The words “human rights watch film festival” may not immediately get the pace a-runnin’, but the films in this annual documentary series — making its New York stop starting this weekend — tend to be as much about dynamic form as scintillating content. Among this round’s wares include “The Look of Silence,” no less than the latest from Joshua Oppenheimer, director of the unusually inventive and devastating “The Act of Killing.” “The Look of Silence” acts as a more sober companion piece, looking again at the Indonesian genocide of the 1960s, said to have wiped out over 500,000 people. Oppenheimer again confers with one of the perpetrators, this time via a brother of one of their victims, who confronts one of the remorseless killers, in turn raising uncomfortable but necessary questions about how we react to crimes of the past.
The past also weighs heavily on the present in the closing night film, “Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution,” one of the first major, comprehensive documentary theatrical features about the oft-demonized activists. Director Stanley Nelson, equipped with loads of rare footage, rebuts those claims while digging in deep into the problems that did ail them: the sexism, even when half its members wound up being female; the in-fighting that split the group; the descent into drugs and ego of Huey Newton. Its allegiances couldn’t be clearer, even when it brings some of the cops from the time in to have their say — even if their say tends to be that the party they were tasked with busting were right.
Elsewhere, the oddly named “(T)ERROR” gets in close on the unhappy life of a man who sold out fellow Muslims during the War on Terror, ratting on and sometimes destroying the lives of men who likely had nothing to do with real terrorism. Among films we haven’t (yet) seen, there’s “3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets,” about Jordan Davis, the black teen shot at a Florida gas station; the Arab Spring account “The Dream of Shahrazad”; and another War on Terror film, “Of Men and War,” which in part looks at the toll of PTSD.
The Human Rights Watch Film Festival runs from June 11 through June 19. For a complete list of films, schedules and locations, visit their site.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge