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Going to the Mountain 

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An estimated 700 children with AIDS are dying each day in Tanzania. Coming to Say Goodbye, co-directed by Anne Macksoud and John Ankele, focuses on several heartrending stories that illustrate how the disease is decimating Africa. In Dar es Salaam, the capital city, an Irish physician named Brigid Corrigan muses that "statistics are numbers with the tears washed off them."

Viewers may have a difficult time holding back tears during this documentary, which will screen at the upcoming MountainTop Film Festival. Sponsored by the Peace and Justice Center, the event -- at the Eclipse Theater in Waitsfield from January 15 to 22 -- is slated to offer more than 25 cinematic explorations of compelling, contemporary issues.

The New York-based Ankele and Macksoud, a resident of Vermont's Woodstock, are also the creative team behind Arms for the Poor, an expose of U.S. weapons sales to developing countries run by dictators. It's on tap at the fest, as well.

The duo has been making films together since the mid-1980s; their company, Old Dog Documentaries, boasts 20 titles. Five of them are award-winners underwritten by Maryknoll Productions, the media arm of a progressive Catholic missionary organization.

"They don't ask us to water [our work] down," says Macksoud, 61, a native of northern New Jersey.

Unfortunately, Maryknoll's budget problems mean that two recent projects by Ankele and Macksoud have been self-financed. "We're looking for finishing funds," she explains.

A completed Old Dog endeavor, William Sloane Coffin: A Lover's Quarrel With America, profiles the 79-year-old civil rights advocate and peace activist now living in Strafford. Vermont Public Television's "Reel Independents" program will broadcast a sneak preview of the film at 10 p.m. this Friday, January 16.

"A lover's quarrel" with America is how Coffin, a Presbyterian minister, describes patriotic dissent. He was chaplain of Yale University from 1958 to 1975. Near the end of his tenure, both Howard Dean and George W. Bush were students there. Coffin supports the presidential bid of the former and criticizes the policies of the latter.

Macksoud, a former teacher, is also no fan of the current administration. She is outraged by Bush's attempts to stifle the voices of those who disagree with him: "He says, ‘If you're not with us, you're against us.'"

Missing Peace, due for a spring release, addresses this schism. Macksoud and Ankele interviewed six women -- Muslims, Jews and Christians -- who discuss how their respective faiths inspire them to resist warmongering.

Bush sees the planet as "a battleground upon which the forces of good are confronting the forces of evil, a religious struggle of apocalyptic proportions," Macksoud suggests, adding that Islamic militants "are recruiting their followers with a similarly inflated rhetoric."

Both sides, she contends, consistently draw on "an archaic worldview."

Meanwhile, places like Tanzania seem to be falling through the cracks. Coming to Say Goodbye includes two young women with AIDS, twentysomething Fatuma and teenaged Winfrida, who have subsequently begun receiving life-saving antiretroviral drugs from Dr. Corrigan. These medicines cost $350 a year per person, an impossible sum in such an impoverished land.

"We got $1000 to keep them on the medications after we sent out Christmas cards to friends," Macksoud explains. "An AIDS research scientist from Dartmouth College is delivering the money for us when he goes to Dar es Salaam this week."

She's angry that Bush "has not given out the paltry sum promised to fight global AIDS, but now wants to build a permanent space station on the moon," Macksoud says. "I'll agree to that only if he mans it."

The first lunar landing took place 15 months after the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The MountainTop Film Festival, which begins on the holiday weekend that marks his birth, will honor him by examining myriad human rights violations he certainly would have opposed. According to Arms for the Poor, for example, 100 million land mines worldwide cause 500 (predominantly civilian) deaths or injuries every week. Apparent-ly willing to wash away tears from those numbers, the U.S. refuses to ban the devices.

King approached social change from a spiritual perspective. So does Chung-Hyun Kyung, a New York City theology professor who appears in the same documentary. Her Eastern beliefs encompass the notion of karma: "When you inflict so much pain and violence on the people in other countries," she warns Americans, "it will eventually come back to your own family, your own neighborhood."

For more information about this week's film festival in Waitsfield, call 863-2345 or visit www.mountaintopfilmfestival.com.

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