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Human Rights Watch Film Festival preview

The 16th edition of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival will be presented in London from 21-30 March, 2012.
The international feature programme includes 15 documentaries and 4 dramas, from Afghanistan, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Cambodia, the Canary Islands, Ethiopia, Iraq, Italy, Lebanon, the Maldives, Pakistan, Palestine, Paraguay, Russia, Switzerland, Ukraine and the USA. Many of the films will be followed by Q&A sessions with filmmakers, and some by panel discussions with experts and film subjects.
The films being showcased during the festival will bring a variety of perspectives from one filmmaker's attempt to uncover the secrets of the Eastern European sex trade (The Price of Sex), to another's attempt to dissect the presentation of Breast Cancer campaigning in the media (Pink Ribbons Inc.); from personal accounts of police brutality at a G8 protest (Black Block), to personal accounts of the loss of a family member to the Khmer Rouge (Brother Number One); from the story of the plastic surgeon who tries to reconstruct Pakistani women's faces (Saving Face), to the story of the men who have taken lives and await their fate on death row (Into the Abyss) - these films, along with many more, make this year's Human Rights Watch Film Festival packed with stories from around the world that resonate with contemporary society.


19 Films Address Economic Inequality and Consequences Worldwide


(London, 10 February 2012) – The 16th edition of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival will be presented in London from 21-30 March, 2012, Human Rights Watch said today.

The international feature programme includes 15 documentaries and 4 dramas, from Afghanistan, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Cambodia, the Canary Islands, Ethiopia, Iraq, Italy, Lebanon, the Maldives, Pakistan, Palestine, Paraguay, Russia, Switzerland, Ukraine and the USA. Many of the films will be followed by Q&A sessions with filmmakers, and some by panel discussions with experts and film subjects.

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival programme this year is organised around four themes: development, environment and the global economy; migrants’ rights and racism; personal testimony and witnessing; and women’s rights.

“Since last year’s festival, the popular protests worldwide – from the Arab Spring to the Occupy movements – have struck at a fundamental issue of our time: increasing economic inequality and its consequences,” said John Biaggi, Human Rights Watch Film Festival director, “Our 2012 programme focuses on key elements of the current situation at both a micro and macro level”.
The festival will launch on Wednesday, 21 March at the Curzon Mayfair with a fundraising benefit and reception for Human Rights Watch, featuring Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi’s 5 Broken Cameras which documents one Palestinian village’s struggle against violence and oppression. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion including Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi, Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch and Daniel Levy, Senior Research Fellow, American Strategy Program and Co-Director, Middle East Task Force. It will be moderated by David Mepham, the Human Rights Watch UK director.

On Thursday 22 March, the Curzon Soho will host the opening night film and reception, with Jon Shenk’s The Island President, a timely documentary which follows former President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives (who on Tuesday 7 February 2012 was forced to resign the presidency) as he fights to convince the world’s policymakers to do something concrete about climate change. The Maldives is in danger of disappearing below rising sea levels, making the people the world’s first entire nation threatened with becoming environmental refugees. The screening will be followed by a discussion with Jon Shenk (tbc); Mark Lynas, climate advisor to President Nasheed, and Ahmed Shafeeq Moosa, envoy for science and technology in the presidents office. The discussion will be moderated by Damian Carrington, Head of Environment, The Guardian.

The closing night film and reception will be on Friday 30 March at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton. It will feature Nadine Labaki’s drama Where Do We Go Now?, the story of a group of women determined to protect their isolated, mine-encircled community. With the women united by a common cause, their unwavering friendship transcends the religious fault lines that criss-cross their society. The women hatch inventive, and often comical plans to distract the village’s men and achieve the women’s goal. The film will be followed by a discussion with Nadine Labaki, director.

Development, Environment, and the Global Economy
In two festival titles, both set in Latin America, the corporate commoditisation of two basic elements of life – seeds and water – impact on the survival of individuals.

Bettina Borgfeld and David Bernet’s documentary Raising Resistance follows the life-and-death struggle of farmers in Paraguay confronted with the ever-expanding production of genetically modified soy, which requires herbicides and decimates nearby crops. The film will be followed by a Q&A with Betina Borgfeld, director.

Icíar Bollaín’s drama Even The Rain, starring Gael Garcia Bernal as Sebastián and written by Paul Laverty, is based on events of the “Bolivian water war” of April 2000. The film parallels protests against the privatisation of the water supply with the making of a film about Christopher Columbus, raising the question: how much has changed in 500 years? The film will be followed by a Q&A Paul Laverty, screenwriter.

Migrants’ Rights and Racism
Three festival titles highlight the issues and abuses faced by migrants and asylum seekers in Europe.

In the documentary Special Flight, the director, Fermand Melgar, gained extensive access to his subjects, rejected asylum seekers and illegal migrants in Switzerland’s Frambois detention centre. There are three possible outcomes for every resident: to leave free, with asylum granted; to leave the country by choice on a regular flight; or to leave in custody on a so-called ‘special flight’.

Maggie Peren’s drama Colour of the Ocean tells the story of a father and son, African refugees whose paths collide with those of an altruistic tourist and a Canary Island police officer. Questions of responsibility repeatedly arise and haunt all concerned as they grapple with the knowledge they cannot know for certain if their actions will make matters better or worse.

Julia Ivanova’s documentary Family Portait in Black and White tells the story of Olga Nenya, who is single-handedly raising 23 foster children in rural Ukraine. Sixteen are the biracial offspring of visiting African students and Ukrainian women, who often see no choice but to abandon their babies. Olga reveals herself to be loving and protective but also narrow-minded and controlling. A product of communist ideology, she favours collective duty over individual freedom, and this paradox gives the children the sense of belonging they ache for, as well as cause for rebellion and distrust. The film will be followed by a Q&A with director Julia Ivanova.

Personal Testimony and Witnessing:
Five films in this year’s festival reveal the permanent and pervasive impact human rights abuses have wrought on the lives of individuals.

Through personal testimony, Carlo Augusto Bachschmidt’s Black Block documents the police violence and arbitrary detention experienced by seven activists who demonstrated at the 2001 Genoa G8 summit. Each person describes brutal treatment by the Italian police that night, and in the days that followed. Despite their trauma, the survivors grow more determined to pursue their activism in a number of new ways. The film will be followed by a Q&A with the director and with Daniel McQuillan and Mina Zapatero, film subjects.

Annie Goldson’s documentary Brother Number One tells New Zealander Rob Hamill’s deeply personal story about the deaths in 1978 of his brother Kerry Hamill, and his two friends − John Dewhirst of England, and Stuart Glass of Canada, at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. As Rob retraces his brother’s final days, he takes the stand as a witness at the Cambodia War Crimes Tribunal. He faces the former prison warden known as Comrade Duch, the man who gave the final orders for Kerry and thousands of others to be tortured and killed, and meets survivors who tell the story of the notorious S-21 prison. The film will be followed by a Q&A with Annie Goldson, director, and Rob Hamill, film subject.

Werner Herzog’s exploration of life on death row, Into The Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life, documents the devastating effects of capital punishment on all involved. Herzog follows the story of Michael Perry, who was executed eight days after filming began, and Jason Burkett, who were found guilty of three capital murders in Texas, and unravels the crime and trial from separate viewpoints, including the victim’s families and prison staff. The film will be followed by a Q&A with Werner Herzog, director.

Lieven Corthouts’ documentary “Little Heaven,” set in Ethiopia, allows the viewer to experience life through 13-year-old Lydia’s expressive face and her daily routines at the Little Heaven orphanage for children living with HIV. Despite being abandoned by their families or left alone when their parents died, the children and their caretakers form a new family. Their HIV status is always in the background, but small victories show a life full of hope, not despair. The film will be followed by a Q&A with Lieven Corthouts, director.

Lise Birk Pedersen’s documentary Putin’s Kiss is a coming-of-age tale focusing on 19-year-old Masha and her journey through the Kremlin-created Nashi youth movement. Masha wholeheartedly supports Putin’s policies of seeking to rid Russia of what Nashi believes are Russia’s “enemies” -- the political opposition, investigative journalists, and human rights defenders. But as a journalist herself she starts socialising with colleagues in this very circle, and begins to question Nashi and its leaders. The film will be followed by a Q&A with Lise Birk Pedersen, director.

Women’s Rights
Six festival films tell women’s stories from around the world.

The Emmy-nominated photojournalist Mimi Chakarova filmed undercover and gained extraordinary access in her intimate documentary The Price of Sex, about young Eastern European women drawn into a world of sex trafficking and abuse. Chakarova’s film is told by the young women who managed to escape and refused to be silenced by shame, fear, and violence. The film will be followed by a Q&A with Mimi Chakarova, director. The screening on Saturday 24 March will be followed by a panel discussion with Mimi Chakarova and Abigail Stepnitz, national coordinator of the Poppy Project, which provides support to women who have been trafficked. It will be moderated by Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch.

Mimi Chakarova was the winner of the 2011 Nestor Almendros Award, announced at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York in June 2011, for The Price of Sex.

In Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Daniel Junge’s Oscar-winning documentary Saving Face Dr Mohammad Jawad, a plastic surgeon from Pakistan now practising in London, travels to Pakistan to treat women who have suffered acid attacks. Among them is Zakia, who goes to court to prosecute her husband for her attack. She becomes the first case tried under a new law in Pakistan that punishes the attackers with life imprisonment. The film will be followed by a discussion with Obaid Chinoy, Daniel Junge and Dr Mohammed Jawad, moderated by Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch and introduced by Katie Piper, founder of the Katie Piper Foundation.

Fuelled by often chilling interviews with activists, patients, and writers, Léa Pool’s critical, investigative documentary, Pink Ribbons, Inc. focuses on the increased involvement of corporations in fundraising campaigns and the impact it has had on the breast cancer ‘culture’, and media messages about women with breast cancer. The film indicates the undue emphasis on awareness and the search for a cure has skewed the types of research being done, and many campaigns to raise money have done more for the companies than for the cause. The film will be followed by a Q&A with Léa Pool, director.

Susan Youssef’s drama Habibi tells the story of young lovers Qays (Kais Nashef) and Layla (Maisa Abd Elhadi) who are university students in the West Bank. Both are forced home to Khan Yunis before they have completed their studies and in this more religious and traditional environment their love story can continue only if they marry. Yet Qays is too poor to convince Layla’s father that he can provide for his beloved daughter. In an act of rebellion Qays paints verses from the classical poem Majnun Layla all over Khan Yunis, which angers Layla’s father and the local self-appointed moral police. The film will be followed by a Q&A with Susan Youssef, director, and Man Kit Lam, film editor, on Sunday, 25 March.

With plenty of pop music and ‘girl power’, David Fine’s documentary Salaam Dunk delivers a tale of hope and inspiration, courtesy of one winning group of Iraqi women basketball players at the American University in Sulaimani, Iraq. Education is the difference between the past and the future for these women – who include Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, and Christians – and basketball becomes a key part of that education. Through interviews and personal video diaries, viewers learn about the women, their families, and their experiences since the US invasion in 2003.

In Tanaz Eshaghian’s documentary Love Crimes of Kabul, viewers meet three young Afghani female prisoners as they go on trial for “moral crimes,” which include running away from home to escape abuse and allegations of adultery. In refusing to fit into society’s norms by their defiant actions,these women come to be seen as threats to the very fabric of society, and their acts of self-determination as illegal. The film will be followed by a Q&A with Tanaz Eschaghian, director.

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