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A still from "Sonita"
A still from “Sonita”

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival is presented by the Human Rights Watch organization. The film festival brings to light human rights abuses around the world. In a time when investigative journalism is rarely funded, these documentaries are vital to help us stay informed about these abuses and to instigate change.

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival currently screens in more than 20 cities around the world throughout the year. Unfortunately, it’s already over in most cities and is finishing up in New York and Chicago this weekend. I have managed to screen four of the films, which I’ll capsulize below. When they make it into a theater in your area or become available on demand, I recommend them.

If you’re in New York, a couple of the films below can still be screened this weekend. Visit the website of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which is co-presenting the Festival, for more information.

“The Uncondemned,” directed by Michele Mitchell and Nick Louvel, was my favorite of the four films I watched. It’s both harrowing and uplifting. It’s about a group of young international lawyers and activists who fought to have rape recognized as a war crime, and the Rwandan women who came forward to testify and win justice for the crimes committed against them. The results of their efforts changed the world of criminal justice. Most inspiring are the subtitled interviews with the women who suffered. By telling their stories, they regained their dignity and felt a great deal of healing even though they experienced unimaginable atrocities. Their courage is unfathomable.

“Sonita,” directed by Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami, is my other favorite. It won the 2016 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary. It’s about an Afghan teen living in Tehran, Iran, who is quite an accomplished rapper. She raps about her fears of being married off to an older man and about how her culture treats women. Her family plans to marry her as a teen in order to get the dowry, and it’s illegal in Iran for girls to sing solo. So, again, the courage of this girl is hard for us in the west to fathom. What happens to her is nothing short of a miracle, but I don’t want to spoil it. You have to see this to believe it. To call it a film about female empowerment is a gross understatement. You can still catch this film in New York on Sunday, June 19 at 7pm at the IFC Center.

“Inside the Chinese Closet,” directed by Sophia Luvara, is about a strange phenomenon in China. Since the culture expects people to marry, gay men and lesbians meet at “fake-marriage fairs” to make deals to marry each other to satisfy their families and society. One man in the film says that his father knows he’s gay, but he plans to marry a woman so that his father doesn’t have to deal with their extended family. This film will screen again tonight, June 18, at 9pm at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

“Jackson,” directed by Maisie Crow, is a harrowing account of what the anti-abortion movement has done to women in Mississippi, especially women who live in poverty. Set against the backdrop of the fight over the last abortion clinic in Mississippi, the film takes a close look inside the issues surrounding abortion.

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