'Rachel,' 'Village' highlight regional conflicts

The continuing tragedy and turmoil in the Middle East are highlighted in two films screening in this year’s Forum, the Berlin Film Festival’s political, avant-garde and new cinema sidebar.

“Rachel,” a documentary by Simone Bitton, explores the death of Rachel Corrie, an American peace activist killed, by accident or on purpose, by Israeli forces in 2003 while trying to prevent the destruction of homes in the Gaza Strip.

“The One Man Village,” by Simon El-Habre, paints a portrait of his uncle Semaan, the sole inhabitant of a mountain village turned into a ghost town by the Lebanese civil war.

They are among 48 films from around the globe screening at the 39th Forum.

A number of docs in the program examine the dangerous ways in which public opinion is formed to justify political ends.

“Defamation,” by Israeli Yoav Shamir (whose “Flipping Out” unspooled here last year), originally intended to explore anti-Semitism but ended up confronting the phenomenon of the perpetual victim, while in a similar vein, “Letters to the President,” by Czech filmmaker Petr Lom, examines the letters that millions of Iranians, encouraged by state propaganda, write to their president, often reflecting the successful manipulation of public opinion by the state and reinforcing the belief that Muslims are the victims of worldwide persecution.

Two films address violent conflicts on the African continent. A selection of four short documentaries by the South African collective “Filmmakers Against Racism” grapples with the xenophobic violence that shocked the country in May 2008, while Christophe Gargot’s doc “From Arusha to Arusha” looks at the long-term effects of the 1994 Rwanda genocide in which close to a million people were killed.

“Citizen Juling,” by Thai filmmaker Ing K, seeks to find reconciliation in Thailand following the brutal attack of two schoolteachers in 2006 by a fanatical mob.

This year’s lineup includes a diverse sample of German filmmaking. Sebastian Schipper’s “Sometime in August,” about the relationships and dynamics of four people living together in a lonely house in the country, was inspired by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 1809 novel “Elective Affinities.”

Also unspooling are documentaries by Thomas Heise, who presents in “Material” previously unreleased footage he shot during the period surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989; Hans-Christian Schmid, who, in addition to having his political thriller “Storm” in the main competition section, also presents in Forum “The Wondrous World of Laundry”; Ulrike Ottinger (“The Korean Wedding Chest”); and Harun Farocki (“By Comparison”).

The Berlinale runs Feb. 5-15.

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