The 2015 Human Rights Watch Film Festival will be presented in New York City from June 11-21, with 16 films from across the globe that celebrate individuals and communities who affect change. The festival is co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and IFC Center.
This year’s themes are Art Versus Oppression, Changemakers and Justice and Peace. “This year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival is all about challenging the status quo,” said the festival’s creative director, John Biaggi, in a statement. “From fighting government corruption in Guatemala, to fighting to bring back the female voice in Iran, to fighting against the stereotyping of young African-American men in the U.S., the films this year showcase both the need and determination of individuals to reform unjust social, cultural and political systems worldwide.”
The festival will open with a fundraising benefit night featuring Matthew Heineman’s “Cartel Land,” which won the U.S. Documentary directing and Cinematography awards at the Sundance Film Festival. Director Marc Silver will be at the June 12 Opening Night screening of another Sundance award-winner, “3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets.” The Closing Night screening on June 21 will be the renowned documentarian Stanley Nelson’s “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.” The director and some of the film’s subjects will be on hand for a discussion afterward.
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The complete lineup is below with descriptions courtesy of the festival:
Art Versus Oppression
“No Land’s Song”
The Iranian filmmaker Ayat Najafi’s musical journey “No Land’s Song” follows his composer sister Sara’s attempts to organize a concert in Tehran despite restrictions prohibiting female solo singers from performing before a mixed audience. The festival is pleased to present Najafi with its 2015 Nestor Almendros Award for courage in filmmaking.
“Beats of the Antonov”
Winner of the Toronto Film Festival’s audience award for documentary, Hajooj Kuka’s “Beats of the Antonov” immerses viewers in the world of the Sudanese farmers, herders and rebels of the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountain regions, who defiantly continue to tend their lands and celebrate their musical heritage in the face of a government bombing campaign.
“The Dream of Shahrazad”
Filmed before, during and after the Arab Spring, Francois Verster’s kaleidoscopic “The Dream of Shahrazad” uses the metaphor of Shahrazad—the princess who saves her life by telling stories—to explore the ways in which creativity and politics coincide in response to oppression.
“The Yes Men Are Revolting”
New York’s own The Yes Men team with the filmmaker Laura Nix for The Yes Men Are Revolting, which follows the activist-pranksters as they pull the rug out from under mega-corporations, government officials and the media in a series of stunts designed to draw awareness to climate change.
“Burden of Peace”
Joey Boink’s intimate documentary “Burden of Peace” follows Claudia Paz y Paz, Guatemala’s first female attorney general, as she prosecutes the former dictator Efraín Rios Montt for his role in the genocide of nearly 200,000 Mayan Guatemalans.
“Life is Sacred”
Andreas Dalsgaard’s “Life is Sacred” reveals how the unorthodox presidential candidate Antanas Mockus and his enthusiastic young activist supporters attempt to reverse the vicious cycle of violence that is part of everyday life in Colombia.
“The Trials of Spring”
Oscar-nominated filmmaker Gini Reticker’s “The Trials of Spring,” which will be shown in its world premiere, tells the stories of three Egyptian women who risk everything to fight for change in their country. This feature documentary anchors a larger multimedia project at the festival about women activists from the Middle East and North Africa.
“What Tomorrow Brings”
Beth Murphy’s “What Tomorrow Brings,” which will be presented as a work-in-progress screening, chronicles a year in the life of the first all-girls school in a remote, conservative Afghan village.
“The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution”
The Closing Night screening will be the renowned documentarian Stanley Nelson’s “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution,” a history of the Black Panther Party in the US, featuring rare archival footage, from the Party’s beginnings to its ultimate dissolution. The director and some of the film’s subjects will be on hand for a discussion afterward.
Justice and Peace
“The Look of Silence”
Joshua Oppenheimer’s multi-award-winning “The Look of Silence,” the companion piece to his “The Act of Killing” (HRWFF 2013), focuses on a village optometrist who confronts the men who murdered his brother during Indonesia’s anti-communist purges of the 1960s.
“Of Men and War”
The psychological toll of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is laid bare in Laurent Bécue-Renard’s “Of Men and War,” which looks at a group of combat veterans at a group therapy center as they struggle to overcome their Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and rebuild their lives.
Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe’s “(T)ERROR” puts the filmmakers on the ground during an active FBI counterterrorism sting operation as they follow “Shariff,” a black revolutionary-turned-informant, in his attempt to befriend a suspected Taliban sympathizer and build a case against him.
“This is My Land”
The Israeli-born director Tamara Erde’s “This Is My Land” takes viewers inside six independently run schools in Israel and the occupied West Bank to investigate how history is taught in this contested region.
Through stop-motion animation, drawings and interviews, Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan’s “The Wanted 18” recreates the true story of the Israeli army’s pursuit of 18 cows whose independent milk production on a Palestinian collective farm was declared “a threat to the national security of the state of Israel.”
The Benefit Night’s “Cartel Land” and Opening Night’s “3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets” are also featured in this theme.
A Right to the Image
By examining various bodies of work from the worlds of human rights filmmaking and photography, documentarian Pamela Yates, photographer Susan Meiselas and Charif Kiwan, co-founder of Abounaddara Collective, will explore the notion of “a right to the image” that protects the dignity of subjects, as well as the integrity of the journalists, image-makers and researchers who work in these situations.
The Trials of Spring: A Multimedia Initiative
The Trials of Spring is an initiative that aims to elevate the stories of the women who were on the front lines of the uprisings that swept the Arab world in 2011. The project includes six short films profiling women from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria, a feature documentary focused on Egypt, and an outreach campaign that will bring these stories to stakeholders, educators and grassroots organizations around the world. This program will feature a selection of the short films and a discussion with the multi-disciplinary team.
The Unravelling: Human Rights Reporting and Digital Storytelling
During this master class, the Human Rights Watch emergencies director, Peter Bouckaert, and leading photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale will focus on their multimedia project The Unravelling to show how Human Rights Watch used the techniques and strategies of international crisis reporting and digital storytelling to reveal the little-known humanitarian crisis in the Central African Republic. Bleasdale was awarded the Robert Capa Gold Medal by the Associated Press in 2015 for his work for Human Rights Watch in the Central African Republic.
In conjunction with this year’s film program, the festival will present Turkana, an exhibition by the photographer Brent Stirton that documents the challenges that the Turkana people of Kenya face in accessing their rights to water, health and livelihood. 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.