Fictional Film

Abuladze, Tenghiz (director).  Pokayaniye.  Georgia: Cannon Group, 1987.

In Repentance (Pokayaniye), the Georgian mayor is a cruel, oppressive ruler. After he dies and his son tries to pick up the pieces of his life, a local woman refuses to let the father’s bones stay buried in order to express her own disgust at the man’s horrible regime.  The Soviet Union refused the distribution of the film in 1984, but it won the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes film festival when it was released in 1987.1

Attenborough, Richard (director). Cry Freedom.  United States: Universal Pictures, 1987.

Cry Freedom is a portrayal of apartheid South Africa.  A black activist, Steve Biko (Denzel Washington), and a liberal white journalist (Kevin Kline) become friends to fight the status quo.  When Biko is murdered, Kline’s character must carry on alone.2

Avildsen, John G. (director).  The Power of One.  Australia: Warner Brothers Entertainment, 1992.

The story of a South African English boy, P.K., and his determination to do what is right.  P.K. has been taught to respect and admire his African neighbors instead of regarding them as inferiors, as most of the other English and Afrikaners do.  P.K. learns to hate his country’s system of apartheid and, through friendships and his own ingenuity, attempts to undermine it.

Costa-Gavras, Constantin (director). The Confession.  France: Pomeren-Valoria, 1970.

Costa-Gavras’s film is about the Stalinist puppet trials in Czechoslovakia in 1952 and the extracted and false confessions drawn out of dissidents through torture.  An Eastern European Communist official, who had been a loyalist during the Spanish Civil War, finds that he is being followed.  He is soon arrested, tortured, and put in a show trial without being told why.  In French.3

Costa-Gavras, Constantin (director).  Music Box.  United States: Tri-Star Pictures, 1990.

An American woman defends her father as the U.S. attempts to deport him.  The father, a Hungarian immigrant, is accused of having committed crimes against humanity while serving in a Nazi-allied police force in his home country.  The daughter discovers things about her father that she never imagined and her story becomes an allegory of American ignorance and innocence.4

Demme, Jonathan (director).  Beloved.  United States: Buena Vista, 1998.

Jonathan Demme’s Beloved is a close adaptation of Toni Morrison’s acclaimed novel.  The film revolves around Sethe (Oprah Winfrey), a runaway slave living in Ohio with the remnants of her family.  The family is haunted by Sethe’s dead baby, whom she had killed rather than let be taken back into slavery.  Their lives are thrown further into mystery and chaos as an enigmatic girl named Beloved appears at their house one day.

Frankenheimer, John (director).  The Fixer.  United States: MGM Studios, 1968.

In The Fixer, a Jewish handyman, or "fixer" attempts escape from an unjust prison sentence in harsh and anti-Semitic Czarist Russia.  The film is based on the novel by Bernard Malamud.

Freeman, Morgan (director).  Bopha!  United States: Paramount Pictures, 1993.

Bopha! is the story of a black police officer in a modern apartheid South Africa; a man who is amiable with his white superiors and glad to have his job and family.  His peaceful world comes apart, however, when his son begins participating in strikes against the local white-run school and the authorities crack down violently.5

Gilbert, Brian (director).  Not Without My Daughter.  United States: MGM Studios, 1990.

An American woman and her child accompany her Iranian husband to his homeland, where he decides the family will stay.  To her horror, she realizes that Iranian women have no rights, and she must flee the country with her daughter.

Gorin, Serif (director).  Yol.  Turkey: Triumph Releasing, 1982.

Yol is a drama about five Turkish convicts let out of prison for one week.  Each of them experience tragedy, however, in their short time of liberty.  One discovers his brother has been killed by police, another that his wife has been unfaithful.  Yol reveals the very non-Western aspects of Turkish society and tradition as well as different sides of freedom.6

Kaplan, Betty (director).  Of Love and Shadows.  Spain: Miramax, 1994.

A film adaptation of the Isabella Allende book featuring magazine reporter Irene Beltran in Chile in 1973.  She lives a sheltered life and is unaware of the atrocities befalling the public until she becomes involved with a photographer whose brother is a member of the human rights underground.  A story lead subsequently leads her to a disgruntled soldier who gives her a notebook detailing the military regime’s terrors perpetuated against the people.  As Beltran and her photographer start revealing the wrongdoing publicly, they are attacked by the regime and forced to flee to Spain.  The two later return to a democratized Chile to witness the changes.7

Kaye, Tony (director).  *American History X.  United States: New Line Cinema, 1998.

American History X is the story of the experiences of a reformed neo-Nazi and white supremacist.  The movie begins as Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) is released from a three year prison term, imposed for the murder of a black gang member.  Derek is idolized by his younger brother, Danny (Edward Furlong), who has followed his brother into a life of hatred and racism.  Through flashbacks, the audience learns Derek’s whole story, from the murder of his father which stoked the fire of his hatred to his eventual renunciation of his views in prison.  Now that Derek is out of prison and on the right path, he attempts to save the mind and soul of his brother.  The movie addresses real issues in American race relations and the long road ahead to gain full social integration and harmony.

Loach, Ken (director).  Carla’s Song.  United Kingdom: Shadow Distribution, 1996.

Carla’s Song is the story of two lovers who return to the woman’s homeland of Nicaragua during the 1987 struggle between the Sandanistas and the Contras in order to free the woman from her past.  Their love, however, is unable to transcend the societal terror the two find in Nicaragua.8

McBrearty, Don (director).  Race to Freedom: the Underground Railroad.  United States: Xenon Home Video, 1994.

The underground railroad is a rarely-touched film subject.  This made-for-TV movie, aired on Black Entertainment Television and the Family Channel, is the story of a group of North Carolina slaves who escape from their plantation in the 1850s, headed for Canada.  The film is a potentially good educational tool, as the runaways encounter such great figures as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Levi Coffin.9

Palcy, Euzhan (director).  *A Dry White Season.  United States: MGM Studios, 1989.

A white school teacher (Donald Sutherland) in South Africa slowly comes to realize the cruel and unfair qualities of the sanctioned racism in his society.

Polanski, Roman.  Death and the Maiden.  United States: Fine Line, 1994.

A Latin American torture survivor now living a normal life has a chance encounter with the man who tortured her.  He does not realize who she is, and she begins to inflict the same psychological pain on him that he had inflicted on her.10

Puenzo, Luis (director).  *La Historia Oficial (The Official Story).  Argentina: Fox Lorber, 1985.

The Official Story is a film about a family in Argentina torn apart because of the oppression and human rights abuses of the military dictatorship during the nineteen seventies.11

Radford, Michael (director).  1984.  United Kingdom: Virgin Films, 1984.

1984 is the film adaptation of George Orwell’s classic nightmarish tale.  The film follows the struggles of one man to escape the reaches of a "Big Brother" government that allows no individuality or emotion.

Roodt, Darrell James (director).  Cry, the Beloved Country.  United States: Miramax Films, 1995.

A black minister (James Earl Jones) crosses paths with a racist white landowner (Donald Sutherland) while searching for his son in Johannesburg.  The film traces the roots of South African racial enmity and its consequences.  The film is based on the Alan Paton book written in 1948.12

Roodt, Darrell James (director).  Sarafina! South Africa: Buena Vista, 1992.

Sarafina! is a musical set in revolutionary 1976 South Africa.  The story goes through the experiences of a young black teenager as she and her classmates become politically involved.  After their teacher is arrested and their school assaulted, the students resist and protest boldly.13

Ruffio, Jacques (director).  La Passante.  France: Cinema 5, 1982.

This French-German production features Romy Schneider in a dual role as a German living in Occupied Paris and as the present-day wife of a human rights activist. The activist, Max Baumstein, kills the Paraguayan ambassador when he learns that the politician is not only a former Nazi but the general who ordered the death of his parents. In a flashback, young Max is taken to Paris by Elsa (Schneider), whose husband Michel is sent to a concentration camp. As a result, Elsa is forced to support herself as a singer in Pigalle, eventually giving up her body to a Nazi general who promises to arrange for Michel's release. The familiar story of former SS men altering their identities and rising in the South American political ranks is intelligently handled in La Passante.14

Sanger, Jonathan (director).  Down Came a Blackbird.  United States: Viacom Pictures, 1995.

A United States journalist (Laura Dern) and her lover go to an anonymous South-American country to interview a rebel leader.  The two are arrested, however, during a protest, separated, and tortured.  The journalist returns to the United States after being released and tries to begin the healing process.  Her past still haunts her, and she finds herself at a center for survivors of torture to do an article about its founder, a Holocaust survivor.  The article is difficult for her to write, however, and more pain and conflict erupt as a mysterious South American professor arrives at the center.15

Wajda, Andrezej (director).  Danton.  France: Triumph Releasing, 1982.

Georges Danton, a deep believer in liberty and human rights, was one of the main instigators of the French Revolution.  In Danton, he returns to Paris out of retirement to stop Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, a situation which has become almost as unbearable as that under the overthrown king.  Robespierre, though an idealist and believer in liberty, has become tyrannical in trying to control his own government and people.  The movie is a view of the thin line that government must walk between order and oppression.16

Welles, Orson (director).  The Trial.  Germany/Italy/France: Astor, 1963.

Welles’s The Trial is an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s novel, which examines the nature of random arrest and basic civil rights.  It centers around Joseph K, a man arrested and held for no apparent reason.  The movie does not include the purely psychological elements of the novel, but Welles creates the same kind of oppressive atmosphere.17

*Indicates Academy Award nomination or win.
1  Based on the synopsis by Hal Erickson on the All-Movie Guide:
2  Based on the reviews from "Cinemania 96."  Microsoft, 1996 [CD-ROM].
3  Based on the reviews from "Cinemania 96."  Microsoft, 1996 [CD-ROM].
4  Based on the reviews from "Cinemania 96."  Microsoft, 1996 [CD-ROM].
5  Based on the synopsis by Hal Erickson on the All-Movie Guide:
6  Based on the synopsis by Hal Erickson on the All-Movie Guide:
7  Based on the review from
8  Based on the review from
9  Based on the review from
10  Based on the review from
11  Based on the synopsis by Eleanor Mannika on the All-Movie Guide:
12  Based on the reviews from "Cinemania 96."  Microsoft, 1996 [CD-ROM].
13  Based on the review from
14  Based on the review from
15 Based on the synopsis by Sandra Brennan on the All-Movie Guide:
16  Based on the review from
17  Based on the reviews from "Cinemania 96."  Microsoft, 1996 [CD-ROM].


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