The Human Rights Watch Film Festival has been playing all year in various cities around the world. It opens in New York City on June 12, 2014 and runs until June 22. Every year, this festival pulls together some of the most compelling documentaries and dramas from across the globe that highlight human rights violations in some way. Not all of the films are as somber as you’d think, however.
I had the opportunity to screen four of this year’s films, and they are all worth seeing, especially if you’re interested in staying informed about the world’s cultures. There are, of course, many more movies in the festival. Check out the website and buy tickets now if you’re in New York, where the fest is affiliated with the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Independent Film Center. If you aren’t in NYC, check the schedule for other cities, or simply make note of the films you want to see when they become available.
Here is a brief rundown of the movies I’ve seen, three of which were directed by women.
“For Those Who Can Tell No Tales” is about a subject I’ve been learning more about lately – the systematic rape of women during the war in Bosnia as a premeditated weapon and effort toward populating the country with half-Serbian children. The film is based on a play about Kym Vercoe’s actual experiences in Bosnia, during which she found herself sleeping in a “hotel” that had been the site of numerous rapes, tortures, and murders.
The movie is Vercoe’s tribute to those who lost their lives, as we watch her experience a host of emotions in a country trying to recover from a history of horrors. You will hold your heart during the ending. The film was directed by Jasmila Žbanić.
“The Supreme Price” is filmmaker Joanna Lipper’s account of the life and work of a very brave woman in Nigeria – Hafsat Abiola. She is attempting to transform her government into a democracy that would give everyone a better life, particularly the women who are currently marginalized. Abiola does this in spite of the fact that her mother was assassinated by “agents of the military dictatorship” and that her father’s presidential victory was annulled. He later died in prison.
At the time of her mother’s murder, Abiola was set to graduate from Harvard. The film follows her quest to continue her parents’ work, putting her life in danger for the rights and future of her country’s people. Inspiring doesn’t even come close to cutting it.
“Scheherazade’s Diary” is a documentary about a group of incarcerated women in Lebanon working together in drama therapy to put on a play. There are subtitled interviews with each woman, one of whom spent four years in detention before she was found innocent of her murder charge. Another woman had bad teeth, and an audience member eventually offered to fix them for her.
Many of these women found themselves imprisoned largely because of the inherent hazards of being female in Lebanon. Only in 2013 did the country pass a law protecting women from domestic violence.
I laughed and cried along with each woman. Zeina Daccache’s filmmaking is very intimate. By the end of it, you’ll feel like you know them all.
“Siddharth” is Richie Mehta’s drama set in India about a father who goes on a search for his son. The family is so poor that they send their son away to work, but when he doesn’t return when he should, they discover that he has probably been abducted by child traffickers.
This touching movie gives us a glimpse into third world poverty and the perils that are inherent in it. This movie has been getting a fair amount of buzz, so keep an eye out for it. The performances are quite good.
Most heartbreaking of all, this film is based on a true story. Mehta met a man on the streets of Delhi in 2010 who told him this very tale. The man was illiterate and could not spell his son’s name, nor did he have a photograph of the boy because he was too impoverished to own a camera. He had to work every day to care for the rest of his family, so all he could do was ask people on the street to help him find his son. He had been asking for help for a year when Mehta met him.
On the film’s website, Mehta writes, “This film is my attempt to reconcile my extremely layered relationship with this circumstance. It’s a story made up in equal parts by tragedy and optimism, and I hope what we’ve done here transmits even a fraction of the confusion, sorrow, helplessness, and ultimately, hope that I felt in meeting this man.”