On April 9, UCSB’s Arts & Lectures film series kicked off the spring season with the 7th Annual Santa Barbara Human Rights Film Festival at the Pollock Theater.

The festival features a variety of human rights films that seek to address particular themes. Each day, two films are screened with an intermission, during which Roman Baratiak, the Arts & Lectures associate director, presents developments on the incidents the films address. Films engage with the present socio-political climate they feature while also shedding light upon these astonishing issues within the global community. Interestingly, all films were released last year and thus concern present and relevant issues and occurring developments within global human rights efforts.

The opening reception began at 6 p.m., where a milieu of intellectually curious individuals was warmly greeted by tables laden with fruit and cheese, and of course, a convenient wine station for the over-21 set. Despite a modest turnout, the films were received with much interest and success on behalf of both the smattering of undergraduates and the larger assemblage of community members and graduate students alike. The two films screened to initiate the festival were “Granito — How to Nail a Dictator” and “The Siege (La Toma).”

Both films focused on the acute failure of government in protecting the human rights of its citizens. Pamela Yates’ “Granito” explored this topic through a memoir-documentary where she illustrated her role in an international court case. In the film, reel upon reel of her documentary footage was used as evidence in a trial against the Guatemalan dictator Rios Montt, whose propagated genocide targeted Guatemalan citizens. This heinous injustice had remained under wraps until the case was taken up by a Spanish international lawyer. The film touched upon topics of human injustice; however, there was also a greater question concerning the United States’ involvement in this foreign affair. From the film’s perspective, much of the genocide was spurred by the U.S.’s action in providing arms for Guatemala’s armed forces, as these weapons were used against the innocent people of Guatemala. The film ended by emphasizing the notion that, like a small grain of sand (or “granito” in Spanish), there remains within every individual the possibility to contribute a small effort or action toward the ultimate proliferation of justice. After the film ended, Baratiak read an excerpt of an article that featured an update on the present situation of the court case.

Films will not only touch upon foreign affairs. From revolution to prostitution to labor issues to civil disobedience to financial issues, the series promises to feature a variety of outlooks concerning the injustices which plague the global society at large.

Though the film “Payback” will not be screened until Day 6 of the festival (the final screening, on May 9), this film is particularly interesting due to the multifaceted approach it takes in addressing the heated topic of debt. Based on Margaret Atwood’s book of the same name, the film details the issue of debt in its many manifestations. “Payback” jumps from the more obvious economic debt to criminal debt (the idea of “paying one’s debt to society”) and even delves into notions of environmental, spiritual and personal debt. The film follows stories in Albania as well as illegal migrant workers in the United States, and also discusses the BP oil spill. An interesting look at what engenders the need to advocate for human rights in the first place, “Payback” will assuredly resonate with individuals living in the first world.

The next set of films will be screened at the Pollack Theater on April 23, beginning at 7 p.m. “We Were Here” chronicles the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco while “Better This World” illustrates the United States’ “War on Terror” and the impact it had upon U.S. citizens and culture. Baratiak encouraged viewers to let their friends know about the events. The films offer poignant takes on issues that should concern students and other community members alike.