Erika Cohn’s ​Belly of the Beast
Erika Cohn’s ​Belly of the Beast

Amidst the Covid-19 health crisis, for the first time ever, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival will present a digital edition of its full slate of films from June 11​-​20, 2020. Expanding beyond New York City, the festival announced the first eight films of the line up that will enjoy their U.S. Digital Festival Premieres, making the films available nationwide. In keeping with the festival’s long-standing tradition of contextualizing films with conversations, online screenings will feature in-depth discussions with filmmakers, film subjects and Human Rights Watch researchers. The festival plans to return to Film at Lincoln Center and IFC Center next year and beyond.

The festival will present as the opening night film Erika Cohn’s ​Belly of the Beast​, a powerful expose of human rights abuses of women in the criminal justice system.

John Biaggi​, Director ​of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival states, “At this time when the world feels most intensely the interconnectedness of humanity, the festival was more determined than ever to showcase a full slate of essential films presenting urgent human rights issues we can all relate to. Now more than ever, human rights are global. What impacts one society, what impacts one family, affects all of us.”

Preliminary Films

Belly of the Beast (​Opening Night )

Erika Cohn, USA, 2020, documentary, 82 minutes, English
Shot over seven years, ​Belly of the Beast intimately chronicles the journey of women fighting reproductive injustice in their communities. Capturing an unfolding legal drama, the film centers around a team of tenacious heroines uncovering modern-day eugenic practices.

The 8th

Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy, Maeve O’Boyle, Ireland, 2020, documentary, 94 minutes, English
Following veteran campaigner Ailbhe Smyth as she navigates the complexities of convincing a historically conservative electorate to vote for women’s reproductive autonomy, The 8th tells the story of how Ireland overturned one of the world’s most restrictive laws on abortion. This documentary is a vivid exploration of the political and cultural history that charts the transformation of a country.

Coded Bias

Shalini Kantayya, USA/UK/China/South Africa, 2020, documentary, 85 minutes, English
Following evidence that suggests Artificial Intelligence (AI) — from facial scanning to police surveillance — cannot be regarded as politically neutral. ​Coded Bias explores the intersection of AI and civil liberties. Director Shalini Kantayya illuminates our mass misconceptions about AI and emphasizes the urgent need for legislative protection from automated surveillance systems.

Down A Dark Stairwell

Ursula Liang, USA, 2020, documentary, 83 minutes, English, Cantonese and Mandarin with English subtitles
On a fall day in 2014, Peter Liang, a Chinese American police officer, shot and killed an innocent, unarmed black man named Akai Gurley. Unfolding in the dark stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project, the shooting inflamed the residents of New York City and thrust two marginalized communities together into the uneven criminal justice system. Gurley’s death sparked cries of police brutality and a raging, anguished debate about racial bias in criminal prosecution of law enforcement officers.

From Here

Christina Antonakos-Wallace, USA, 2020, documentary, 89 minutes, English, German, Spanish, Punjabi, Romani, Vietnamese with English subtitles
From Here is a hopeful story of artists and activists based in Berlin and New York whose lives hang in the balance of immigration and integration debates. Our protagonists move from their 20s into their 30s as they fight for citizenship, start families and find room for creative expression. This sensitive and nuanced documentary captures their journeys to define what it means to “belong” in societies that are increasingly hostile to their existence.

I am Samuel

Peter Murimi,Kenya/Canada/UK/USA, 2020, documentary, 69 minutes, Swahili, English, Luhya with English subtitles
Filmed vérité ​style over five years, I am Samuel is an intimate portrait of a Kenyan man torn between balancing duty to his family with his dreams for his future.


Claudia Sparrow, USA/Peru, 2019, documentary, 88 minutes, English, Spanish with English subtitles
Maxima t​ells the incredible story of 2016 environmental Goldman Prize winner Máxima Acuña and her family, who own a small, remote plot in the Peruvian Highlands. Faced with intimidation, violence and criminal prosecution, we follow Máxima’s tireless fight for justice, taking her from the Peruvian Supreme Court to the doors of the World Bank in Washington, DC.

Radio Silence

Juliana Fanjul, Switzerland/Mexico, 2019, documentary, 79 minutes, Spanish with English subtitles
To millions of people in Mexico, the incorruptible journalist and news anchor Carmen Aristegui is regarded as the trusted alternative voice to official government spin, fighting daily against deliberate disinformation spread through news sources, government corruption and the related drugs trade. Facing threats of violence in the wake of a prominent journalist’s vicious murder, Carmen and her colleagues continue in a shared fight for democracy and justice.

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