After the success of our first nationwide digital Human Rights Watch Film Festival last year, we are back May 19–27 with 10 brand new films available to stream across the US. Each film is accompanied by a free, live, online discussion where audiences will join filmmakers, film participants, Human Rights Watch researchers, and human rights advocates for lively debates and valuable conversation.
At a time when lives across the planet are more interconnected than ever, it is clear that when the rights of one community member are violated, an entire community is impacted. In this year’s festival we highlight interconnected struggles and feature people working together to envision new realities, where everyone can thrive.
Our Opening film is Forget Me Not, an intimate documentary in which film director Olivier Bernier and his wife Hilda prepare themselves and their 3-year-old son, Emilio, to start school in New York City - home to the nation’s most segregated education system. The film reveals a path to a more inclusive society that starts with welcoming diversity of all kinds in the classroom - including children with disabilities. Daughter of a Lost Bird, our Closing Night film, documents Kendra, a new mother, on her personal journey to discover her Native identity, having been adopted into a white family and raised as a white child since she was a baby.
The right to family life is paramount in two more of our films: in 200 Meters – a stirring drama, we meet Mustafa, his wife and children - a family split by the separation wall between the West Bank and Israel. After his son is injured, Mustafa must embark upon a perilous journey to cross the border illegally to rejoin them. A painful confrontation with history opens up old family wounds in Tacheles – The Heart of the Matter, where 21-year-old video game creator Yaar asks: What does the Holocaust have to do with me?
The criminal justice system—from policing to prisons—is a major source of human rights concerns in the US, plagued with race and income-based injustices, excessive sentencing, and harsh drug and immigration policies. Three stunning new films highlight those leading the charge to bring change and offer new perspectives on what is possible. A promising new restorative justice program for youth based on Indigenous peace-making circles in A Once and Future Peace prompts the question: How much is our society willing to invest to truly improve the trajectory of our communities? Apart shares the personal stories of incarcerated mothers and their families, and the importance of rehabilitation assistance in addressing inter-generational trauma caused by the criminal justice system. And in Unapologetic, the urgent struggle for civil rights in the US is in focus as Janaé and Bella, two fierce activist leaders in Chicago, share their views of what liberation could and should look like, including public safety that does not depend on police.
The overreaching strong hand of government, meant to protect the most vulnerable in times of crisis, is exposed in three powerful new documentaries. In the Same Breath is filmmaker Nanfu Wang’s (One Child Nation) exploration of the parallel campaigns of misinformation waged by Chinese and US leadership and the devastating impact on millions of lives since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. In Bajo Fuego (Under Siege), we bear witness to the impact of the global “war on drugs,” which continues to target under-resourced communities such as the “cocaleros,” who must mobilize to protect their livelihoods after their government instructs them to destroy their coca crops. And in The Return: Life After ISIS, we meet a group of Western women left de-facto stateless in a Syrian refugee camp. Abandoned by their governments after joining the Islamic State (ISIS), the film centers on women and children behind the headlines as they attempt to return home and restart their lives.
This year’s program of 10 films reflects the festival’s ethos of celebrating representation, and diversity of content and perspective. We strive to prioritize space for identities, viewpoints, forms of expertise and experiences either silenced or marginalized in the film industry, news, and media and invite you to further engage with these critical topics during our free, in-depth, live discussions that accompany each film.
A very special thanks this year to our wonderful cinema partners, Film at Lincoln Center and IFC Center, which are co-presenting this online edition. We look forward to our return to their dynamic cinema spaces for future festivals.
We hope you will continue to join us in supporting and celebrating human rights achievements in film!
The Human Rights Watch Film Festival team