Gianluca Costantini


The Human Rights Watch Film Festival will be presented in London from 6 to 17 March, 2017, featuring 16 award-winning international documentary feature films that grapple with the challenges of defending human rights around the world today. Audiences will also have an opportunity to watch selected festival titles online thanks to the continuing partnership with MUBI.

Alexander Kuznetsov

“In an era of global advances by far-right forces into the political mainstream, it’s more urgent than ever for the program to highlight individuals and groups exhibiting courageous resilience in challenging times”, said John Biaggi, creative director of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. “Whether it’s Chinese migrant workers, a teenager from Hong Kong, internet sleuths, the indigenous Mayan population in Guatemala, elderly women revealing historic sexual exploitation, a female squash player from Pakistan or ‘the Egyptian Jon Stewart’, I am proud that more than half this year’s program celebrates collective action and revolutionary voices, and tells of activists’ triumph over oppression.”

“Over the past 20 years the Festival has featured virtually the entire body of work by the distinguished filmmaker Raoul Peck and it’s a great pleasure to announce that the Opening Night film is his latest, the Oscar-nominated I Am Not Your Negro,” Biaggi added. “Three festival titles – including our closing night film, the 2016 IDFA winner for Best Documentary Nowhere to Hide – explore the reality of life for people seeking refuge from conflict and terror. I am delighted that 7 out of the 16 films screening this year are made by women, and that Maria Toorpakai, who became Pakistan’s finest woman squash player despite Taliban death threats, will attend the screening of Girl Unbound.

Benjamin Lear

The Human Rights Watch fundraising benefit gala on March 6 at the British Museum will shine a timely light on the integrity of journalism with the award-winning filmmaker Fred Peabody’s All Governments Lie, followed by an on-stage discussion. Peabody explores the life and legacy of the godfather of independent journalism, I.F. Stone, and examines how Stone’s successors – among them the filmmaker Michael Moore, Democracy Now founder Amy Goodman, The Intercept founders Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, and Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone – are exposing government and corporate deception, just as Stone did decades ago.

The Festival will open on March 9 at Picturehouse Central with Raoul Peck’s powerful I Am Not Your Negro. This latest work from the great director combines rich archival footage with the words of James Baldwin – narrated by Samuel L. Jackson – for an up-to-the-minute examination of race in America. The film will be followed by a panel discussion chaired by writer and broadcaster Gaylene Gould.

For closing night on March 17 at the Barbican, the filmmaker Zaradasht Ahmed will present his immersive and uncompromising Nowhere to Hide, with a first person account from a male nurse, Nori Sharif, who is from one of the world’s most dangerous and inaccessible areas, Jalawla in Iraq. After US troops left Iraq in 2011, Ahmed gave Sharif a camera asking him to capture the reality of life in his community, for his family and in the hospital where he worked. The result reveals extraordinary resilience and fortitude in the face of extreme danger and displacement.

Ronen Zaretzky and Yael Kipper

Throughout the festival, which includes two world premieres, eight UK premieres, two London premieres, and one exclusive preview, many filmmakers and Human Rights Watch experts will take part in in-depth post-screening Q&A and panel discussions.

Four titles, including the closing night film, connect directly to current US policy regarding the movement of refugees, as well as Israeli settlers. British sisters Sophia and Georgia Scott will present the world premiere of their new film, Lost in Lebanon, which follows four Syrians whose lives become increasingly desperate due to the devastating consequences of new visa laws implemented by the Lebanese government. Through these stories the film highlights the reality for displaced Syrians, who are being left without education and health care and are stateless.

Ivan is The Good Postman who is running for mayor and campaigning to bring life to his aging and increasingly deserted Bulgarian village, by welcoming refugees and their families to settle there. With warmth, humour, and humanity, the filmmaker Tonislav Hristov’s often surreal documentary, set in a forgotten village on a route for asylum seekers making their way through Europe, provides valuable insight into the evolving discussions that dominate international politics.

Fred Peabody

With uninhibited access Shimon Dotan’s The Settlers cracks open the world of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank: their daily lives, their worldviews, and their position within Israel. The film captures the casual zealotry, racism, and untroubled certainty of many settlers in this contentious and controversial space. Dotan lays out the facts with extraordinary care and lucidity, allowing viewers to see the progression of actions and reactions that have led to the current volatile situation.

Two festival titles give pause for thought regarding the human cost of people’s dependence on electronic devices and the internet. Heather White and Lynn Zhang will present the world premiere of their film Complicit, which follows factory workers harmed by exposure to chemicals in their work as they fight the Chinese electronics giant Foxconn. Led by migrant worker, Yi Yeting, who is struggling to survive his own work-induced leukaemia, he equips and empowers other sick factory workers to try to save lives and improve working conditions for millions of Chinese people, in the process confronting some of the world’s most profitable and recognised brands, among them Apple and Samsung.

James Baldwin

Ideas of citizenship, privacy, and democracy are challenged to the very core in Nicholas de Pencier’s gripping Black Code. Based on Ronald Deibert’s book of the same name, the film follows international cyber stewards from the Toronto-based group Citizen Lab, who have documented how exiled Tibetan monks are attempting to circumvent China’s surveillance apparatus; Syrian citizens have been tortured for making Facebook posts; Brazilian activists are using social media to livestream police abuses; and Pakistani activists have opposed online campaigns for violence against women. Continue

Maria Toorpakai
Sara Taksler