chinese malware used to spy on the Dalai Lama and other prominent Tibetans. These “acts of war against citizens,” says Deibert, allow government agents to apprehend and sometimes kill opponents. Other locales visited in the film include Pakistan, where we meet the leader of internet rights group Bytes for All Pakistan and see how social media-fueled hatred results in the murder of one female activist. In Rio de Janeiro, we’re introduced to Midia Ninja, the group that covered heavily policed protests of the 2014 World Cup via TwitCasting.  Ethiopian and Syrian activists also talk about their experiences with government spyware. The film raises disturbing questions about the possible consequences of what we unthinkingly post on Facebook and other channels.


    Tiffany Hsiung’s The Apology explores a shameful episode in Japanese history through three women who were sexual slaves of the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. Grandma Gil in South Korea, Grandma Cao in China and Grandma Adela in the Philippines (all in their 80s and 90s) are among the few still-living “comfort women”–thousands who were forced to service occupying Japanese soldiers. They each tell their stories as the film follows current efforts to extract an official apology and recognition from the Japanese government. We watch the indefatigable Gil prepare for the 1000th weekly demonstration she helped organize in 1992 outside Seoul’s Japanese Embassy; she speaks to groups in various countries, including a roomful of Japanese girls who are stunned to hear her story. We also visit Cao in her rural village, as she tells her horrifying account after decades of secrecy, even from her daughter; and watch Adela, who has never told her family about her experience out of shame, as she finally unburdens herself. The film is a tribute to these women and the many who died before their stories could be heard.

    Click here for complete program and schedule information.

    Marina Zogbi

  • Who would’ve pegged the Dutchess of Cambridge to be a sneakerhead — well not exactly — but she does love a particular pair of Superga trainers, and the internet is loving it!

    Whether it’s on the cover of British GQ, shopping, or attending London Marathon, Kate seems to be wearing cute white sneakers everywhere she goes.

    And as we’ve reported before the “Kate Effect” is real, and if she likes your brand it will sell like hotcakes.

    Case in point: a Nordstrom reviewer writes: ” Kate Middleton-approved…I’ve been searching for the perfect walking shoe for an upcoming trip to Europe…I can say they are equally comfortable and stylish.”

    1496319863-gettyimages-670246252-1496269423Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images

    According to Daily Mail, the Superga 2750 Cotu Classic trainers were first spotted on Kate in October 2016.  The same exact shoes have also been spotted on celebs like Alexa Chung, Karlie Kloss and Emma Watson — however it’s Kate who has made the biggest impact on the Italian footwear.

    ‘Superga has seen the sales figures for this style double since Kate has been stepping out wearing them repeatedly,’ says a rep. The their sales have DOUBLED, increasing 100% thanks to the princess.

    And don’t worry. Despite the sharp jump in sales, the sneakers are available.

    ‘As they are Superga’s most popular style it’s practically impossible to sell out completely as they have plenty of stock of this particular white trainer.’

    Happy shopping!

    Screen Shot 2017-06-01 at 9.14.36 AM

    Photo Credit: Bloomingdales

  • Dumbfoundead1

    Courtesy of FilmRise

    The Asian-American experience in popular culture has been an interesting and sometimes troubling one. Where other minorities have made great, often vocal, strides in advancing their place in the pop culture firmament—music, movies, TV, comic books—Asians have not always been as successful. Bad Rap, directed by Salima Koroma and produced by Jaeki Cho, is an enlightening look at the careers of four Asian-American rappers—Dumbfoundead (Jonathan Park), Awkwafina (Nora Lum), Rekstizzy (David Lee) and Lyricks (Richard Lee)—as they struggle with prejudice and their own cultural expectations in a genre created and dominated by African-American artists. (Of course, white artists don’t exactly command the field either, but Eminem is shown as the obvious example of major success.)

    The film opens with scenes of Dumbfoundead–the best known and longest performing of the four—onstage in front of an excited crowd, as the others praise his talent and 2011 song “Are We There Yet?,” which specifically addressed the experience of his Korean immigrant family. He interviews that he hates being called “an Asian rapper,” yet admits to also embracing that identity. Ultimately though, “I’m American,” he says, a sentiment that is echoed by others throughout the film.

    Courtesy of FilmRise

    Bad Rap delves into hip hop history, starting with 1980s West Coast Filipino rappers who were heroes in the Asian community around the time that NWA and Ice Cube first became popular. We hear from rap pioneer MC Jin, who appeared at age 19 on BET’s “Freestyle Friday” battle rap competition and was subsequently signed to Ruff Rider Records (the first Asian American rapper to be signed to a major label), only to see his career stall.

    Various industry figures weigh in on the place of Asians in hip hop, including Snoop Dogg’s manager Ted Chung, journalist Oliver Wang, and Chinese-American rapper Decipher, who notes, “They want you to be that karate-kickin’, civic strivin’, SAT-takin’ dude. And a lot of us aren’t like that.” We watch the irrepressible Rekstizzy arguing strenuously for making a video (“God Bless America”) that includes squirting condiments on women’s twerking backsides. His manager (Cho, who also produced this film) is against it, with good reason.

    Of the film’s four featured artists, Dumbfoundead seems the most frustrated, having been at it the longest. A veteran of L.A.’s battle rap scene, he also has the most street cred. Citing Awkwafina, who has drawn a hipster following with drily ironic songs like “My Vag,” he asserts that female Asian rappers are more marketable than men, while she argues that it’s just as hard for non-sexualized female. We watch her perform for an adoring crowd, with Dumbfoundead, Rekstizzy and Lyricks all cheering her on. There’s clearly a lot of support and mutual admiration among this group.

    Courtesy of FilmRise

    Courtesy of FilmRise

    Both Dumbfoundead and Lyricks are close to their mothers, who are featured in the film. We visit Lyricks, considered the best technical rapper of them all, as he works in his parents’ dry cleaning business. An eloquent speaker and performer, he talks about his upbringing in a deeply Christian household and the ongoing struggle between his faith and his career.

    In 2015, after years away from the battle scene, Dumbfoundead decides to take part in a major Toronto competition, hosted by Drake, who happens to be a big fan. At the press conference for the event, journalists think nothing of asking the Asian rapper outrageously racist questions in weak attempts to be humorous. Battle raps are notoriously no-holds barred, and Dumbfoundead’s sparring partner, the popular Conceited, trots out every stereotype in the book (from slanted eyes to Jackie Chan), while his fans cheer. Dumbfoundead acquits himself nicely (though he himself resorts to digs about Conceited’s short stature). With his nimble, inventive lines, it’s clear he hasn’t lost any of his edge.

    The film then jumps ahead two years and checks in with each of the four; all still rapping and hoping to make their mark. As Rekstizzy puts it, “We need that champion.” Bad Rap is an engaging film that leaves us hoping that one of these artists—or at least someone—does finally make it to that exalted place.

    Bad Rap premieres on all major VOD platforms on Tuesday, May 23.

    Marina Zogbi