18 Powerful Films Brings Human Rights Struggles to Life
June 5, NY: The Human Rights Watch Film Festival will be presented June 10-19 with 18 topical and provocative feature films and three special interactive programs that grapple with the challenges of defending human rights around the world today. Now in its 27th edition, the festival is co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and IFC Center. Most screenings will be followed by in-depth Q&A discussions with filmmakers and Human Rights Watch experts.
2016 Film Festival
“This year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival presents an array of women’s rights issues through inspirational and personal stories of remarkable women,” said John Biaggi, the festival’s creative director. “From a tenacious women’s rights activist in China to a teenage Afghan rapper fighting child marriage to a courageous director of a women’s health clinic in Mississippi—the festival is spotlighting women and amplifying their voices in society through film. It’s especially noteworthy that over half of the films in the 2016 program are directed or co-directed by women.”
The festival also features three timely films on LGBT rights as well as a broad range of hot-button human rights issues including police militarization, environmental human rights, rape as a war crime, Syrian refugees, and impunity/lawlessness in Mexico.
The Opening Night selection is Nanfu Wang’s Hooligan Sparrow, which documents Chinese activist Ye Haiyan (aka “Hooligan Sparrow”) as she protests against a school headmaster’s sexual abuse of young girls, leading both the director and Sparrow to become targets of government intimidation. In recognition of her work, Nanfu Wang will receive the festival’s 2016 Nestor Almendros Award for courage in filmmaking.
Closing the festival is the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Sonita, in which filmmaker Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami follows a determined Afghan teenager who overcomes living as a refugee in Iran (where female singers are banned from singing solo) and her family’s plans to sell her into marriage to follow her dreams of becoming a rapper.
Five other outstanding documentaries broaden the theme of women’s rights at this year’s event. Jackson takes a close look at the politics of reproductive rights at Mississippi’s last remaining abortion clinic; Ovarian Psycos follows a defiant Latina bicycle gang fighting to take back the streets for women in East Los Angeles; film festival favorite Starless Dreams is an intimate portrait of young women in a rehabilitation prison in Tehran; Tempestad artfully renders the difficult life paths of two women amid the chaos and impunity in today’s Mexico; and The Uncondemned is a gripping portrayal of a young group of lawyers and activists who fought to have rape recognized as a war crime in a landmark trial in Rwanda.
Three festival titles revolve around the fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights. Inside the Chinese Closet exposes the difficult decisions young lesbian and gay Chinese people are making—including fake marriages—when forced to balance their quest for love with parental and cultural expectations. From the United States, Growing Up Coy, shown in its world premiere, sensitively portrays the struggles of a Colorado family who take on a highly publicized legal battle to fight for their 6-year-old transgender daughter’s rights to use the girls’ bathroom, while HBO’s Suited explores the transformative work of a Brooklyn tailor company that creates bespoke suits for clients across the gender spectrum.
Four more films from the US explore some of the most pressing human rights issues in the country today. Almost Sunrise exposes the growing epidemic of soldier suicides through the story of two friends who embark on an epic journey to heal from their time in combat; the drama Chapter & Verse focuses on a former gang leader who struggles to restart his life in Harlem after eight years of incarceration; Do Not Resist, winner of the top documentary prize at the Tribeca Film Festival, is an alarming investigation into the increasing militarization of American police departments, and how it overwhelmingly affects black Americans; and HBO’s Solitary is an unprecedented portrait of life inside solitary confinement at a supermax prison.
A selection of international titles rounds out this year’s screening program. The Crossing follows the journey of a group of middle-class Syrian families forced into harsh choices in a desperate bid for freedom; the multi-award-winning drama The High Sun interweaves three love stories from the Balkans region with a long history of inter-ethnic hatred; P.S. Jerusalem details the filmmaker’s highly personal return to Jerusalem after two decades living in the US; and the Sundance prize-winner When Two Worlds Collide charts the dramatic standoffs between indigenous Amazonians and the Peruvian government intent on exploiting their resource-rich ancestral lands.
Festival organizers are pleased to present three special programs that combine visual media with discussions of current issues in the fields of audience engagement and human rights. During the panel discussion Desperate Journey: Europe’s Refugee Crisis, Human Rights Watch’s emergencies director, Peter Bouckaert, and Zalmaï, the award-winning Afghan-born photographer, will share their insights and images, and discuss how governments can effectively respond to the refugee crisis.
An exhibition of Zalmaï’s photographs will accompany this discussion in the Furman Gallery at the Walter Reade Theater. Another panel, The Emerging World of Virtual Reality and Human Rights, will feature creators, journalists and human rights experts who will discuss the exciting and evolving intersection of virtual reality and human rights. This panel is presented in conjunction with the powerful virtual reality installation 6x9: An Immersive Experience of Solitary Confinement in the Furman Gallery.
The festival will also continue its partnership with MUBI, an online cinema community that will feature select films from the HRWFF online while our New York festival is in progress. Learn more at mubi.com.
The Oslo Times