Human Rights Watch Film Festival

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival will be presented in London from 9 to 18 March, 2016, featuring 16 inspiring, topical and provocative documentaries and dramas, Human Rights Watch said today. The films include George Amponsah’s The Hard Stop about Mark Duggan and the Tottenham riots, Hany Abu-Assad’s biopic The Idol about Mohammad Assaf, a Palestinian pop singer who won the TV Talent show “Arab Idol” in 2013, and Dalibor Matanić’s Cannes Film Festival winner, the Balkan drama The High Sun.

To celebrate this 20th anniversary edition the festival also includes four additional Special Programmes combining visual media with in-depth discussions about filmmaking and human rights between Human Rights Watch experts and independent human rights advocates including Charif Kiwan, spokesman for the Syrian film collective Abounaddara, the filmmakers Kim Longinotto, and James Brabazon, and photographers Giles Duley and Zalmaï

We are proud and excited to be celebrating our 20th anniversary in London this year with a programme that looks at some of the most urgent human rights issues facing the world today”, said John Biaggi, creative director, Human Rights Watch Film Festival. The stand out themes this year are censorship and freedom in China; migration and the refugee crisis; artists as agitators; as well as LGBT, children and women’s rights – and weaving throughout is empowered personal filmmaking shows that it is as much the journeys made by the filmmakers themselves as the struggles faced by their subjects  that make human rights storytelling so powerful. I’m also thrilled that MUBI continues to partner with the festival, showing select films from the programme to allow audiences beyond London to be a part of the festival experience”.

The fund-raising Benefit Gala on Wednesday 9 March at the British Museum will be the UK premiere of the award winning Among The Believers, an exploration of the Red Mosque Islamic schools in Pakistan – which, according to the film, number tens of thousands across the country – that train young children to devote their lives to jihad. With extensive access, including in-depth interviews with the radical cleric Abdul Aziz Ghazi, this documentary charts his personal quest to impose a strict version of Sharia (Islamic law) throughout the country as a model for the world. The filmmakers, Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Ali Naqvi, and the film’s writer/producer, Jonathan Goodman Levitt, will attend the screening.

The Opening Night film on Thursday 10 March at the Curzon Soho is the UK premiere of Hooligan Sparrow, which highlights the cost of defending human rights in China today. The filmmaker, Nanfu Wang, joins a group of fugitive activists, including the maverick Ye Haiyan (aka “Hooligan Sparrow”) who go on the run across southern China to avoid government thugs and arrest after protesting the sexual abuse of six schoolgirls by their headmaster and government officials.

The Closing Night film on 18 March at Picturehouse Central is Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s  Academy Award nominated debut drama Mustang, the story of five rebellious sisters growing up in Turkey who suddenly find their family home transformed into a prison, their schoolwork replaced by compulsory household chores and their futures dominated by arranged marriages.

Throughout the festival many filmmakers and Human Rights Watch experts will take part in in-depth post-screening Q&A discussions.

Three films, and a special programme event, highlight migration and the refugee crisis this year. Andreas Koefoed’s At Home in the World intimately portrays ordinary children in extraordinary circumstances as they await the outcomes of their asylum claims at a Red Cross school in Denmark. George Kurian’s The Crossing gives a first-hand account of the perilous journey of a group of Syrian refugees and their struggle to keep their sense of identity and purpose once they get to Europe, and Jonas Carpignano’s drama Mediterranea charts the struggle of two Burkinabe brothers who cross deserts and oceans to pursue a better life only to face racism in a small town in Italy.

During the special programme discussion of Desperate Journey: Europe’s Refugee Crisis, the Human Rights Watch emergencies director, Peter Bouckaert, and Zalmaï, the Afghan-born photographer, will share their insights and images, and discuss how governments can effectively respond to the refugee crisis.

The complex ethics, opportunities and risks of human rights filmmaking and reporting will be discussed in another three special programmes, to give audiences a greater understanding of the work of Human Rights Watch and human rights advocacy in general.

A panel discussion, A Right to The Image, with Giles Duley, Kim Longinotto and Chiraf Kiwan will explore the notion of a right to the image that protects the dignity of subjects, as well as the integrity of the journalists, filmmakers, photographers, and researchers who work in these situations.


The Risk, Security and Storytelling workshop with James Brabazon and the Human Rights Watch security director, Matt Timblin, will explore how to operate safely in a conflict zone and return with material that succeeds on both an editorial and an ethical level.

Nadim Houry, the Human Rights Watch deputy Middle East and North Africa director,  and Andrea Holley, strategic director of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival will discuss the investigative techniques used to assemble the Human Rights Watch report If The Dead Could Speak, which revealed the human stories behind a set of 53,275 photographs that were smuggled out of Syria by a military defector in August 2013. The final report, which took nine months of research, included at least 6,786 images of people who had died in government custody.
Complex ethical issues are also revealed in two documentaries. In P.S. Jerusalem – following the death of her father the noted journalist and author Amos Elon – the director Danae Elon moves her young family from New York to her hometown of Jerusalem and intimately captures the experiences and endless questions of two of her young boys as they confront the reality around them. In Sonita (winner of Sundance 2016 Grand Jury Prize for Documentary and World Cinema Audience Award for Documentary) the filmmaker Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami documents and ultimately alters the course of the life of the feisty Afghan teenager Sonita, who despite living as a refugee in Iran, where female singers are banned from singing solo, as well as her family’s plans to sell her for $9,000 as a teenage bride, remains determined to become a famous rapper.

Another artist as agitator is profiled in Adam Sjöberg’s Korea/China-focused documentary I Am Sun Mu, which delves into the life and work of the anonymous North Korean artist who defected to the south and worked under a defiant alias meaning “no boundaries” to criticise the repressive regime of Kim Jong-un. Offered a solo exhibition in China, Sun Mu prepares his show undercover, risking freedom and safety to expose the truth through art.

Two festival titles examine the state of LGBT rights in two of the world’s superpowers: the US and China. In China, Sophia Luvara’s Inside the Chinese Closet exposes the difficult decisions young LGBT people are making – including fake marriages – when forced to balance their quest for love with parental and cultural expectations. Jean Carlomusto’s Larry Kramer In Love & Anger portrays the legendary author, pioneering activist and playwright Larry Kramer, who called in the 1980s for direct action to make AIDS a national issue, forever changing public health policy. Kramer remains one of the most outspoken and controversial figures in contemporary gay America.

Another changemaker takes centre stage in Richard Todd’s Frackman, about the Australian accidental anti-fracking activist Dayne Pratzsky who takes on international gas companies in an effort to halt industrial-scale fracking in the state of Queensland. In his transformation from pig-shooter to global activist, he brings together a peculiar alliance of farmers, activists and political conservatives who unite behind him in protest.

Eight of the festival films are directed by women, including Gini Reticker’s The Trials of Spring, a selection of shorts that look at women from Bahrain, Libya, Syria and Yemen who were on the front lines of the Arab Spring uprisings five years ago, and took to the streets beside men, their signs held high. But as the jubilation of revolution gave way to the convoluted process of governing – and often the chaos and blood of war – women have disappeared from the mainstream story.


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