Freestyle: Human Rights Film Fest opens

Dec. 6, 2013 | 0 Comments

Punk-rockers Pussy Riot staged a protest inside Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral in 2012. (Courtesy photo)

Punk-rockers Pussy Riot staged a protest inside Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in 2012. (Courtesy photo)


Near the beginning of the documentary “Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer,” one of the Pussy Riot band members defines the word “riot” for a Russian-speaking interviewer.

“Uproar … uprising, of the oppressed masses,” she says. “Don’t fear that word, like the rest of the government.”

On Feb. 21, 2012, female band members pulled brightly-colored knit ski masks over their heads and staged a punk-rock performance at the altar of Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral. Some danced, shouting out their song on the altar. Others blasted out punk rhythms inside the church.

For the provocative artists/musicians, who consider themselves a collective, the action was meant to protest actions by the Russian government, as embodied in third-term president Vladimir Putin, who had been elevating the power of the Russian Orthodox Church in concert with his own.

Calling themselves a “feminist punk group,” members said, “As artists, our goal is to change the world.”

In the aftermath, band members were arrested and charged with “religious hatred,” along with wearing inappropriate clothing — sleeveless dresses. The close connection between church and state they had hoped to drive a wedge through was proven, but at the cost of these women’s freedom.

The film is a centerpiece of the Honolulu Museum of Art’s Human Rights Film Festival at Doris Duke Theatre, screening at 6 p.m. tomorrow, Dec. 7, 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 11, and 1 p.m. Thursday, Dec 12.

The festival, which includes four films, continues through Dec. 13.

The festival’s opening-night reception starts at 6 p.m. tomorrow, with food and wine for purchase from Da Spot and live music from singer-songwriter David Langfit before the 7:30 p.m. screening of “Pussy Riot.” You’re invited to bring and wear a balaclava (masked hat).

From the film "Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer." (Courtesy photo)

From the film “Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer.” (Courtesy photo)

THE FILM’S directors spent six months with three of the band members, as they went through trial. Throughout, the truly fascinating scenes show how bold these women are, and what freedoms they championed — and risked.

While all three were convicted, one of the trio was released on appeal, after it was shown that she never actually danced on the church’s altar. The two still imprisoned, Maria “Masha” Alekhina, 24, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, are both artists, students and mothers — Alekhina a poet, Tolokonnikova a visual artist, both with 5-year-old children. That these young women took on the Russian government along with their other creative and familial missions just blows me away.

For more on the film, check out the Free Pussy Riot blog.

This story is still developing! In November, after Tolokonnikova went on a hunger strike, charging slavery-like conditions of forced labor at her prison, it was revealed she’d been transferred to a remote Siberian penal colony.

Just this week, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, Radio Free Europe reported that Russian president Vladimir Putin agreed to consider terms of an amnesty that could lead to the release of as many as 50,000 prisoners charged with non-violent offenses, such as “hooliganism,” which are often related to protests.

Whether this will shorten the imprisonment of these two women, who will otherwise be captive until March, 2014, remains to be seen.

“It’s almost unimaginable that this kind of thing is actually happening in 2013,” said Abbie Algar, film curator for the Honolulu Museum of Art. “You have to see it to believe it, but the film does a great job at breaking down that barrier. … This case touches on so many human rights issues. I’ve been after this film for a while, and I’m really happy that we were able to include it.”

“Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer,” screened at the Sundance Film Festival this year, where it received the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Punk Spirit. If you admire punk spirit, free speech or free thought, I highly recommend this film!

THE FILM FESTIVAL kicked off Wednesday with “GMO OMG,” another intriguing choice, which has its final screenings at 1 and 7:30 p.m. today, Dec. 6.

In it, director and concerned dad Jeremy Seifert travels to locations around the world to look at our food system and ask questions about the use of genetically modified organisms in mass-produced foods.

The film also asks: “Is it even possible to reject the food system currently in place, or have we lost something we can’t gain back?”
Elizabeth Kieszkowski is editor of TGIF, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s weekly arts and entertainment section. Reach her via email at or follow her on Twitter.

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