U.N. refugee festival gets under way


TOKYO -- The second Refugee Film Festival presented by the United Nations refugee agency opened here Wednesday, showcasing 30 features, shorts and documentaries "portraying stories of resilience and inspiration of people forced to leave their homes due to war and persecution," organizers said.

The opening film was the Japanese premiere of Oscar nominee "Iraq in Fragments," winner of the Sundance award for best director, which illuminates war-torn Iraq through the eyes of ordinary Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

Also screening at the festival, which runs through July 26, is "S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machines," the first of eight productions at the festival by former Cambodian refugee and filmmaker Rithy Panh. Panh, who is based in France, will lead a discussion about refugee issues and take questions from the audience.

Festival director Kirill Konin of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, explained that the event's three categories are "films about refugees, those dealing with the wider refugee issue and films of any genre made by filmmakers who have been refugees."

Other festival highlights include "A Journey to Darfur," featuring George Clooney and his journalist father, Nick Clooney. The short film features interviews with survivors of the atrocities in the Sudan conflict and will be shown Friday alongside "Sudanese Refugee Films."

One of the big hits of last year's festival, "The Refugee All Stars," is back by popular demand this year. The documentary chronicles a group of Sierra Leonean refugees whose reggae band lands a world tour, a spot on the soundtrack of "Blood Diamond" and a Warner Music contract.

The story of Chiune Sugihara, the "Japanese Schindler" who saved the lives of thousands of Lithuanian Jews by issuing unauthorized visas while acting as Japan's wartime consul, is one that is little-known in his home country. The U.S.-Japan co-production, "Sugihara: Conspiracy of Kindness," will screen in an attempt to raise awareness among Japanese of Sugihara's heroics, Konin said.

"Sugihara was only recognized -- some might say forgiven -- 50 years after the war. We wonder who is going to make the Japanese 'Schindler's List.' It's such an incredible story, and one which many people here in Japan have never heard," Konin said.