The Human Rights Watch Film Festival returns June 10-19 with 18 topical and provocative feature films and three special interactive programs that grapple with the challenges of defending human rights around the world today. Now in its 27th edition, the festival is co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and IFC Center. Most screenings will be followed by in-depth Q&A discussions with filmmakers and Human Rights Watch experts.

“This year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival presents an array of women’s rights issues through inspirational and personal stories of remarkable women,” said John Biaggi, the festival’s creative director. “From a tenacious women’s rights activist in China to a teenage Afghan rapper fighting child marriage to a courageous director of a women’s health clinic in Mississippi—the festival is spotlighting women and amplifying their voices in society through film. It’s especially noteworthy that over half of the films in the 2016 program are directed or co-directed by women.”

The festival also features three timely films on LGBT rights as well as a broad range of hot-button human-rights issues including police militarization, environmental human rights, rape as a war crime, Syrian refugees, and impunity/lawlessness in Mexico.

The Opening Night selection is Nanfu Wang’s Hooligan Sparrow, which documents Chinese activist Ye Haiyan (aka “Hooligan Sparrow”) as she protests against a school headmaster’s sexual abuse of young girls, leading both the director and Sparrow to become targets of government intimidation. In recognition of her work, Nanfu Wang will receive the festival’s 2016 Nestor Almendros Award for courage in filmmaking.

Closing the festival is the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Sonita, in which filmmaker Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami follows a determined Afghan teenager who overcomes living as a refugee in Iran (where female singers are banned from singing solo) and her family’s plans to sell her into marriage to follow her dreams of becoming a rapper.

Five other outstanding documentaries broaden the theme of women’s rights at this year’s event. Jackson takes a close look at the politics of reproductive rights at Mississippi’s last remaining abortion clinic; Ovarian Psycos follows a defiant Latina bicycle gang fighting to take back the streets for women in East Los Angeles; film-festival favorite Starless Dreams is an intimate portrait of young women in a rehabilitation prison in Tehran; Tempestad artfully renders the difficult life paths of two women amid the chaos and impunity in today’s Mexico; and The Uncondemned is a gripping portrayal of a young group of lawyers and activists who fought to have rape recognized as a war crime in a landmark trial in Rwanda.



Three festival titles revolve around the fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights. Inside the Chinese Closet exposes the difficult decisions young lesbian and gay Chinese people are making—including fake marriages—when forced to balance their quest for love with parental and cultural expectations. From the United States, Growing Up Coy, shown in its world premiere, sensitively portrays the struggles of a Colorado family who take on a highly publicized legal battle to fight for their 6-year-old transgender daughter’s rights to use the girls’ bathroom, while HBO’s Suited explores the transformative work of a Brooklyn tailor company that creates bespoke suits for clients across the gender spectrum.

Four more films from the U.S. explore some of the most pressing human-rights issues in the country today. Almost Sunrise exposes the growing epidemic of soldier suicides through the story of two friends who embark on an epic journey to heal from their time in combat; the drama Chapter & Verse focuses on a former gang leader who struggles to restart his life in Harlem after eight years of incarceration; Do Not Resist, winner of the top documentary prize at the Tribeca Film Festival, is an alarming investigation into the increasing militarization of American police departments, and how it overwhelmingly affects black Americans; and HBO’s Solitary is an unprecedented portrait of life inside solitary confinement at a supermax prison.

A selection of international titles rounds out this year’s screening program. The Crossing follows the journey of a group of middle-class Syrian families forced into harsh choices in a desperate bid for freedom; the multi-award-winning drama The High Sun interweaves three love stories from the Balkans region with a long history of inter-ethnic hatred; P.S. Jerusalem details the filmmaker’s highly personal return to Jerusalem after two decades living in the U.S.; and the Sundance prize-winner When Two Worlds Collide charts the dramatic standoffs between indigenous Amazonians and the Peruvian government intent on exploiting their resource-rich ancestral lands.

Festival organizers are pleased to present three special programs that combine visual media with discussions of current issues in the fields of audience engagement and human rights. During the panel discussion Desperate Journey: Europe’s Refugee Crisis, Human Rights Watch’s emergencies director, Peter Bouckaert, and Zalmaï, the award-winning Afghan-born photographer, will share their insights and images, and discuss how governments can effectively respond to the refugee crisis.

An exhibition of Zalmaï’s photographs will accompany this discussion in the Furman Gallery at the Walter Reade Theater. Another panel, The Emerging World of Virtual Reality and Human Rights, will feature creators, journalists and human-rights experts who will discuss the exciting and evolving intersection of virtual reality and human rights. This panel is presented in conjunction with the powerful virtual reality installation 6×9: An Immersive Experience of Solitary Confinement in the Furman Gallery.

The festival will also continue its partnership with MUBI, an online cinema community that will feature select films from the HRWFF online while our New York festival is in progress. Learn more at

Tickets are available online at for the screenings at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and for the IFC Center, as well as directly from each of the organizations box offices. A 3+ film discount package is also available for screenings at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Tickets go on sale May 19. Film Society and IFC Center members receive a pre-sale starting May 17.


Desperate Journey: Europe’s Refugee Crisis


Opening Night
Hooligan Sparrow
Nanfu Wang, China/USA, 2016, 83m
English and Mandarin with English subtitles
A group of activists protesting the alleged rape of six girls by a school headmaster and a government official quickly become fugitives. Filmmaker Nanfu Wang and super-activist Ye Haiyan (“Hooligan Sparrow”) must avoid government thugs and arrest. Sparrow becomes an enemy of the state, but detentions, interrogations, and evictions can’t stop her protest from going viral. A thriller set across southern China featuring friends who will go to any lengths to expose the truth. Screening followed by discussion with Nanfu Wang, filmmaker; Sophie Richardson, China Director, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch; Liesl Gerntholtz, Women’s Rights Director, Human Rights Watch; moderator Minky Worden, Director of Global Initiatives, Human Rights Watch.

The Festival is pleased to present filmmaker Nanfu Wang with its 2016 Nestor Almendros Award for courage in filmmaking.

Nestor Almendros Award:
Renowned cinematographer and filmmaker Nestor Almendros (1930–1992) was a founder of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, actively involved in the selection of films and the promotion of human-rights filmmaking. Even while deeply immersed in his own projects, he took the time to call the Festival team to mention a strong documentary or promote a work-in-progress. Believing in the power of human-rights filmmaking, Nestor devoted himself to becoming a mentor to many young filmmakers. It is in the Festival’s loving memory of Nestor and our desire to celebrate his vision that we proudly bestow this award to filmmakers for their exceptional commitment to human rights.
Friday, June 10, 6:30pm – Film Society of Lincoln Center

Closing Night

Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami, Germany/Iran/Switzerland, 2015, 90m
English and Farsi with English subtitles
Winner of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary, Sonita is about a determined and animated Afghan teen living in Tehran, who dreams of being a famous rapper. But in Iran, the government doesn’t let girls sing solo. And in her Afghan home she is expected to become a teenage bride. With her family keen to marry her off to receive her dowry, tradition bears down on Sonita. Armed with nothing but passion and persistence, she must turn obstacle into opportunity.
Sunday, June 19, 7:00pm – IFC Center (Q&A with Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami)

Almost Sunrise
Michael Collins, USA, 2016, 94m
Two friends, in an attempt to put their haunting combat experiences behind them, embark on an epic 2,700-mile trek on foot across America seeking redemption and healing as a way to close the moral chasm opened by war. Their odyssey across snowy mountains and vast deserts inspires an inner journey that culminates in a remarkable spiritual transformation that could light the way for other veterans seeking to reclaim their lives.  Suicide among military veterans has reached epidemic proportions and can be the result of what mental health professionals call “moral injury”—lasting wounds to the soul caused by participation in events that go against one’s deeply held sense of right and wrong. Almost Sunrise is an intimate, vérité film that eschews stereotypes, and instead, captures an unprecedented portrait of veterans—one of hope, potential and untold possibilities.
Saturday, June 11, 9:15pm – IFC Center (Q&A with Michael Collins and film subject Tom Voss)
Monday, June 13, 6:30pm – Film Society of Lincoln Center (Q&A with Michael Collins and film subject Tom Voss)

Chapter & Verse
Jamal Joseph, USA, 2015, 97m
After serving eight years in prison, reformed gang leader S. Lance Ingram re-enters society and struggles to adapt to a changed Harlem. Living under the tough supervision of a parole officer in a halfway house, he is unable to find a job that will let him use the technological skills he gained in prison, and is forced to deal with racism, gang violence, and the gentrification of the historic New York City neighborhood in which he was raised. Directed by Jamal Joseph, a leader of the Black Panther Party who spent time in prison as a result of his involvement in the organization, Chapter & Verse pulls you into its vibrant world and reflects upon what it means to forge your own destiny in an outwardly harsh society.
Sunday, June 12, 5:00pm – Film Society of Lincoln Center (Q&A with Jamal Joseph)

The Crossing
George Kurian, Norway, 2015, 55m
English and Arabic with English subtitles
A first-hand account of the perilous journey made by a group of Syrian refugees. Traversing land and sea on an old fishing boat manned by smugglers, the nail-biting journey leads to Europe where the refugees disperse. Each must battle to stay sane and create an identity among the maze of regulations and refugee hostels. The Crossing shows us the lengths to which people go to find safety and forge their own destiny. U.S. Premiere

Screening with by Malak (5m) and Mustapha (5m), two beautifully rendered short films about two young Syrian children’s personal experiences journeying from their homeland to the shores of Greece. Produced by Dovana Films.
Wednesday, June 15, 8:30pm – Film Society of Lincoln Center (Q&A with George Kurian)
Thursday, June 16, 9:15pm – IFC Center (Q&A with George Kurian)

Chapter & Verse

Chapter & Verse

Do Not Resist
Craig Atkinson, USA, 2016, 72m
Winner of Best Documentary Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival, Do Not Resist opens with shocking scenes from Ferguson, Missouri, to introduce an array of stories that collectively detail the disturbing realities of American police culture. The film depicts a high-end weapons expert who instructs police departments around the nation on the need for force and intimidation; a growing number of small towns and cities being armed with expensive military-grade equipment; and the development of face-recognition technology that makes the automated scanning of cities for wanted offenders a likely reality. Director Craig Atkinson presents a unique and powerful portrait of the individuals and institutions each playing their part in a growing billion-dollar industry. Do Not Resist begs the question—who is it we “protect and serve.”
Tuesday, June 14, 6:30pm – Film Society of Lincoln Center (Q&A with Craig Atkinson)
Wednesday, June 15, 9:00pm – IFC Center (Q&A with Craig Atkinson)

Growing Up Coy
Eric Juhola, USA, 2016, 83m
Growing Up Coy follows a landmark transgender rights case in Colorado where a 6-year-old transgender girl named Coy has been banned from the girls’ bathroom at her school. Coy’s parents hire a lawyer to pursue a civil rights case of discrimination, and the family is thrust into the international media spotlight, causing their lives to change forever. A timely topic as states across the US battle with this particular civil rights issue. The film also asks a universal question that every parent may face: How far would you go to fight for your child’s rights? World Premiere
Thursday, June 16, 7:00pm – IFC Center (Q&A with Eric Juhola)
Friday, June 17, 6:30pm – Film Society of Lincoln Center (Q&A with Eric Juhola)

The High Sun
Dalibor Matanić, Croatia/Slovenia/Serbia, 2015, 123m
Croatian with English subtitles
The High Sun shines a light on three love stories, set in three consecutive decades, in two neighboring Balkan villages with a long history of inter-ethnic hatred. Through these stories, Dalibor Matanić highlights how dangerous hatred towards “the other” can be. It is a film about the fragility—and intensity—of forbidden love. Winner of an Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.
Sunday, June 12, 9:15pm – IFC Center

Inside the Chinese Closet
Sophia Luvarà, Netherlands/China, 2015, 72m
English and Mandarin with English subtitles
In a nondescript lounge somewhere in Shanghai, men and women giggle, eyeing prospective partners, visibly nervous about making the first move. This isn’t your average matchmaking event—it’s a “fake-marriage fair” where gay men and lesbian women meet in an attempt to make matrimonial deals with members of the opposite sex to satisfy social and familial expectations of a heterosexual marriage. And pretend marriages are just the start. Touching and troubling in equal measure,
Inside the Chinese Closet exposes the difficult decisions young LGBT individuals must make when forced to balance their quest for love with parental and cultural expectations.
Friday, June 17, 9:30pm – IFC Center (Q&A with Sophia Luvarà)
Saturday, June 18, 9:00pm – Film Society of Lincoln Center (Q&A with Sophia Luvarà)

Maisie Crow, USA, 2016, 90m
What is life like in a place where the anti­-abortion movement has made access to legal abortion almost impossible? Since the ruling in Roe v. Wade over four decades ago, the self-labeled “pro-life” movement has won significant legal, cultural, and political battles. Now, the stigma of abortion is prolific in the American South, leaving women in poverty and women of color particularly vulnerable. Set against the backdrop of the fight over the last abortion clinic in Mississippi, Jackson takes a close look inside the issues surrounding abortion.
Friday, June 10, 7:00pm – IFC Center (Q&A with Maisie Crow and film subject Shannon Brewer)
Sunday, June 12, 8:30pm – Film Society of Lincoln Center (Q&A with Maisie Crow and film subject Shannon Brewer)

Ovarian Psycos
Joanna Sokolowski & Kate Trumbull-LaValle, USA, 2016, 72m
English and Spanish with English subtitles
Riding at night through the streets of Eastside Los Angeles, the Ovarian Psycos are an unapologetic crew of women of color. Founded by Xela de la X, a single mother and poet, the Ovas cycle for the purpose of healing, reclaiming their neighborhoods, and creating safer streets for women. At first only attracting a few local women, the Ovarian Psycos have since inspired a crowd of locals to challenge the stereotypical expectations of femininity and be a visible force along the barrios and boulevards of Los Angeles. The film intimately explores the impact of the group’s brand of feminism on neighborhood women and communities as they confront the injustice, racism, and violence in their lives.
Saturday, June 11, 7:00pm – IFC Center (Q&A with Joanna Sokolowski, Kate Trumbull-LaValle, and members of the Ovarian Psycos)
Monday, June 13, 7:00pm – IFC Center (Q&A with Joanna Sokolowski, Kate Trumbull-LaValle, and members of the Ovarian Psycos)

Growing Up Coy

Growing Up Coy

P.S. Jerusalem
Danae Elon, Canada/Israel, 2015, 87m
English, Arabic, and Hebrew with English subtitles
Danae Elon exposes a deep, complex, and painful portrait of Jerusalem today. The filmmaker relocates her young family from New York City to her childhood home of Jerusalem, a decision prompted by the death of her father. Danae’s camera captures her three young boys growing up, asking endless questions and confronting the reality around them. She sends them to the only school in the city that teaches Arab and Jewish children together, a respite from the conflict enveloping her surroundings. But can she keep her family together—and keep a cool head—in the political and cultural heat of Jerusalem?
Friday, June 17, 7:00pm – IFC Center (Q&A with Danae Elon)
Saturday, June 18, 6:30pm – Film Society of Lincoln Center (Q&A with Danae Elon)

Kristi Jacobson, USA, 2015, 80m
Solitary tells the stories of several inmates sent to Red Onion State Prison, one of over 40 supermax prisons across the U.S., which holds inmates in eight-by-ten foot solitary confinement cells, 23 hours a day. Profoundly intimate, this immersive film weaves through prison corridors and cells, capturing the chilling sounds and haunting atmosphere of the prison. With unprecedented access, award-winning filmmaker Kristi Jacobson investigates an invisible part of the American justice system and tells the stories of people caught in the complex penal system—both inmates and correction officers—raising provocative questions about punishment in America today. An HBO Documentary Films release.
Thursday, June 16, 6:15pm – Film Society of Lincoln Center (Q&A with Kristi Jacobson)

Starless Dreams
Mehrdad Oskouei, Iran, 2016, 76m
Farsi with English subtitles
Murder, drug addiction, hijacking cars, running away from home: these are just a few of the crimes that the girls from the rehabilitation center for juvenile delinquents in Tehran have committed. For seven years, director Mehrdad Oskouei sought permission from the Iranian authorities to allow him to film an imprisoned population, otherwise hidden from the public eye. The result is an incredibly personal documentary about the dreams, nightmares, and hopes of the women in this all-female facility. Their individual stories show their desire to return to freedom and live a normal life, but also the fear of what is waiting for them on the outside.
Friday, June 10, 9:30pm – IFC Center (Q&A with Mehrdad Oskouei)
Saturday, June 11, 9:00pm – Film Society of Lincoln Center (Q&A with Mehrdad Oskouei)

Jason Benjamin, USA, 2016, 77m
Suited tells the story of Bindle & Keep, a Brooklyn tailoring company that caters to a diverse LGBTQ community. Clothier duo Rae and Daniel take a holistic approach to their work, considering each client’s personal narrative, which becomes inextricable from the creation of the perfect custom-made suit. From Derek’s emotional journey as he prepares for his wedding to Everett, a law student in a conservative environment, or Melissa, who simply wants to look good for a 40th birthday party—the need for well-fitting garments represents deeper issues of identity, empowerment, and the importance of feeling happy in one’s body. An HBO Documentary Films release.
Saturday, June 18, 9:45pm – IFC Center (Q&A with Jason Benjamin and film subjects)

Tatiana Huezo, Mexico, 2016, 105m
Spanish with English subtitles
Two women, their voices echoing over the landscape and highways of Mexico from North to South, tell how official corruption and injustice allowed violence to take control of their lives. The film is a meditation on corruption and on the notion of “impunidad,” the impunity or unaccountability of those in power, whether part of the Mexican government or the country’s drug cartels. An emotional and evocative journey, steeped not only in loss and pain, but also in love, dignity and resistance. U.S. Premiere
Friday, June 17, 9:00pm – Film Society of Lincoln Center (Q&A with Tatiana Huezo)
Saturday, June 18, 7:00pm – IFC Center (Q&A with Tatiana Huezo)

The Uncondemned
Michele Mitchell & Nick Louvel, USA/Congo/Netherlands/Rwanda, 2015, 82m
English, French, and Kinyarwanda with English subtitles
Both a real-life courtroom thriller and a moving human drama, The Uncondemned tells the gripping story of a group of young international lawyers and activists who fought to have rape recognized as a war crime, and the Rwandan women who came forward to testify and win justice for the crimes committed against them. This odyssey takes the crusaders to a crucial trial at an international criminal court, the results of which changed the world of criminal justice forever.
Saturday, June 11, 6:30pm – Film Society of Lincoln Center (Q&A with Michele Mitchell and film subject Sara Darehshori)
Sunday, June 12, 7:00pm – IFC Center (Q&A with Michele Mitchell and film subject Sara Darehshori)

Ovarian Psycos

Ovarian Psycos

When Two Worlds Collide
Heidi Brandenburg & Matthew Orzel, Peru, 2016, 103m
Spanish with English subtitles
What happens when the thirst for power and riches takes priority over human life? The Amazon Rainforest, one of the planet’s most valuable natural resources, is being auctioned off, and its people condemned. Alberto Pizango, a young indigenous leader fighting to make the voices of indigenous Peruvians heard, stands up to political leaders and is accused of conspiracy and inciting violence. Set against the backdrop of a global recession and climate crisis, When Two Worlds Collide, winner of a World Cinema documentary competition prize for best first feature at Sundance, reveals the human side to the battle of conflicting visions and political wills working to shape the future of the Amazon, and of an already debilitated global ecosystem. Opens at Film Forum on Aug. 17.
Thursday, June 16, 8:45pm – Film Society of Lincoln Center (Q&A with Heidi Brandenburg and Matthew Orzel)

Special Events:

Discussion Panel
Desperate Journey: Europe’s Refugee Crisis
More than one million asylum seekers and migrants have arrived in Europe by sea. According to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, 84 percent were from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, or Iraq—all countries experiencing conflict, widespread violence and insecurity, or which have highly repressive governments. Human Rights Watch has covered the unfolding situation in multiple countries using research teams that include photographers and videographers to capture conditions on the ground and convey the compelling individual stories behind this crisis. In this panel discussion Human Rights Watch Emergencies Director Peter Bouckaert and photographer Zalmaï share their insights and images, along with short video clips, to discuss how governments can effectively respond to the refugee crisis in line with their legal responsibilities and stated values. An exhibition of Zalmaï’s photographs will be on display in the Roy and Frieda Furman Gallery at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater throughout the festival. This event will run 90 minutes.
Tuesday, June 14, 7:00pm – IFC Center

Discussion Panel
The Emerging World of Virtual Reality and Human Rights
Virtual Reality (VR) is an expanding arena for immersive and interactive content. Creators are exploring ways to project participants into new worlds and experiences, and a growing number of these are focused on human rights. A variety of backers such as The New York Times, Google, Facebook, and the United Nations are working to develop and expand our use of the technology. Questions over how best to use VR, and its ability to impact human rights situations, are hotly debated—particularly as VR’s unique approach to audience experience raises new issues over legitimacy and responsibility. Creators differ over how far to push audiences’ boundaries, for what impact, and with what design model. Opinions over these questions are ever-changing within the field. Join us for a panel discussion with creators, journalists and human rights experts to discuss this exciting and evolving intersection of VR and human rights. Panelists include Francesca Panetta, Special Projects Editor at The Guardian; Sam Gregory, Program Director at WITNESS; Lina Srivastava, Founder, CIEL; and others. This event will run 90 minutes.
Wednesday, June 15, 6:30pm – Film Society of Lincoln Center

VR Installation
6×9: An Immersive Experience of Solitary Confinement

Right now, more than 80,000 people are in solitary confinement in the U.S.—locked in tiny concrete boxes where every element of their environment is controlled. They spend 22-24 hours a day in their cells, with little to no human contact for days or even decades. The sensory deprivation they endure causes severe psychological damage. These people are invisible to us—and eventually to themselves. This powerful VR piece invites you to experience first-hand what life is like in solitary confinement. This installation is free and open to the public. Co-created by The Guardian and The Mill.
June 10-18 from 7:30 to 9:30pm – Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater

Photo Exhibition
Desperate Journey: Europe’s Refugee Crisis
Photography by Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch
The desperate flight of refugees and asylum seekers from unending violence and abuse in countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Eritrea, and their limited chance to secure adequate work, housing, schooling, and legal status in neighboring countries, led an estimated one million people to flee to Europe in the past year.

The fear of what an influx of asylum seekers could mean for their societies has led many governments in Europe and elsewhere to close the gates and pursue beggar-thy-neighbor policies that are the negation of shared solidarity and responsibility. The fear of more terrorist attacks has moved many governments around the world to follow the excesses of the post-9-11 response by the United States and many politicians to scapegoat Muslims or refugees.

Over the past year, photographer Zalmaï accompanied teams of Human Rights Watch researchers carrying out on-the-ground investigations in multiple countries and documenting the crisis as it was unfolding.

Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Zalmaï fled his country after the Soviet invasion in 1979 and found refuge in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he became a Swiss citizen. Following his passion for photography, Zalmaï pursued combined studies at the School of Photography of Lausanne and the Professional Photography Training Center of Yverdon. In 1989, he began to work as a freelance photographer, traveling the world and eventually returning to Afghanistan, where he continues to document the plight of the Afghan people. His work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, TIME, The New Yorker, Harper’s, and Newsweek. He has also worked for a number of nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
June 10-18 – Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater