Monday, February 6th, 2017
Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival Explores Critical Issues
Lorraine Wilde

For the seventeenth year in a row, Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival (BHRFF) will present thought-provoking films gathered from around the world. Their mission: to encourage the viewing community to explore and engage in critical human rights issues. Over the 10-day festival held February 16 – 25, 2017, 25 films will be screened across 13 venues throughout Whatcom County, free of charge.

Overburden Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival documentary

From “Overburden”, directed by Chad A. Stevens, Milesfrommaybe Productions. Lorelei Scarbro lost her husband to Black Lung. Then nearly 10 years later Massey Energy applied for permits to use mountaintop removal coal mining on the Coal River Mountain. Scarbro became the community organizer in the campaign to build an industrial wind farm along the ridges of the mountain.

Human rights have been at the center of the daily news of late. The country has recently been divided in politics, between friends, and within families regarding core issues related to gender equality, immigration reform, refugee sanctuary, reproductive rights, and climate change.

Each year, a dedicated volunteer committee selects insightful, moving films that tackle these tough and controversial issues. The HRFF volunteers believe that a shared commitment to human rights is integral to a healthy planet. The 25 films selected attempt to educate and bring light to environmental activism, overcoming disability limitations, the effects of militarization on our society, refugees and immigration law, gender identity, food waste, and antagonists cooperating to solve problems to name just a few. But the people behind this event aren’t just hoping to educate, they’re hoping to ignite engagement in these critical issues. By provoking thought, perhaps there will also be action.

Opening night of the festival will be held at Pickford Film Center. Western Washington University‘s (WWU) Fairhaven College Auditorium serves as the primary venue for many of the films. Most films screened at this venue will be followed by discussions facilitated by someone involved with making the film or by experts familiar with the issues they cover. After the films, representatives and activists from local organizations will also be on hand as resources for further learning and future involvement. Some films are screened only once, while others are shown multiple times in various venues around Whatcom County.

Overburden Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival Bellingham

From “Overburden”, directed by Chad A. Stevens, Milesfrommaybe Productions. Five protesters chained themselves to an excavator on a mountaintop removal preparation site. The five were later removed and charged with criminal trespassing.

BHRFF’s long history and mission have been recognized. They received a 2015 Mayor’s Arts Award and were listed as one of nine ‘Film Festivals That Are Making A Difference’ in the U.S. Amnesty International USA’s local Group 270 also received an award for its financial and volunteer support of BHRFF. More than 40 businesses and organizations sponsor the event so that it can remain free of charge to the public.

The Films

Below is just a taste of the 25 incredibly topical films that will be shared at this year’s festival. Each is relevant to the heavily-debated issues appearing in the news each day.

Functional Zero, a locally-produced film, examines homelessness in Bellingham, WA within the larger context of homelessness in the United States. The term functional zero is controversial. It originally referred to the idea that there were no more homeless veterans because enough resources had been dedicated to solving the problem so that no veteran would remain homeless for more than a month. But controversy still exists because some used the term to imply that homelessness was no longer a problem for veterans. The documentary explores these issues as well as homelessness in non-veteran populations.

Overburden is a documentary about an Appalachian coal mine tragedy, the people effected by it, and their passionate response. “When an errant spark ignited the methane leaking in the Upper Big Branch mine in 2010, a fireball ripped through miles of underground tunnels in Appalachia’s coal country, killing everything it touched – including 29 men. In the explosion’s aftermath, a right-wing pro-coal activist joins forces with a tree-hugging grandmother to take down the most dangerous coal company in the United States.” The work has been screened at more than 20 film festivals around the world and won a Gold Award from the Spotlight Film Awards jury. It was featured in National Geographic Magazine and called one of the ‘10 best documentaries of 2015‘ by Audiences Everywhere.

death by design planned obsolescence Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

“Death by Design” reveals the current global crisis related to the manufacture and consumption of electronics under planned obsolescence.

Death by Design explores the global environmental and public health consequences resulting from planned obsolescence in the electronic and high tech industries. This film gives you an insider look into where your electronics are made and the lives of the workers on the assembly line.

Red Power Energy is never more relevant than today. The Dakota Access Pipeline struggle has been in the daily news for months. This documentary about Native Americans from South Dakota to Montana, who offer thought provoking perspectives on today’s controversial energy debate.

Sin Pais means “without country.” This 2010 short documentary bears witness to the plight of undocumented workers forcibly separated from their families. It is particularly timely considering the recently evolving immigration policies in the U.S.

Three to Infinity: Beyond Two Genders follows “teenagers, parents, singles and couples, younger and older people who guide you into their world, where gender is not limited to male or female but is a spectrum of possibilities—where the future is the present.”

Women Are the Answer is an Australian film about women in Kerala, India who recognize the need for population control in light of the climate crisis. They seek solutions that respect women’s rights, status, and health.

There’s never been a better time to explore these controversial issues. BHRFF continues to bring high quality films that educate and ignite a passion to get involved. Because there are multiple showings and venues, be sure to check the full program for exact show times and locations.

More arts info is available on our Theaters and Music page, and our Museums and Galleries page, or see the full list of Lorraine’s articles.

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About the Author:

Lorraine Wilde has immersed herself in so many of Whatcom County’s vibrant communities over the past 25 years. Owner and Marketing Strategist for Wilde World Communications, Lorraine has connected with locals as a writer, actor, scientist, teacher, filmmaker, singer, and mom. Lorraine has performed improv and staged works in several of Whatcom County’s theatres and she is active in the Bellingham Film community. She is also a big supporter of the local music community. When she has a spare second, its spent with her children outside on a sailboat, a trail, or exploring a new adventure.