26-30, March, 2008 Film Festival against racism and xenophobia “Open Your Eyes!”, St. Petersburg

‘Open Your Eyes’ is a film festival organized by young social-democrates for young people  to promote tolerance and fight xenophobia. Amid a wave of hate crimes that has tarnished Russia’s cultural capital, a youth organization has taken up the challenge to retrieve St. Petersburg’s reputation by organizing a movie festival on tolerance in the week following the UN’s World Day Against Racism. The St. Petersburg Social Democratic Youth Organization (SDYO) has taken over the task of organizing the third annual five-day “Open Your Eyes” International Film Festival against Racism and Xenophobia, to be held at Dom Kino, from the St Petersburg-based Russian-German Exchange (RGE), which was the organizer last year. Tickets to see the film program are free and public discussions with experts will be held after each show in Dom Kino’s conference hall, according to SDYO’s co-leader Marie-Angel Toure. “We thought it would be wise to help RGE by taking over the task at a time when they are preparing for bigger international festivals that need serious commitment, more resources and organizational skills… [but] we are still working in collaboration with them,” said Toure. RGE will organize the four-month young filmmakers and environmental activists Moving Baltic Sea Festival on a ship set to sail from Germany, via Poland, Kaliningrad, Latvia and Estonia to St. Petersburg in June, according to Ludmila Lisichkina, RGE’s Public Relations Manager and the program coordinator. The “Open Your Eyes” festival, which is also a part the European Action Week Against Racism, starts on Wednesday with a screening of British director Shane Meadows’ “This is England” (2006). Set in 1983, the film tells the story of an orphaned 12-year-old boy who discovers a new world of parties, fashion and sex by joining a skinhead gang. Under the gang-leadership of Combo, the group carries out a series of racial assaults on the local ethnic minority members a few days prior to the boy’s rite of passage into the gang, marked with rituals symbolizing a farewell bid to innocence and purity of childhood. The program also includes a screening on Thursday of Andrei Panin’s and Tamara Vladimirtseva’s “Gagarin’s Grandson” Russia (2007), which depicts the fate of Gena, an African-Russian boy who is rejected by the community to which he belongs because of his dark skin. Fyodor, Gena’s white half-brother is shocked to discover that his brother in the orphanage is black. On taking Gena home, Fyodor encounters hostile receptions from both the general public and his close acquaintances who are not prepared to accept the “alien.” Josef Fares’ “Zozo” (2005), showing on Friday, is a Swedish production depicting an Arabic boy moving from Lebanon to Sweden to escape the Lebanese Civil War of the 1980s. A Golden Lion award nominee, Winfrid Bonengel’s “Nazi,” (2002), playing on March 29, is a thrilling drama of horror based on the memoir of a German neo-Nazi ringleader. The film reflects the emergence of neo-fascism, the state of racial prejudice and violence in the early 1990s not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The festival ends Sunday, March 30 with a display of Gavin Hood’s “Tsotsi” (2005), which probes the legacy of Apartheid. Tsotsi kills a woman to steal her car, only to find a toddler in the back seat. Regretting his life of crimes, he sets out to raise the child, but finds himself facing social barriers in the new South Africa. The UN’s Security Council declared the International World Day Against Racism and Xenophobia to comemorate March 21, 1960, the day of the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa when police shot at a crowd of black protesters, killing around 70 people. The event became synonymous with racist brutality. www.domkino.spb.ru, www.openeyes.spb.ru By Ali Nassor Special to The St. Petersburg Times