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...for Mary...
by Karen Pecota

One of my good friends and film colleague is a former US trial lawyer who adventurously relocated to Hamburg, Germany because of love. Mary was fully unaware of the limitations the expatriate status would have on the future of her professional options. In spite of her longing to practice law abroad, she has courageously embraced a paradigm shift that has forced her to think outside her comfort zone and respond to social injustice around the world. A representative to FAWCO (Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas,, which addresses social justice reform has given her an outlet for research and action. I couldn’t help wonder what might transpire if Mary would have listened to the panel discussion called Stories that Must be Told: Today’s Human Rights Documentary Movement.

The head of the Sundance documentary film program, Cara Mertes, thanked the audience in the packed room on top of the Filmmaker’s Lodge for attending and commented, “If you listen closely, the world has paused for just a minute while these panelists have come to Sundance to share  the impact of film and how those films motivate to movement”.

Gillian Caldwell from 1Sky Alliance ( is the group moderator and introduces the panel line-up: Marc Evans, Director, In Prison My Whole Life (award winning feature filmmaker); Paul van Zyl, International Center for Transitional Justice, has acted as an adviser and consultant to human rights organizations, governments, and activist around the world;Oren Zakobovitch, B’Tselem, founded and directs B’Tselem’s video department and has worked as a director, producer, screenwriter and photographer; Livia Giuggioli, and her husband actor, Colin Furth, founded Nana productions. She received her first job working on The Mission with Italian producer Fernando Ghia in 1986; and Dr. James Orbinski, Humanitarian Advocate, Past President of Doctors without Borders and a veteran of many of the world’s most disturbing and complex humanitarian emergencies.

Gillian opens the session with her own interesting and inspiring account of how she came into media making and social change by accident.  She explained, “I bought a high end camera in 1989 that costs $1800 and while I was trained as an attorney doing social justice work, I thought that filmmaking about those issues would be a lot fun and it would be different. I was then coincidentally approached by a friend who was working on an investigation in the Russian Far East and on the side was offered to sell him women. This was the early days of trafficking for forced prostitution …a long story short we wound up doing an undercover investigation using hidden camera technology, producing a film and getting connected to Witness (an international human rights organization that uses video and online technologies to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations, The film went beyond our expectations generating a domestic and International conversation about trafficking. It helped to get the trafficking of victims protection act passed and other legislations out the door.” Gillian began to understand what a difference one could make with the power of documented evidence and a compelling narrative with a thoughtful added strategy. In 1992, she worked with the founder of Witness (Musician and Activist Peter Gabriel). She was impressed with his power and ability to enable social justice organizations of human rights groups around the world, with the use of visual media (teaching technical and strategic guidance) to make a difference. She witnessed the use of supportive video as evidence for cases. She saw how editing can produce compelling stories for audiences to pressure decision-makers, i.e. The Hub (, is a good example of the possibilities available.

Panelist showed short clips of their work and explained how their media has affected social change in regard to their cause. The different models and approach offered interesting dialogue between the filmmakers and audience: from what types of cameras were used and why; to more ethical and moral questions of obligation, i.e. usage of shocking photography; and addressing issues like that of storytelling using real people vs. actors. They addressed questions that documentary filmmakers face: what about the form of media that target screenings before decision makers vote on key issues?, what is the difference between looking from the outside in vs. from the inside out?, what about the key safety and security issues filmmakers address? Or, issues of representation and honesty?, when would you use narrative art to be a social change maker?, how do you measure success?, what does it mean to be successful in the context of creating a compelling narrative?, and, will the integrity of the story be intact? On another note, often, in a context like Sundance success for filmmakers has to do with reviews, distribution deals, profits and recognition. Gillian adds, “If you view your film as a vehicle for promoting change, you have a very different lens, a very different way of thinking about the end result with specific goals in mind and maybe shift peoples perspectives or change their behavior. Don’t underestimate a thing”.

Mary would have been stirred by Gillian’s story. She would have been inspired by the panel and enjoyed the contacts she could have made at this event. The movement is exactly what Mary could get behind. I feel compelled to use what information I gleaned in order to dialogue with Mary about making a long awaited dream that will have a lasting impact because stories must be told.