The Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London from March 8 to 16, 2018, will feature 14 award-winning international documentary and feature films, half of them directed by women. The films offer fresh perspectives and critical insights on human rights concerns impacting people around the world today.
The festival will open at the Barbican on March 8, International Women’s Day, with Naila and the Uprising directed by Julia Bacha, which celebrates the courageous Palestinian women activists who played a pivotal role in the first Intifada, 30 years ago.
“In a year in which women have collectively raised their voices against discrimination and abuse, the 22nd edition of the festival spotlights strong women who push back against formidable forces within their respective societies,” said John Biaggi, creative director of the Human Rights Watch Film festival. “We are thrilled to open with the powerful Naila and the Uprising, which showcases women change-makers, and we look forward to welcoming the director Julia Bacha and film subjects Naila Ayesh and Zahira Kamal”.
When a nationwide uprising breaks out in 1987, Naila Ayesh must make a choice between love, family and freedom. Undaunted, she embraces all three, joining a clandestine network of women in a movement that forces the world to recognize the Palestinian right to self-determination for the first time.
“I call on women all over the world, I call on Israeli mothers: double your efforts to lift the injustices from my people, so my son, and your son, and all children can live side by side,” said Ayesh, who will attend opening night.
In the closing night film Silas, directed by Anjali Nayar and Hawa Essuman, the activist Silas Siakor and a network of dedicated citizen reporters respond with swift action when the rights to one-third of Liberia’s land are illegally signed away to multinational companies. “When they tear down the trees and strip the land, they tear down our people and strip away their lives,” Siakor said.
“Silas compellingly demonstrates how dedicated individuals can lead and create change,” Biaggi said. “We look forward to welcoming Silas Siakor and the director Anjali Nayar to London.”
The themes of female defiance, activists and resistance, environmental plunder and closed worlds are seen throughout the festival.
In The Poetess, directors Stefanie Brockhaus and Andreas Wolff introduce Hissa Hilal, who through her poetry performances challenges the repressive patriarchy ruling Saudi Arabia. In Margarita Cadenas’ Women of the Venezuelan Chaos, five resilient women creatively defend their fellow citizens, their families, and their very survival amid the national crisis that has enveloped their country. Sadaf Foroughi’s timely coming-of-age drama, Ava, portrays a strong and complex teenager who is pushed to the limits as she fights to find her voice, despite the constraints of her conservative, patriarchal community in Tehran.
The closing night theme of resistance and environmental plunder continues in Chris Kelly’s A Cambodian Spring, in which a fearless Buddhist monk and bold female leaders rally neighbors to oppose land-grabbing politicians and businesses, but at considerable cost to their personal lives and friendships.
Directed by Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis, Whose Streets? takes an unflinching look at the Ferguson uprising in the US, told by the activists and leaders who live and breathe this movement for justice. “We are raising activists, we have to create a generation of activists if there’s gonna be any change”, said Aurellia Davis-Whitt, activist and film subject.
The festival will screen three films that expose viewers to worlds usually closed from the public eye: Mohammed Naqvi’s Insha’Allah Democracy shows a surprisingly intimate side of the former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan; Peter Nicks’ The Force brings us inside the Oakland Police Force in the USA, which is struggling to make change amidst serious corruption and misconduct, and Adam Sobel’s The Workers Cup presents an exposé on working conditions that migrant workers face in building the 2022 World Cup site in Qatar, following a group of young laborers hoping to become footballers themselves.
Three compelling cinema-verité-style documentaries reveal how war and bureaucracy can force institutions of care and shelter to become places of imprisonment and containment. Set in France where each year 92,000 people are placed under psychiatric care without their consent, Raymond Depardon’s 12 Days captures the raw and vulnerable interactions at the border of justice and psychiatry, humanity and bureaucracy when a crucial decision must be made: will a patient be forced to stay in a hospital or granted freedom.
In Rina Castelnuovo-Hollander and Tamir Elterman’s Muhi – Generally Temporary, a young boy from Gaza has been trapped in an Israeli hospital for over eight years. Rushed there in his infancy with a life-threatening immune disorder, Muhi, and his doting grandfather, Abu Naim, are caught in an immigration limbo and only permitted to reside within the constraints of the hospital walls. And in The Long Season, the award-winning filmmaker Leonard Retel Helmrich (Position Among the Stars) spent a year-and-a-half in the Majdal Anjar refugee camp in Lebanon capturing the intimate daily lives of Syrians whose futures are postponed by war.
This year’s benefit gala on March 7 at RIBA features Daniel McCabe’s This Is Congo, an immersive and unfiltered look at this lush, mineral-rich country, from the rise of Rwandan and Ugandan-backed M23 rebels in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2012 to the present day, via four profoundly resilient characters. Described by Timo Meuller, researcher in the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch as, “the best documentary I’ve seen on the Democratic Republic of Congo. McCabe cares deeply about the country and does a great job walking the audience through the complicated historical trajectory of the Congo.” This is Congo will also screen within the festival program.
A Cambodian Spring
Muhi – Generally Temporary
Filmmaker(s):Rina Castelnuovo-Hollander and Tamir Elterman
Naila and the Uprising
Filmmaker(s):Anjali Nayar and Hawa Essuman
The Long Season
Filmmaker(s):Leonard Retel Helmrich
Filmmaker(s):Stefanie Brockhaus and Andreas Wolff
The Workers Cup
This Is Congo
Filmmaker(s):Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis
Women of the Venezuelan Chaos