Doc hosts Human Rights and Big Problems series

By Ben Hellwege

A lawyer who represented many of the Attica prisoners in the 1971 riots, a former Turkish prisoner, and a Polish radio journalist who has chronicled news in Poland and the United States both before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall are among those who are scheduled to speak at Doc this quarter as part of a new weekly film series jointly sponsored by the Human Rights and Big Problems programs. The series is intended to promote the intellectual discussion of serious issues on campus.

“The Human Rights program wants to bridge the gaps between theoretical and street activism,” said Shayna Plaut, the coordinator of the human rights portion of the series. “Our theme of detention and incarceration for the film series was designed to help lead up to a conference that we are cosponsoring this Spring Quarter with the Center for the study of Race, Politics, and Culture.”

“Given the worldwide increase in security concerns, rising incarceration rates in the world’s prisons, and the widespread detention of foreigners in the U.S. following the September 2001 terrorist attacks, the topic, which is a major concern of domestic and international rights advocates, was selected to highlight an issue that cuts across racial, economic, and cultural boundaries,” Plaut said. “Each film will be introduced and discussed by experts on incarceration and the geographical area of the film.”

The first five weeks of the quarter are dedicated to Big Problems and the last five weeks to the Human Rights program. All of the speakers during the Human Rights segment will be members of the larger Chicago community.

“These films are not designed to be intimidating events, but we feel that it is better to look at controversy,” Plaut said. “Hopefully, this examination will lead to true action. We are hoping to make a connection between Human Rights, the public, and the U of C’s academic prestige.”

This is not the first year that the Human Rights program has launched a film festival at Doc. According to Plaut, the Human Rights program has been sponsoring a film series for a couple of years. What makes this year’s program unique is the collaboration with Big Problems.

“This is the first time that the Big Problems program is doing a film series like this,” said Margot Browning, the executive director of the Big Problems program. “The Big Problems program here at the U of C is only a few years old, and the Human Rights program is only slightly older.”

“The Big Problems program offers interdisciplinary, team-taught courses to third and fourth-years in the College,” Browning explained. ” ‘Big problems’ are problems that are of global or universal concern, intersect with several disciplines, and affect a variety of interest groups. With ‘big problems’ as the overall conception for this film series, the first five films portray contrasting views of war, culture, nature, love, loss, and memory.”

According to Browning, the Big Problems courses will act as follow-ups to the film series in the hope that if students are interested in a film, they might want to take the actual course.

The Big Problems films will feature University of Chicago professors such as Herman Sinaiko, Milton Ehre, William Wimsatt, Ted Steck, and Peter Homans, all of whom are currently teaching Big Problems courses this quarter or will be teaching such courses in the spring.

The format of the films will be a brief introduction, followed by the film screening, the guest speaker’s discussion of the film, and a 20 to30 minute question and answer session. The film series is open to the public, but an admission charge of $3 will apply to each film. Most of the films will be shown on Sundays at 4 P.M.

There will also be a special pre-release showing of The Quiet American, which stars actor Michael Caine, on Monday, January 20 at 9:30 p.m. at Doc Films. “The Quiet American has been criticized by some because its political meaning might be viewed as unpatriotic,” Browning said. “The movie was actually held back from release because of the events of September 11.”

Admission is free to the The Quiet American screening with a University of Chicago ID, but seating will be on a first-come, first-serve basis. The guest speaker will be Professor Bill Ayers of the Department of Education at the University of Illinois-Chicago.