The 2021 Human Rights Watch Film Festival celebrates 25 years with a full digital edition featuring 10 powerful and uplifting new documentaries available to stream across the UK on Barbican Cinema On Demand from March 18-26, 2021.
Each screening will be accompanied by a live, online discussion (free and live-captioned in English) with filmmakers, film participants, and Human Rights Watch researchers from around the world.
The Opening Night film, The 8th shows a country forging a new path at a time when reproductive rights are threatened around the world. Shot over a three-year period, co-directors Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy and Maeve O’Boyle follow campaigners of Ireland’s reproductive rights movement Ailbhe Smyth and Andrea Horan, leading up to the historic 2018 referendum. Co-director Lucy Kennedy, film participants Ailbhe Smyth and Andrea Horan and senior researcher in the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch Hillary Margolis, will join the live virtual discussion on Thursday 18 March, 8.30pm.
The Closing Night film strikes an equally determined note from young Black, queer women in the US. Unapologetic director Ashley O’Shay introduces Janaé Bonsu and Bella Bahhs, two fierce activist leaders in the US seeking justice for the deaths of two Black Chicagoans at the hands of the police. Their journey illuminates the love underpinning their anger and frustration, and elevates those who are most often leading the way while being denied the spotlight. Director Ashley O’Shay and film participants Bella Bahhs and Janaé Bonsu will join the live virtual discussion on Friday 26 March, 8.30pm.
All festival films are available to stream throughout the festival dates. Free, live-captioned discussions will take place on Zoom, at times detailed below. Three caption screenings for Deaf or hard of hearing will take place throughout the festival, detailed below.
2021 Human Rights Watch Film Festival – UK Edition Lineup
Ireland/U.S.A. / 2020 / Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy, Maeve O’Boyle / 94m / Captioned in English for audiences who are Deaf or hard of hearing / English dialogue UK Digital Premiere
Capturing a crucial moment in women’s rights, this is the story of how Ireland overturned one of the world’s most restrictive laws on abortion. The film follows veteran campaigner Ailbhe Smyth and self-described glitter-activist Andrea Horan as they chart a bold strategy of grassroots activism to engineer the impossible and carry a traditionally conservative and religious electorate over the line to extend rights to women seeking an abortion. An urgent narrative, a cautionary tale and a roadmap for progressive reforms in a modern era where authoritarianism is on the rise, The 8th shows a country forging a new path at a time when reproductive rights are threatened around the world.
“It’s actually about more than what you’re voting on – while we’re voting on reproductive health care, it’s also about the value we’re giving women in Irish society, saying we do value them and we do trust them.” Andrea Horan, film participant The 8th
U.S.A. / 2020 / Ashley O’Shay / 86m
UK Digital Premiere
This is a profound and necessary story ripe for a country, and indeed a global reckoning, with racial injustice
After two Black Chicagoans, Rekia Boyd and Laquan McDonald, are killed at the hands of the police, the Movement for Black Lives demands justice and organises to challenge an administration complicit in violence against its residents. Unapologetic introduces Janaé Bonsu and Bella Bahhs, two fierce activist leaders whose upbringing and experiences have shaped their view of what liberation could and should look like, as they urge for an expansive view of public safety that does not depend on the police. This invigorating documentary illuminates the love underpinning the anger and frustration that comes with being Black, queer women in the US, and elevates those who are most often leading the way while being denied the spotlight.
“If Black, queer, feminist people are not free, nobody else is going to be free” Kush Thompson, film participant, Unapologetic
“The organisers’ activism is not a choice, but an integral and immediate part of their lives. The visions of the communities they are building and their creation of an abolitionist programme of safety without policing is illuminating.” John Raphling, senior researcher, US Program, Human
In another standout title, Belly of the Beast reveals a shameful and ongoing legacy of eugenics and reproductive injustice in the US prison system.
Belly of The Beast
U.S.A / 2020 / Erika Cohn / 82m / Captioned in English for audiences who are Deaf or hard of
hearing / English Dialogue
UK Digital Premiere
When two brave women find a pattern of illegal involuntary sterilisations in California’s women’s prisons, they launch a battle against the system.
With a growing team of women inside prison working with formerly incarcerated colleagues on the outside, they uncover a series of state-wide crimes – from dangerously inadequate health care to sexual assault to coercive sterilisations – primarily targeting Black, Latinx and Indigenous. Captured over seven years, this shocking and emboldening legal drama is a
damning account of a shameful and ongoing legacy of eugenics and reproductive injustice in the United States, featuring a group of extraordinary women determined to ensure it ends here and now.
“I have the power to change lives with the awareness of what happened to me.” Kelli Dillon, film participant, Belly of the Beast
Strength of resistance is highlighted in two films demanding press freedom in A Thousand Cuts and LGBTQ rights in I Am Samuel, co-presented by Human Rights Watch Film Festival and BFI Flare.
A Thousand Cuts
U.S.A. / 2020 / Ramona S. Diaz / 98m / partially subtitled in English
UK Digital Premiere
Nowhere is the erosion of democracy and the power of social media in politics more evident than in the Philippines.
When elected president in 2016, Rodrigo Duterte promised violence with a declared “war on drugs.” We join the prominent journalist Maria Ressa and her publication Rappler as they investigate thousands of government-sanctioned murders of primarily poor people accused of using or selling drugs. To suppress reporting on his mounting abuses, Duterte unleashes a
powerful disinformation campaign on social media, targeting journalists with arrests, and violent threats. In this searing film, we follow Ressa and her fearless team as they risk their own freedom in defence of truth and democracy.
“A Thousand Cuts is both a chilling tale of a leader’s gross misuse of power, and an uplifting story about courageous journalism and how it can inspire people to action.” Carlos H. Conde, senior researcher, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch
I am Samuel
Kenya/Canada/U.K./U.S.A / 2020 / Peter Murimi / 70min / subtitled in English
Samuel, a gay Kenyan man, balances duty to his family with his love for his partner, Alex, in a country where their love is criminalised.
Samuel grew up on a farm in the Kenyan countryside, where tradition is valued above all else. He moves to Nairobi in search of a new life, where he finds belonging in a community of fellow queer men where he meets and falls in love with Alex. Their love thrives even though Kenyan laws criminalize anyone who identifies as LGBTQ, and together they face threats of violence and rejection. Samuel’s father, a preacher at the local church, doesn’t understand why his son is not yet married and Samuel must navigate the very real risk that being truthful to who he is may cost him his family’s acceptance.
“I can’t really be myself. It’s like they’re seeing just half of who I am.” Alex, film participant, I Am Samuel
The festival’s spotlight on Latin America highlights three urgent stories: in Mujer de Soldado marginalised women bring to trial the members of the Peruvian army who decades prior had raped and abused them with impunity; in A La Calle Venezuelans undertake extraordinary
efforts to reclaim their crisis-ridden country from the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro; and in Bajo Fuego abandoned farmers in a coca-growing region of Colombia are forced to organise and fight for a living, despite the high hopes and rhetoric of the country’s Peace Agreement of 2016.
Mujer de Soldado (Soldier’s Woman)
Peru / 2020 / Patricia Wiesse Risso / 83min / subtitled in English
UK Digital Premiere
Magda Surichaqui Cóndor was a teenager when soldiers arrived in her small Peruvian village in 1984. Sent to root out members of the Shining Path, soldiers of the Peruvian army used their sweeping powers to rape and humiliate local women, leaving them shunned by their own communities, often with children in tow. Three decades later, Magda has joined a number of other women in bringing charges against their abusers. With stunning cinematography and respectful intimacy, Patricia Wiesse Risso accompanies Magda and her friends as they reminisce over their youth and their lives since, whilst they sit and chew coca leaves, peeling potatoes and spinning wool. Mujer de Soldado is a deeply moving picture of female solidarity that finally provides space for the dignity of these women’s experiences that has long been denied.
“Mujer de Soldado centres the stories of the women who have been silenced for a long time and who continue to be marginalised within their communities and in Peru as a whole.” Jose Miguel Vivanco, director, Americas Division, Human Rights Watch
A La Calle (To the Street)
U.S.A. / 2020 / Nelson G. Navarrete, Maxx Caicedo / 111m / partially subtitled in English
UK Digital Premiere
A La Calle is a first-hand account of the extraordinary efforts of Venezuelans to reclaim their democracy from the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro.
Maduro’s policies have plunged the country into a political, economic, and humanitarian crisis. Working with a network of clandestine camera crews, the filmmakers spent three years with key figures, including opposition leader Leopoldo López, grassroots activist Nixon Leal and everyday citizens willing to share their experiences. A La Calle captures the remarkable courage of the Venezuelan people as they unite to restore liberty, fundamental rights, and the rule of law – all while facing the more immediate struggle for survival amid severe food, water and medical shortages.
“Each passing day and each test makes us understand that we have the inner strength and perseverance to get to that day of change.” Lilian Tintori, film participant, A La Calle
Bajo Fuego (Under Siege)
Colombia / 2020 / Sjoerd Van Grootheest (Director) Irene Vélez-Torres (Co-Director) / 85m /
subtitled in English
Captioned in English for audiences who are Deaf or hard of hearing / Spanish dialogue
UK Digital Premiere
In November 2016, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the office of President Juan Manuel Santos signed the Colombian peace deal.
Many hoped this would mark an end to 52 years of armed conflict. For farmers in the cocagrowing region of Cauca however, this “peace” has proven to be short-lived. Bajo Fuego follows “cocaleros” as they mobilize to protect their livelihoods after the government instructs them to destroy their crops as part of the “war on drugs.” As new armed groups arise, the promised peace turns out to be an illusion for these farmers whose lives are threatened and who are displaced from their homes. Bajo Fuego exposes the lived reality behind the politics, that has left many Colombians in a continued state of war.
“What was signed were just agreements, they did not sign peace. We still have to build peace.” Farmer and film participant, Bajo Fuego
Education as an essential tool for change is explored in two key titles. From the filmmakers of multi-award-winning The Corporation, this “unfortunately necessary sequel” details efforts by corporations to re-brand as “socially conscious” and celebrates the activists pursuing real change. In The Lesson filmmaker Elena Horn considers the importance of quality education to avoid repeating historical wrongs. Schools and colleges can request tickets to The Lesson free on demand for their students. A limited number of tickets are available.
The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel
Canada / 2020 / Joel Bakan, Jennifer Abbott / 106m
Fully subtitled in English version available.
UK Digital Premiere
The timely sequel to the multi-award-winning The Corporation (2003) sets its sights on the sly rebranding of corporations as socially conscious entities – on a mission to convince the public they want to use their power to better the world. In sharp contrast, we witness recent groundswells of resistance as people take action worldwide in pursuit of justice and the planet’s future, creating hope that current world events might yet offer a catalyst for change. From the climate crisis and spiralling inequality, the rise of the ultra-right and racial injustice, the film unpacks the devastating power of corporations to achieve profit at any cost versus the individuals and movements determined to secure a more sustainable future for us all.
“There is a new spirit out there saying: 500 years of colonialism is enough. 200 years of corporate rule is enough.” Vandana Shiva, scholar and environmentalist and film participant, The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel
Germany / 2020 / Elena Horn / 60m / partially subtitled in English
UK Digital Premiere
It is often said that those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.
At the age of 14 every school child in Germany is taught about the atrocities that occurred under Nazi rule. Filmmaker Elena Horn returns to her small hometown in rural Germany to follow four children as they first learn about the Holocaust. From their study of the topic in history class, to their school trip to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, each of the children grapple differently with the gravity of their findings. Filmed over five years, the film offers a window into deeply rooted social and political attitudes in Germany amid a resurgence of the far-right and violent xenophobia. The collective memory of a nation’s history highlights the essential role of education to avoid repeating historical wrongs.
“My entire adolescence I struggled with the question: what would I have done? When times get harder, it’s easy to tell ourselves that the bad things we do are a necessity of human nature. But if we have learned one lesson, it’s that we always have a choice.” Elena Horn, director, The Lesson