The 2008 AHA Film Festival

Chris Hale, March 2008

The AHA held its second Film Festival, at its 122nd Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., showcasing an eclectic range of documentary subjects.

First on the docket on Thursday, January 3 was the intriguing, Iran: A Cinematographic Revolution. Using never-before seen clips from prominent Iranian films and interviews with Iranian filmmakers, film critics and historians, the film brilliantly traces the tumultuous political history of Iran through the evolution of its film industry. Due to its earlier Thursday scheduling, Iran unfortunately did not attract a substantially large audience, but it is nonetheless highly recommended for both middle-east and film historians (DVDs can be purchased from First Run/Icarus Films).

The Friday, January 4 and Saturday, January 5 films attracted substantially more attention (a factor that we at the AHA need to take into consideration when scheduling next year’s slate of films). The first film on Friday, The Vagina Monologues: Stories from China, while not exactly my cup of oolong, was nevertheless the most attended of the films in the festival. The film follows a Chinese version of the play from conception to performance, examining social and gender issues in China along the way.

Next on Friday was the Brazillian film Memorias do Cativeiro (Memories of Captivity). Produced by the Memories of Slavery project of the Oral History and Image Laboratory of the Universidade Federal Fluminese in Brazil, the film uses the oral testimonies from the descendants of slaves to present a fascinating study of memory and oral history.

On Saturday, the festival continued with a screening of the 2007 John E. O'Connor Film Award winning film, Sacco and Vanzetti. Painstakingly researched, written, and directed by Peter Miller, Sacco and Vanzetti looks at the social, cultural, and political factors that led to the infamous "trial of the century," and how their effects on civil liberties and injustice still resonate today. Sacco and Vanzetti is available to purchase from Willow Pond Films.

The Film Festival concluded on Saturday afternoon with a screening of The Camden 28, which documents the 1971 account of the arrest and trial of the so-called "Catholic Left," a group of anti-Vietnam War protesters. Their arrest for breaking into the Camden, New Jersey draft board office, and subsequent trial, was deemed later by Supreme Court Justice William Brennan as "one of the great trials of the 20th century." The Camden 28 is an interesting account of a lesser-known, yet highly relevant moment in civil rights history, and is available to purchase from First Run/Icarus Films (www.camden28.org).

The film festival will continue for the AHA's 123rd Annual Meeting in New York (January 2–5, 2009). Suggestions can be sent to filmfest@historians.org.

—Chris Hale is the production manager for AHA Publications.