The Human Rights Watch Film Festival, now in its 32nd year, will present its second full digital edition of groundbreaking new films, available nationwide in the US from May 19 through 27, 2021. The film festival will feature in-depth online discussions with filmmakers, film participants, and Human Rights Watch researchers and advocates.
As the world continues to grapple with the realities of isolation amid a global pandemic, relationships with neighbors and local communities have become increasingly important. This year’s films take a closer look at just how strong these bonds can be.
“This year’s program resonates especially throughout this time of Covid-19, as we become increasingly aware that the advancement of human rights is deeply dependent on the health and unity of families and communities,” said John Biaggi, director of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. “This powerful and vibrant cultural theme spotlights the crucial importance of community bonds in realizing a more just and caring society.”
The 10 films in this year’s festival present a message of being stronger together, from the tireless support of parents fighting for their child’s education in New York to the cyclical nature of incarceration affecting families in the United States, the struggles of marginalized farmers in Colombia and the misinformation campaigns of Chinese and U.S. leadership that seek to tear people apart. The festival is proud to share films that mirror the challenges of this difficult moment in history, celebrating representation and perspective. This year’s lineup reinforces the understanding that without inclusivity, there will be no progress.
The opening night film Forget Me Not is an intimate documentary that follows the film’s director, Olivier Bernier, his wife Hilda and their 3-year-old son Emilio as they navigate New York City’s public school system, notorious for segregating children with disabilities, and fight for Emilio’s placement in integrated classes to create a more inclusive education system for all. The closing night film, Daughter of a Lost Bird, follows new mother Kendra Mylnechuk Potter on her personal journey as she discovers her Native identity after being raised by her adopted white family since she was a baby.
In 200 Meters, the right to family unity is paramount in this stirring drama about a family split by the separation wall between the West Bank and Israel. After his son is injured, Mustafa embarks upon a perilous journey to cross the border illegally to rejoin them. In Tacheles-The Heart of the Matter, a painful confrontation with history opens up old family wounds, in which 21-year-old Yaar asks: What does the Holocaust have to do with me?
The US criminal legal system is an ongoing source of human rights violations, a system that continues to perpetuate racial oppression, injustice, and abuse. Three films this year offer a cinematic triptych on the state of criminal justice and highlight alternatives to incarceration, lifting up the stories of those tirelessly fighting for change and equality. Apart shares the stories of incarcerated mothers and their families, showing the importance of rehabilitation assistance in addressing intergenerational trauma caused by the criminal justice system. Unapologetic follows two fierce pioneers as they spearhead a civil rights movement in Chicago fighting for liberation and a public safety system that does not depend on police. A Once and Future Peace shares an inspiring new restorative justice program working with youth in Seattle based on Indigenous peace-making circles.
Following her critically acclaimed film One Child Nation, director Nanfu Wang’s In The Same Breath intimately explores the parallel misinformation campaigns led by U.S. and Chinese leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic, weaving a revelatory picture of mass cover-ups and highlighting the strength and resilience of healthcare workers, activists, and family members who work tirelessly to spread truth.
In Bajo Fuego (Under Siege), we are exposed to the impact of the global “war on drugs,” looking closely at the current situation in Colombia, following the 2016 peace deal, in which the government ordered farmers in the coca-growing region to destroy their coca crops. These under-resourced farmers must mobilize to protect their livelihoods, while also dealing with the threat of emerging armed groups. The Return: Life After ISIS is the gripping tale of the young women who left their homes in the US and UK as teenagers to join the Islamic State and are now held as ISIS suspects in northeast Syria. Confronted by hostile journalists and governments, these women seek to understand their truth and heal from their trauma with the help of Kurdish women’s rights activists.
The Human Rights Watch Film Festival continues to collaborate closely with its longtime cinema venue partners Film at Lincoln Center and IFC Center for the online 2021 edition of the festival. The festival plans to return to Film at Lincoln Center and IFC Center in 2022 and beyond.
“Film at Lincoln Center is proud to continue its longstanding partnership with the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, which shows us once again that cinema can be a powerful agent of change,” said Dennis Lim, Director of Programming for Film at Lincoln Center and the New York Film Festival. “That this second virtual edition is accessible to communities nationwide makes it all the more impactful.”
John Vanco, Senior Vice President and General Manager of IFC Center, adds, “IFC Center is proud to continue our long-running partnership with the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. For many years, the festival has brought our audiences important films about some of the world’s most urgent issues, and we’re very happy to be working with them again on another great lineup.”
Bobby Allen, Co-Chair, Human Rights Watch Film Benefit Committee and SVP Production, MUBI, states, “Cinema is an incredibly powerful way to educate people on the human rights issues that are impacting the world today. The work the Human Rights Watch Film Festival does is crucial to driving awareness of these issues and MUBI is proud to partner with the festival to bring this important collection of films online and make them available to audiences across the U.S.”
To celebrate this latest edition, audiences also have an opportunity to watch select festival highlights from previous editions thanks to the continuing partnership with MUBI.
The full 2021 lineup is as follows:
200 Meters, Ameen Nayfeh, Palestine/Jordan/Qatar/Italy/Sweden
A Once and Future Peace, Eric Daniel Metzgar, USA
Apart, Jennifer Redfearn, USA
Bajo Fuego (Under Siege), Sjoerd Van Grootheest, Irene Vélez-Torres, Colombia
Daughter Of A Lost Bird, Brooke Pepion Swaney, USA (Closing Night)
Forget Me Not, Olivier Bernier, USA (Opening Night)
In the Same Breath, Nanfu Wang, USA/China
The Return: Life After ISIS, Alba Sotorra Clua, Spain / UK
Tacheles – The Heart of the Matter, Jana Matthes & Andrea Schramm, Germany
Unapologetic, Ashley O’Shay, USA
Tickets are on sale now. Audience members will be able to reserve and purchase individual film screening tickets by title, or a festival pass that will provide access to all 10 films. Access to films will be available to all individual ticket and festival pass holders to watch at their own pace during the film festival dates of May 19 through May 27.
To purchase tickets and to access program updates, please visit: https://www.hrwfilmfestivalstream.org/