Mark Gibney’s Watching Human Rights: The Best 101 Films is an excellent guide to some of the most compelling feature and documentary films available today for those working in the field of human rights. The book will prove indispensable to both professionals and students alike as it offers excellent ideas for instructors looking for ways to enhance their pedagogy, while also proving accessible to students. Gibney’s text puts “a face on human rights,” as it were, and the result is commendable. The book also offers a much needed scholarly resource considering the scant number of resources focusing specifically on the intersections of human rights and cinema.
Essentially, Gibney expands the purview of human rights issues in cinema, offering films which instructors and students can discuss provocatively from multiple angles. Gibney’s straightforward prose avoids unnecessary academic jargon and cuts to the core human rights issues that each film addresses. The formatting is easy to follow and the cover illustration featuring blindfolded internees serves both as a warning and as a challenge: these films are not for the faint of heart, nor should they be. The book works well not just because of the variety of films discussed, but because Gibney always keeps an eye toward the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, explaining how each film relates to specific human rights concerns.
Some of the more well-known feature films Gibney expertly discusses include, Neil Blomkamp’s District 9 (2009), Lee Daniel’s Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009), Gus Van Sant’s Milk (2008), Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005), Roman Polanski’s The Pianist (2002), Roland Joffé’s The Killing Fields (1984) and Gillo Pontecorvo’s classic The Battle of Algiers (1966), a film which set the standard for all docudramas that followed.
The documentaries Gibney analyzes are perhaps the most valuable part of the book, as both instructors and students will be unfamiliar with many of these titles. Documentaries Gibney trenchantly explores include Darwin’s Nightmare (2004), Pray the Devil Back to Hell (2008), and Nero’s Guest: The Age of Inequality (2009), among many other gems.
Essentially, Gibney’s Watching Human Rights: The Best 101 Films offers a resource which will prove invaluable to both instructors, students, and all those interested in human rights for years to come. [End Page 272]
Timothy J. Bengford, Ph.D., is an Adjunct Professor of Humanities at Florida State University. His courses include Multicultural Film, Cultural Imperialism, and Modern Humanities. His dissertation is entitled, The Hollywood War Film after 9/11: Jarheads, Home-front Narratives, Torture and Global Corporate War.