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The Janes directed by Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes - 33rd Human Rights Watch Film Festival lineup
The Janes directed by Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes. [HBO]

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival, now in its 33rd year, will present a full edition of 10 groundbreaking new films, available both in-person and online nationwide in the U.S., from May 20 to 26, 2022. For the first time in two years, the New York festival will be back with a full program of in-person screenings at Film at Lincoln Center and IFC Center, with in-depth discussions with filmmakers, film participants, activists and Human Rights Watch researchers. The festival will continue to offer the opportunity to watch all 10 new films online across the U.S. with a full digital edition of the film festival.

The festival opens with Rebellion, the exhilarating behind-the-scenes story of Extinction Rebellion (XR), following the group as it takes daring steps to draw attention to the climate emergency, and confront both internal tensions and the harmful power structures in the climate movement itself.

The festival will close with the Sundance Film Festival hit, The Janes, which showcases a group of brave and bold women, many speaking on the record for the first time, who built an underground, clandestine network in 1970s Chicago for women seeking safe, affordable, but otherwise illegal, abortions.

With stunning animation and powerful interviews, Eternal Spring tells the gripping story of brave members of a religious movement who protest their persecution by the Chinese government by hijacking the local TV station. And, the one drama in this year’s festival, You Resemble Me, is an impressive first feature by Dina Amer which explores the complex life of Hasna Aït Boulahcen, a survivor of abuse in France who sought support and opportunities to belong, but whose life was cut short by her radicalization. The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival and its executive producers are Spike Lee, Spike Jonze, Riz Ahmed and Alma Har’el.

In Delikado, three environmental defenders are tested as never before in their battle to save their home, Palawan, an island paradise in the Philippines, from the illegal destruction of its forests, fisheries and mountains. Clarissa’s Battle features the single mother and unstoppable activist Clarissa Doutherd, who works tirelessly to build a coalition of parents in Oakland, California, to fight for local and federal child care funding. With brave honesty a group of Kurdish and Yazidi women reveal the challenges they face in a male-dominated society in Up To G-Cup.

The New Greatness Case offers remarkable access to a group of young Russians entrapped by the secret service, resulting in unjust trials and prison sentences, echoing the intensified crackdown on dissent and free expression in Russia seen on the news every day. In Midwives, amid an environment of ever-increasing chaos and violence against the Muslim Rohingya population in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, two midwives, one Buddhist and one Muslim, work side by side in a makeshift clinic, providing medical services to the opressed minority community. No U-Turn, by the celebrated Nigerian director Ike Nnaebue, takes viewers on a journey with Nigerian citizens leaving their country, traveling north through Africa and beyond in search of work and opportunity to build a future, despite the known and unknown challenges lying ahead.

Lineup

The full 2022 lineup is as follows:

Rebellion
U.S. Premiere
Directed by Maia Kenworthy and Elena Sanchez Bellot, 2021, Documentary, 82 minutes, English
Rebellion brings viewers behind-the-scenes with Extinction Rebellion (XR), as the group confronts the climate emergency – reminding the world there is no time to wait. Emerging as action on climate change dangerously slipped from the political agenda, XR took bold steps to break through the deadlock: mass civil disobedience. It worked. In 2019, within days of XR protests and over 1,000 arrests, the UK Parliament declared a climate emergency and propelled the issue back into public consciousness. Countries around the world followed suit. Yet, just as XR became a global phenomenon, internal tensions rose within the group, with XR Youth calling out the movement for perpetuating structural and social inequalities and focusing on climate change rather than acknowledging the need for climate justice. Rebellion reminds viewers to question white Western environmentalism and push back against a fight that ignores structural racism and oppression.

The Janes
Directed by Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes, 2022, Documentary, 101 minutes, English
Grand Jury Prize Documentary Nominee, Sundance Festival, 2022
In the spring of 1972, police raided an apartment on the South Side of Chicago – arresting and charging seven women who were part of a clandestine network. Using code names, fronts, and safe houses to protect their identities and their work, they built an underground service for women seeking safe, affordable abortions in the pre-Roe v. Wade era, a time when abortion was a crime in most states and even circulating information about abortion was a felony in Illinois. They called themselves “Jane.” Oscar-nominated Tia Lessin and Emmy-nominated Emma Pildes’ revelatory documentary could not be more timely, The Janes offers first-hand accounts from the women at the center of the group, many speaking on the record for the first time. This galvanizing documentary tells the story of the past and, potentially, the future.

Clarissa’s Battle
World Premiere
Directed by Tamara Perkins, 2022, Documentary, 90 minutes, English
Single mother and organizer Clarissa Doutherd is building a powerful coalition of parents. They’re fighting for child care and early education funds, desperately needed by low-and middle-income parents and children across the United States. Driven by her own experience losing child care and becoming unhoused with her infant son, Xavier, she seems to be everywhere at once – at hearings, election rooms, and rallies from Oakland, California to Washington, DC. But juggling this work with raising her son pushes Clarissa into a personal health crisis far too common among stressed, working mothers, especially women of color. When the lockdown pushes more families into desperate circumstances, Clarissa and her coalition redouble their efforts, with the stakes higher than ever. Clarissa’s Battle offers an insight into an erupting movement, as communities across the country follow Clarissa’s successes, setbacks and indomitable resilience.

Delikado
New York Premiere
Karl Malakunas, 2022, Documentary, 94 minutes, English, Filipino
Official Selection, Hot Docs 2022
Palawan in the Philippines appears to be an idyllic tropical island, with its powder-white beaches and lush forests making it one of Asia’s most visited tourist destinations. But for a small network of environmental crusaders, it is more akin to a battlefield. Bobby, Tata and Nieves – a charismatic lawyer, a former illegal logger and a fearless politician – are three magnetic leaders fighting to stop corporations and governments seeking to plunder increasingly valuable natural resources. Often from Indigenous communities, environmental defenders in the Philippines are killed with impunity and the killers are rarely caught. The battles these climate activists fight are shared by allies worldwide – but the abusive government of President Rodrigo Duterte adds urgency to this deepening human rights crisis.

Eternal Spring
U.S. Premiere
Directed by Jason Loftus, 2022, Documentary, 86 minutes, Mandarin Chinese, English
In March 2002, members of the outlawed spiritual group Falun Gong hijacked a state TV station in China. Their goal was to counter the government narrative about their practice. In the aftermath, police raids sweep Changchun City, and comic book illustrator, Daxiong (Justice League, Star Wars), a Falun Gong practitioner, is forced to flee. He arrives in North America, blaming the hijacking for worsening a violent repression. But his views are challenged when he meets the lone surviving participant to have escaped China, who is living in Seoul, South Korea. Combining present-day footage with 3D animation inspired by Daxiong’s art, Eternal Spring retraces the event on its 20th anniversary, and brings to life an unprecedented story of defiance, harrowing eyewitness accounts of persecution, and an exhilarating tale of determination to speak up for political and religious freedoms, no matter the cost.

Midwives
New York Premiere
Directed by Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing, 2022, Documentary, 91 minutes, Rohingya, Rakhine, Burmese
Winner, World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award: Excellence in Verité Filmmaking, Sundance 2022
Hla and Nyo Nyo live in a country torn by conflict. Hla is a Buddhist and the owner of an under-resourced medical clinic in western Myanmar, where the Rohingya (a Muslim minority community) are persecuted and denied basic rights. Nyo Nyo is a Rohingya and an apprentice midwife who acts as assistant and translator at the clinic. Despite living in the area for generations, Nyo Nyo and her family are still considered intruders. Risking her own safety daily by helping Muslim patients, she is determined to become a steady healthcare provider and resource for the families who desperately need her. Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing’s remarkable feature debut was filmed over five turbulent years in Myanmar, shining a spotlight on these courageous women who unite to bring forth life, despite the risks and challenges of their own, offering a rare insight into the complex reality of Myanmar and its people.

The New Greatness Case
World Premiere
Anna Shishova, 2022, Documentary, 92 minutes, Russian
With the current intensified crackdown on dissent and free expression in Russia, The New Greatness Case brings viewers into the life of young Russians caught in the crossfire. Anya was an ordinary teenager, discussing Russian politics and social issues on the internet with a group of friends, when a secret agent joined their chat group and rented them a meeting space – pushing them toward direct physical action. Police stormed their homes to arrest and jail the teens, accusing them of plotting to overthrow the government and fabricating charges of extremism. Three years later, Anya’s mother, continuing her desperate fight to prove her daughter’s innocence, has transformed from a loyal follower of Vladimir Putin to a hunger-strike enacting political activist. With hidden camera footage, and an intimate relationship with the protagonists, the director, Anna Shishova, shows the complete repression of present-day Russia, and how young, free-thinking people, are seen as a threat to the government.

No U-Turn
New York Premiere
Ike Nnaebue, 2022, Documentary, 94 minutes, English, Igbo, French, Nigerian Pidgin
Special Mention, Documentary Award, Berlinale 2022
As a young man, celebrated Nigerian director Ike Nnaebue left Nigeria taking the route via Benin, Mali, and Mauritania to Morocco where he was forced to turn back, unable to reach Europe. In his first documentary, No U-Turn, he retraces the life-changing journey he made over 20 years ago. Along the way, he meets those who are taking the same trip and, through conversations with them, tries to understand what motivates young people today to expose themselves to the dangers of a passage into an uncertain future. Most are aware of the dangers of traveling undocumented by road, yet more and more are joining the ranks of those who take this risk, despite widely circulated images and terrifying testimonies found online of people who have been lured into slavery and bondage. Overlaid with a powerful poetic commentary, this self-reflective travelogue hints at the deep longing of an entire generation for a better life.

Up To G-Cup
World Premiere
Jacqueline van Vugt, 2022, Documentary, 80 minutes, Kurdish, Arabic
Northern Iraq’s first lingerie store not only sells underwear, but also acts as a meeting place where women connect to their bodies and sensuality after overcoming the traumas of oppression, war, and conservative morality. The store is in Suleimaniyah, a city in the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq, where the male management of the mall state: “A billboard of a woman in lingerie is not possible – a woman in a bra and thong but without a head, maybe.” Yet the women in Up to G-Cup are open with each other and the camera. Director Jacqueline van Vugt captures intimate stories about love, sex, shame, and war.

You Resemble Me
New York Premiere
Directed by Dina Amer, 2021, Drama, 91 minutes, Arabic, French
Who was Hasna Aït Boulahcen? After the November 2015 Paris bombings, she was labelled “Europe’s first female suicide bomber.” Journalists swarmed to her story, trying to extract details about the mysterious young woman who lived on the outskirts of Paris. In this drama, executive-produced by Spike Lee, Spike Jonze, Riz Ahmed and Alma Har’el, director, Dina Amer, pieces together Hasna’s story from over 300 hours of interviews, from a little girl protecting her younger sister from an abusive home to a young woman who finds herself trying her best to survive on the streets. This nuanced drama shows what happens when society fails to protect a child, and how discrimination, poverty, and abuse facing young people can allow radicalization to plant roots and grow, with devastating impact on the wider community.

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