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Marriage Rites and Wrongs: Petr Lom's 'Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan' explores a horrifying practice in a post-Soviet state.

Global Focus

The features at the U.N. Association Film Festival tackle tough global topics

By Sura Wood

ZEROING in on subjects and areas of the world that are often neglected by mainstream media, the United Nations Association Film Festival (UNAFF) has distinguished itself as a forum for serious films that address critical and controversial global issues. Now in its eighth year, the festival runs Oct. 1923 at Stanford University. This year's 32 documentaries are divided into thematic programs such as: War and Peace, Environmental and Children's Issues, Human Rights of Women, Liberties and Securities, and Refugees and Humanitarian Aid.

The festival opens with Petr Lom's chilling portrait of female vulnerability and powerlessness, Bride Kidnapping In Kyrgyzstan (Wednesday at 6:45pm at Cubberley Auditorium). Kyrgyzstan, a post-Soviet state bordering Russia and China, is one of the few places where bride kidnapping is still commonplace; more than half the women in this poor, mountainous region are abducted off village streets and forced to marry against their will. This horrifying practice is condoned because it is expedient: men can avoid paying the high prices demanded by the bride's family and acquire free labor. One family talk openly to Lom about their plans to kidnap a local girl, and the filmmaker accompanies them on the abduction. We watch as one young girl, helpless and cornered by her abductors, cries and protests. Eventually, she is coaxed out the door to begin a new life, not of her choosing. The spectacle is bound to make Western audiences squirm.

Other films also examine the status of women. Sex and the Holy City (Thursday at 10:10pm at Annenberg Auditorium), by Steve Bradshaw and Chris Woods, explores the raging debate over women's reproductive rights among Catholics, who number more than 1 billion. Lucy Starbuck and Alannah Campion's short A Woman's Face (Thursday at 7:40pm at Annenberg) investigates the relationship between gender inequality and epidemic of HIV and AIDS among women in sub-Saharan Africa. Men can also be victimized. Eddie Schmidt and Kirby Dick's emotionally wrenching A Twist of Faith (Saturday at 4:45pm at Annenberg) tells the true story of Tony Comes, a firefighter from Toledo, Ohio, who, as a child, suffered years of sexual abuse at the hands of a charismatic Catholic priest. After many years of torment, he went public with his experiences and joined a lawsuit against Dennis Gray, a trusted figure in the community. Gray was accused of bringing several local boys to his lakeside cabin where he sexually abused them and made them swear to never tell. Gray settled the lawsuits against him, denied the allegations and lives 10 miles from Tony and his wife:

"As I began researching the subject, I was struck not only by the incredibly high numbers of people who had been abused by Catholic clergy (in the tens of thousands if not more) but also how horrible their experiences were," says Dick in an interview on HBO's website. "I think that the one of the most important things the film does is to help explain why the experience of child abuse is something you never get over, that you have to live with every day for the rest of your life."

The United Nations Association Film Festival plays Oct. 19-23 at Cubberley Auditorium and Annenberg Auditorium at Stanford University. Admission is $5/$8 per film. See www.unaff.org or phone 650.724.5544 for schedule details.

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From the October 19-25, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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