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The United Nations Association Film Festival Turns 25!

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Now that the Mill Valley Film Festival has finished celebrating its 45th edition, it’s time for another San Francisco Bay Area film festival to celebrate its reaching a milestone.  This particular festival happens to be one of the U.S.’ oldest documentary-only film festivals, and this year it celebrates turning 25.  The United Nations Association Film Festival (hereafter “UNAFF”) began in 1998 in conjunction with another anniversary: 50 years since the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  UNAFF founder Jasmina Bojic is a Stanford educator and film critic, which perhaps explains why many of UNAFF’s events continue to take place in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, and Stanford University.  

Then again, UNAFF has often done a few screenings in San Francisco.  This year, those screenings take place at the Roxie Theatre.

So why make the trip to the South Bay to check out UNAFF?  Over the years, UNAFF has earned a track record for screening some of the year’s most acclaimed and most-buzzed about documentaries.  Eight such documentaries which screened at UNAFF later won Academy Awards while another thirty-four were nominated.  The 2022 UNAFF program includes such acclaimed recent films as “Coded Bias,” “Attica,” “Writing With Fire,” and “Ricochet.”

United Nations Association Film Festival 2022

For those who’ve decided to commit to attending UNAFF, here is some basic information.  UNAFF goes back this year to an in-person only festival running from October 20-30, 2022.  Every UNAFF has a theme, and this year that theme is “Reflections.”  The Mitchell Park Community Center (3700 Middlefield Road) will be the main Palo Alto venue for UNAFF 2022.  There will also be a couple of programs taking place at Stanford University.  Other venues include the aforementioned Roxie in S.F. as well as Eastside College Preparatory School in East Palo Alto.

Over the 10 days of UNAFF 2022, there will be a mix of 60 short and feature-length films shown.  These films hail from such countries as India, Norway, Mongolia, Kenya, Bangladesh, and of course the US.

Aside from the documentaries mentioned above, here are some other UNAFF 2022 selections deserving your attention:

The American Dream And Other Fairy Tales—Faux News and other right-wing commentators may scream bloody murder about the title of this personal essay documentary.  But given that one of this film’s directors is Abigail E. Disney (granddaughter of Disney Corporation co-founder Roy Disney), it’s quite hard to pin the socialist label on her.  An encounter with striking low-wage workers at the Happiest Place On Earth spurs this particular Disney to look at the history of modern American capitalism from the mid-1950s to today.  How did America go from a country with a more equitable distribution of wealth to one where CEOs earning 800 times more than the average employee is considered normal?   

American Justice On Trial–Black Panther leader Huey P. Newton faced the death penalty for killing a white cop during a 1967 pre-dawn traffic stop.  It seemed nothing could save him from being executed by the state.  But Newton’s lawyers gambled on attacking the racism that motivated the traffic stop.  This is the story of why that incredible gamble was undertaken and how the verdict was reached.  

Imagining The Indian–Sorry, but Native Americans feel neither flattered nor even honored by American cultural appropriation of or belittlement of Native American culture and imagery.  To understand why, this documentary shows the negative effects of such appropriation.  The film also introduces viewers to some of the activists and their allies determined to remedy such ongoing offensive cultural acts.    

Imagining The Indian

The Janes–What was it like to be a woman in the days when getting an abortion was illegal across the United States?  And why is the Rethuglican Party happily embracing this Christian Right long game?  The second question can’t be answered by this film.  But answering the first question requires knowing the story of the Janes.  They were a group of brave women who broke Chicago’s anti-abortion laws of the 1960s and early 1970s to ensure the women they helped could finally exercise bodily autonomy.  If you’re someone who doesn’t realize or has forgotten why the U.S. Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade is an ongoing disaster, this film will show you why the Janes’ activism still matters today. 

Kicking Balls—In three small villages in the Indian state of Rajasthan, there is an unusual soccer league in which 200 teenage girls train and play regularly.  What these girls all have in common is that almost all of them are child brides.  Playing soccer helps them gain confidence, independence, and even the strength to fight to get their marriages annulled.

 The Long Breakup–Forbes Magazine journalist Katya Soldak has a personal interest in current events in Ukraine.  She’s a Ukrainian native hailing from the town of Kharkiv near the Russian border.  This personal documentary filmed over the course of a decade uses the experiences of Soldak’s family and friends (who still live in Ukraine and Russia) to personalize the major geopolitical changes affecting her birth country, from the breakup of the USSR to the current Soviet invasion.

Maldita, A Love Song To Sarajevo–To revolutionary Balkan artist Bozo Vieco, Sarajevo is the “innocent city.”  Despite the trauma of recent decades’ events, the city’s spirit has returned stronger than ever.  Vieco contributes to his city’s rebirth by building bridges, whether it’s between men and women or between Sarajevo and Barcelona.   

Russia v. Russia–If you thought Russians were monolithically supportive of Putin and everything he’s doing, you’d be sadly mistaken.  As this film shows, Russia is politically divided between the younger generation (protesting the increasing political repression Putin has inflicted) and the older generation (happy to support the Kremlin and Putin’s crushing of dissent).  Any similarities between the demographics of Putin’s supporters and the American cultists happily supporting the Orange Skull might not be that coincidental.

Sign The Show–If you’re deaf or hard of hearing (HOH), should it mean you’re automatically shut out of access to live nightlife performances?  Meet the musical artists, HOH community members, and American Sign Language interpreters who answer no to this question and are determined to make live performance accessible to the HOH.     

Maldita, A Love Song To Sarajevo

Silent Pandemic – The Global Fight Against Antimicrobial Resistance–Modern medicine (and in fact our modern way of life) depends on the existence of effective antibiotics.  So what happens when the antibiotics humanity currently relies on prove ineffective against antibiotic-resistant bacteria…there are no new antibiotics in the development pipeline…and the big pharmaceutical companies have little financial interest in developing new antibiotics?

This Adventure Called California–Jennifer Huang’s short film is the story of Arnoldo, a young man who makes the trek from Tijuana to San Francisco to prove himself to his family.  He endures such challenges as labor exploitation and homelessness.  However, a chance encounter with a stranger might give him hope.

 Unguarded–Think “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” is the best operating mode for the criminal justice system?  Then you need to hear about the Brazilian prison system known as the Association for the Protection and Assistance of Convicts (APAC).  System founder Dr. Mario Ottobani decided to break ex-prisoners’ recidivism cycle by emphasizing restorative justice and getting prisoners going through APAC’s program fully recovered and rehabilitated.  The result: public prisons using status quo incarceration methods have seen recidivism rates increase while APAC’s prisons have seen recidivism rates decrease. 

As mentioned above, this is just a sampling of the films available at this year’s UNAFF.  Other unmentioned films might do a better job of persuading you to make the trip to Palo Alto.  And if you need another reason to head Stanford way, why not take the opportunity to visit Ramen Nagi?  You may have had restaurant ramen before.  But Ramen Nagi is a big name in the Tokyo ramen scene and the Palo Alto outlet is one of the only two available in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Peter Wong

Peter Wong

I've been reviewing films for quite a few years now, principally for the online publication Beyond Chron. My search for unique cinematic experiences and genre dips have taken me everywhere from old S.F. Chinatown movie theaters showing first-run Jackie Chan movies to the chilly slopes of Park City. Movies having cat pron instantly ping my radar.