Cynthia Hill's HRWFF opening-night film, Private Violence
Twenty-two films are on tap for the upcoming 25th Human Rights Watch Film Festival, including 20 documentaries and two fiction features. The 25th edition of HRWW, taking place June 12-22 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and IFC Center will showcase 19 New York premieres, with 16 features directed by women—a festival first.
Human Rights Watch began as a series of films shown on a modest-sized television in a small New York City theater, but has since moved to the big screen, attracting an audience well over 100,000 people, viewing the lineup annually in 20 cities.
The festival will launch on June 12 with a fundraising Benefit Night for Human Rights Watch featuring Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman’s Sundance award-winner E-Team, which follows four intrepid activists from Human Rights Watch’s Emergencies Team as they investigate and document war crimes on the front lines of Syria and Libya.
The director Cynthia Hill and executive producer Gloria Steinem will be present on June 13 for the Opening Night screening of the HBO documentary Private Violence. Exploring the fact that the most dangerous place for a woman is often her home, the film tells the stories of Deanna Walters, a woman who seeks justice after being kidnapped and brutalized by her estranged husband, and Kit Gruelle, a domestic violence survivor who now helps women find justice for themselves.
The Closing Night screening on June 22 will be Scheherazade’s Diary, a tragicomic documentary that follows women inmates through a 10-month drama therapy/theater project set up by director Zeina Daccache at the Baabda Prison in Lebanon. Through “Scheherazade in Baabda,” these “murderers of husbands, adulterers, and drug felons” reveal their stories—tales of domestic violence, traumatic childhoods, failed marriages, and forlorn romances.
“Twenty-five years is quite a milestone and we would like to acknowledge the enthusiastic support of our audience, which has allowed the festival to grow into what it is today,” said John Biaggi, festival director at Human Rights Watch. “This anniversary is also an opportunity to reflect on the fact that human rights concerns have only increased. One look at the breadth of this year’s program confirms that the festival is even more crucial today.”
This year’s program is organized around five themes: Armed Conflict and the Arab Spring; Human Rights Defenders, Icons, and Villains; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Rights; Migrants’ Rights; and Women’s Rights and Children’s Rights.
Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman’s E-Team
Armed Conflict and the Arab Spring
A number of timely films in this year’s program unfold against the backdrop of pro-democracy movements across the Arab world. Abounaddara Collective Shorts from Syria are films created by Abounaddara, a collective of self-taught Syrian filmmakers whose short documentaries exploring the reality of life in their war-torn country have been posted online every week since the 2011 uprising began.
In Rachel Beth Anderson and Tim Grucza’s First to Fall, two students in Canada abandon their peaceful lives to return to their home country of Libya to join the fight to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. Scottish-Yemeni director Sara Ishaq’s The Mulberry House follows a journey by the filmmaker back to her father’s home in Yemen after a decade-long absence.
The Sundance World Documentary Grand Prize-winner Return to Homs takes viewers to the front lines of the Syrian conflict as two young men who are determined to defend their city abandon peaceful resistance and take up arms. The festival will present the film’s director, Talal Derki, and producer, Orwa Nyrabia, both Syrians, with its 2014 Nestor Almendros Award for courage in filmmaking.
Zeina Daccache's Scheherazade’s Diary
Human Rights Defenders, Icons, and Villains
In addition to the Benefit Night film E-Team, four documentaries explore the lives of compelling figures on both sides of the human rights spectrum. Consisting of smuggled footage and uncensored interviews, Madeleine Sackler’s HBO documentary Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus follows the courageous actors of the Belarus Free Theatre, an acclaimed troupe that defies Europe’s last remaining dictatorship.
Nadav Schirman’s Sundance Audience Award-winner The Green Prince is a real-life thriller about the complex relationship between a Palestinian informant and his Israeli Shin Bet handler. A top prize-winner at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, Nelson Mandela: The Myth and Me, by the South African filmmaker Khalo Matabane, uses conversations with politicians, activists, intellectuals, and artists to question the meaning of freedom and reconciliation, and challenges Mandela’s legacy in today's world.
Edet Belzberg’s Sundance double award-winner Watchers of the Sky, inspired by Samantha Power's Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Problem From Hell, interweaves the stories of four extraordinary humanitarians whose lives and work embody the vision of Rafael Lemkin, the Polish lawyer who created international law on stopping genocide and holding leaders accountable.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Rights
Three documentaries highlight LGBT issues in the United States. Sandrine Orabona and Mark Herzog’s Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story focuses on former Navy SEAL Chris Beck who, after decades of fighting for American ideals, discovers a new appreciation of liberty and happiness as he embarks on his most challenging mission: transitioning to Kristin and beginning life as a transgender woman.
Out in the Night is blair dorosh-walther’s story of four African-American friends, who, out for a night in Greenwich Village in 2006, became known in the media as a “Gang of Killer Lesbians” when they defended themselves from the sexual threats of an older man. In Jennifer Kroot’s To Be Takei, Star Trek’s inter-galactic helmsman George Takei explores his private and public personas—from being William Shatner’s nemesis to becoming a gay activist—as he prepares his dream project: a musical based on his childhood inside a Japanese-American internment camp.
Sandrine Orabona and Mark Herzog’s Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story
A visual essay in five parts, Iva Radivojevic’s Evaporating Borders examines how tolerance, identity, and nationalism collide over migration issues on the island of Cyprus, one of the easiest entry points to Europe. Mano Khalil’s The Beekeeper relates the touching story of Ibrahim Gezer, a displaced Kurdish beekeeper from southeast Turkey, and his integration into Switzerland.
Women’s Rights and Children’s Rights
Eight films—including festival opener Private Violence and closing night’s Scheherazade’s Diary—look at the rights of women and children across the globe. Jasmila Žbanić’s drama For Those Who Can Tell No Tales tells the story of an Australian tourist whose summer holiday in Bosnia-Herzegovina leads her to discover the silent legacy of wartime atrocities in a seemingly idyllic town on the border of Bosnia and Serbia. Anne de Mare and Kirsten Kelly’s The Homestretch follows three homeless but ambitious teens in Chicago as they fight to stay in school, graduate, and build a future.
Centered in a public hospital in Nicaragua, Alessandra Zeka and Holen Sabrina Kahn’s A Quiet Inquisition looks at Dr. Carla Cerrato, an Ob/Gyn who struggles with her conscience as she is forced to navigate between a new law that bans all abortions and her training in medical protocols that enable her to save lives. Berit Madsen’s Sepideh – Reaching for the Stars introduces viewers to a young Iranian woman who follows her passion for astronomy and dares to dream of a future as an astronaut.
The Indo-Canadian filmmaker Richie Mehta’s stirring drama Siddharth is the tale of a father’s journey across India in search of the young son he sent away to work in a factory but fears has been taken by child traffickers. Joanna Lipper’s The Supreme Price charts the perilous evolution of the pro-democracy movement in Nigeria, focusing on Hafsat Abiola, an activist who returns to her embattled home to fight for democracy and women’s rights.
In conjunction with this year’s film program, the festival will present the exhibit The Unraveling: Journey Through the Central African Republic Crisis, a photographic investigation by Marcus Bleasdale that exposes a massive human rights crisis unfolding in a country that few people even knew existed. It will be featured in the Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater for the duration of the festival.
[A list of individual films, descriptions and schedules can be found here.]
Talal Derki's Return to Homs