Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (Alison Klayman, 2012)

Mark your calendars and brace for social impact because the 23rd annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival comes to Film Society of Lincoln Center June 15 – 28.

Human Rights Watch is one of the world’s leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. Fighting injustice and creating a forum for individuals to speak out, the festival enlightens and empowers these voices through powerful visuals and stimulating discussion with audiences and filmmakers. From 12 countries come 16 documentary and narrative films focusing on issues of migrants' rights; women's rights; health, development and the environment; and LGBT rights.

Join us on June 14 to kick off the festival with Benefit Night featuring Kim Nguyen's War Witch, winner of Best Narrative Feature at 2012 Tribeca Film Festival. This drama follows a 14-year-old girl abducted by a rebel army in sub-Saharan Africa and her spiritual and psychological journey as she is forced to choose to adapt or escape from her captors. Then join director Alison Klayman on Opening Night for her documentary, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, a personal story about Chinese activist and artist Ai Weiwei and his ongoing struggle with the Chinese government.  

The Invisible War (Kirby Dick, 2011)

You can't go wrong with any of this year's films, but here are a few highlights to look out for:

Escape Fire: the Fight to Rescue American Healthcare: Highlighting the corporate commoditization of human rights, filmmakers Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke examine our “quick fix” healthcare system, which prioritizes profit over patient. Film subject Dr. Erin Martin in person for a panel discussion at the June 24 screening.

Brother Number One: Less than 40 years ago, Cambodia was wracked by Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, a regime that caused the deaths of more than a million Cambodians. Annie Goldson's powerful film follows New Zealander Rob Hamill as he is given the chance to testify at the Cambodia War Crimes Tribunal against Comrade Duch. Duch was responsible for the torture and death of thousands, including Rob's brother Kerry, at S-21, the school-turned-torture chamber during the regime's reign of terror. Goldson will be in person for Q&As after each screening.

Reportero: Mexican-American filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz gives insight into the lives of Tijuana journalists who risks their lives daily to report on cartel violence and gang activity. Other journalists-in-crisis documentaries include Silenced Voices (Sri Lanka) and Witness (Egypt). Reportero film subjects Sergio Haro and Adela Navarro in person on June 22 and 23.

The Invisible War: In a horrifically close-to-home investigation, director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering reveal the personal and social consequences of the rape epidemic in the U.S. military. For courage in filmmaking, Dick and Ziering are the recipients of the festival's Nestor Almendros Award, named for the daring cinematographer Almendros. Film subjects Kori Cioca, Ariana Klay and Ben Klay in person on June 20.

Call Me Kuchu (Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, 2012)

Habibi: Arab-American filmmaker Susan Youssef’s first fiction film set in Gaza in more than 15 years tells the story of two Palestinian students torn apart by Irael and Palestine's political and social boundaries. Habibi challenges the stereotype of Arab women, coinciding with the New York premiere of Salaam Dunk about the struggles of an Iraqi women's basketball team. Stay for Q&As after each screening.

Don't miss Closing Night on June 28 featuring Call Me Kuchu, a documentary about David Kato and other activists who are fighting to repeal Uganda's homophobic laws to liberate their fellow lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens, or “kuchus.” Filmmakers Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall and film subject Longjones Wambere in person for a post-screening panel discussion.

It's probably obvious by now that film subject, director or activist Q&As follow most of the screenings, but all the films will enlighten and empower you with the knowledge of what Human Rights Watch Film Festival director John Biaggi calls “the powerful impact that individuals have on human rights issues on the world stage. These films demonstrate that committed individuals can generate positive and lasting change.”

For a full lineup, schedule, and more info about the films and events, read our press release or download the Human Rights Watch Film Festival brochure as a PDF. The Member priority ticketing period starts on May 17; tickets go on sale to the General Public on May 24.