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Abandoned Children of the Rail to China's Heavyweights: 'Reel Voices' Celebrates 10 Years of Film

A decade old, the Reel Voices Film Festival at the Ridgewood Public Library opens with "Which Way Home" on Friday night. Four more film screenings and discussions are to follow in the next month.

Some might fill viewers' hearts with rage, while others promise to tug at the heart strings with stories of incredible heroism and courage. Others still will paint a more complicated picture of a tangled reality few, if any, in the village know. What all the films at the Reel Voices Film Festival promise to do is provoke reaction and thought.

Friday marks the landmark 10th anniversary of the Reel Voices Film Festival at the Ridgewood Public Library.

Founded by Ridgewood librarian Roberta Panjwani, for a decade the festival has brought leading producers, directors, social activists to Ridgewood to lead discussions of portraits in film that examine personal stories through a broader lens.

On Wednesday, the library drew residents to a free preview screening of "Booker's Place," a film examining the life and murder of Booker Wright. Wright in 1966 appeared in an NBC documentary chronicling his time working in a whites-only Mississippi restaurant. He was pistol-whipped and his restaurant firebombed. To the surprise of few, he was murdered though not by someone you might imagine.

On Friday, Oscar-nominated director and producer Rebecca Cammisa will conduct a discussion of her 2009 film "Which Way Home." A gripping work of art, Cammisa followed children on Mexican freight trains whose biggest dreams were of landing on American soil. Many do not make the frightful journey – some will die. Others will be raped and abandoned by their smugglers.

A 10th anniversary celebration of the festival will begin at 6:30 p.m. with the screening to follow at 7:30 p.m.

The following Friday will bring a modern-day Oskar Schindler to Ridgewood. Kirk Johnson stepped up in 2006 he heard that Iraqis who served alongside American soldiers were being threatened by their countrymen. Troubled with the state of the US rebuilding effort, in 2007 he founded The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies. He now has files on more than 3,000 Iraqis whose lives are in danger. "The List," filmed by Beth Murphy, examines the price some Iraqis paid and the efforts of Johnson to safeguard them.

Iraq military veteran Anthony Pike, the program coordinator of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans in America, will be the featured speaker on Oct. 19.

The rise of China is also among the five films of the festival this year. On Nov. 2, 2008 documentary "China Heavyweight" will be shown. The film shows a boxing trainer pulling out poor, rural kids in China and training in the Western style. He hopes – after grueling training – they one day make the Olympics and become a source of pride for the country. The graduates, however, have their own dilemma to face.

"They have the choice of fighting and going on for fame and fortune for themselves or the collective good of China," Panjwani said. 

Professor Augusta Palmer, a Chinese Language and Cinemas scholar from St. Francis College, will lead the discussion that night.

The final film on the Reel docket examines Paul Simon's journey to Apartheid-ruled South Africa for his lauded album, Graceland. His controversial time there – during a period of incredible unrest – is documented on "Under African Skies," which marks the 25th anniversary of the album's release. Film co-producer Sara Enright will be the featured speaker. 

Make sure to check out the trailers of the films above. All films will be screened at 7:30 p.m. on the respective dates. Each screening is $5. Registration can be made online at the Ridgewood library's website, at the library or at the door. The event is sponsored by the Friends of the Ridgewood Library and the Ridgewood Education Foundation.

Have a question or news tip? Contact editor James Kleimann at James.Kleimann@patch.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox every morning, sign up for our daily newsletter.

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