Welcome to the 31st edition of the New York Human Rights Watch Film Festival. Tickets are now on sale and virtual screenings begin on June 11.

There has rarely been a time when individuals around the world have lived such shared human experiences as right now. Our interdependence is clear: what impacts one individual, family, society affects us all — and yet basic human rights, including pathways to medical and economic survival, are felt most severely by those already impacted by stark inequalities. The world needs to hear powerful and uplifting stories of those demanding justice, equality, and safety for themselves, their communities, and future generations. 

And so, for the first time ever, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival presents a full digital edition of emboldening new films that will be available nationwide, and which will feature in-depth online discussions with filmmakers, film subjects, and Human Rights Watch researchers. 

The 11 films in this year’s festival are truly global in scope, and present an overriding message of hope, from reform of the criminal justice system in the US, to the fight for reproductive rights in Ireland, and the reframing of long-suppressed yet ever-powerful indigenous voices in Peru and North America. We are excited to share films that reflect a resounding, global, rallying cry: the will of the people shall not be ignored. Echoing Human Rights Watch’s own guiding principle of Investigate, Expose, and Change, our 2020 program reflects the many steps in ensuring human rights for all.

Investigate: In Opening Night’s Belly of the Beast, brave and tenacious women from inside the California women’s penal system work tirelessly with women on the outside to uncover systematic forced sterilization of countless prisoners. Coded Bias highlights how one woman’s in-depth investigation uncovers the racial and gender biases built into Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology and its far-reaching ramifications. Mexican journalists in Radio Silence encounter threats and very real acts of violence, overcoming fear to ensure audiences receive vital information and access to truth, despite their government’s attempts to muzzle them. And in Down a Dark Stairwell, filmmaker Ursula Liang peels back layers of accountability in the police system through a single criminal case, and its destructive impact on the Chinese-American and African-American communities.

Expose: Four films reveal wider social realities through the lens of individual experience. Beautifully understated and intimately filmed, I Am Samuel shares journeys of personal and political pressures, persecution, and pride within a tight-knit group of gay men in Kenya. Sensitive and nuanced, From Here captures four stories of individuals defining what it means to “belong” in societies that are increasingly hostile to their existence. Reunited tells a story of love across borders, and the compromises a family must make when it is torn apart by circumstances beyond its control. And in the stunning Welcome to Chechnya, brave Chechnyan and Russian activists risk their lives to help ferry at-risk members of the closeted LGBT Chechnyan community to safety in Europe. 

Change: Strong women are the trailblazing force of the global human rights movement. The 8th accompanies the leaders of Ireland’s decades-long movements as they organize and raise their voices to end one of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws. In Maxima, we meet the remarkable Máxima Acuña, who stares down one of the world’s largest mining corporations to defend her farm in Peru. Our Closing Night film Gather celebrates the fruits of the indigenous food sovereignty movement, profiling innovative changemakers in Native American tribes across North America; from a master chef opening a restaurant serving ancestral dishes on his reservation, to the master forager teaching hunting and gathering traditions to her granddaughter, and a father and daughter bringing back the buffalo to the plains, this film focuses on humans reconnecting with their past and their environment as a form of resistance and survival.

A very special thanks this year to our wonderful cinema partners, Film at Lincoln Center and IFC Center, who are co-presenting this online edition. We are looking forward to our return to their dynamic cinema spaces for the 2021 New York edition!

We hope you will continue to join us in supporting and celebrating human rights achievements in film! 

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival team