Just when you were despairing at the gung-ho 3D big studio Cineplex drek on show as spring and summer approach, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival comes to London as part of its global tour, with a series of nineteen intelligent, topical, global, confrontational and eye-opening work, screening at the Curzon Soho, Curzon Mayfair, the ICA and the Ritzy. Visit the main festival site for a full list of screenings and a look at the brilliant line-up of talks and debates happening alongside the films. Most of the screenings are followed by extremely well-programmed panel debates discussing the issues with the director/s, critics, academics, activists and politically and socially engaged artists. If you’re interested in work looking specifically at women’s place in society then take a look at three standout works amidst a generally stunning programme:
|A still from The Price of Sex|
I support this festival wholeheartedly. All the films aim to “address economic inequality and consequences worldwide” and are organised around four themes: development, environment and the global economy; migrants’ rights and racism; personal testimony and witnessing; and women’s rights. The roster is impressively international, with 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 festival will launch tomorrow, Wednesday, 21 March, at the Curzon Mayfair with a fundraising benefit and reception for Human Rights Watch, featuring Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi’s film 5 Broken Cameras. 5 Broken Cameras documents a Palestinian village's struggle against violence and oppression. The wall consumes much of the village’s arable land and allows nearby settlements to extend onto villagers’ fields. A cycle of resistance and retaliation develops between the village and the settlements.
On Thursday 22 March, the Curzon Soho will host the opening night film, Jon Shenk’s The Island President, which follows former President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives (who was forced to resign the presidency this February) 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, creating the world’s first cohort of environmental refugees.
- 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.
- Documentary Special Flight, in which director Fermand Melgar has gained extensive access to rejected asylum seekers and illegal migrants in Switzerland’s Frambois detention centre.
- 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.
- 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.
- Annie Goldson’s documentary Brother Number One tells New Zealander Rob Hamill’s 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, takes the stand as a witness at the Cambodia War Crimes Tribunal, faces the former prison warden Comrade Duch, 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.
- Werner Herzog’s exploration of life on death row, Into The Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life, 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.
- Lise Birk Pedersen’s documentary Putin’s Kiss focuses on 19-year-old Masha and her journey through the Kremlin-created Nashi youth movement. Masha supports Putin’s policies of seeking to rid Russia of what Nashi believes are Russia’s “enemies”: political opposition, investigative journalists, and human rights defenders. But as a journalist herself she starts socialising with colleagues in this circle, and begins to question Nashi and its leaders.
- In Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Daniel Junge’s Oscar-winning documentary Saving Face plastic surgeon Dr Mohammad Jawad 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.
- 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.
And now for......
4. Her Noise: Feminisms and the Sonic performance, talks, symposium and screening at the Tate Modern, 3rd – 5th May 2012. Book tickets here.