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Return to Homs

Filmed between August 2011 and August 2013, Return to Homs is a remarkably intimate portrait of a group of young revolutionaries in the city of Homs in western Syria. They dream of their country being free from President Bashar al-Assad and fight for justice through peaceful demonstrations. As the army acts ever more brutally and their city transforms into a ghost town, the young men begin to take up arms. The protagonists are two friends: Basset, the charismatic 19-year-old goalkeeper of the national soccer team whose revolutionary songs make him the voice of the protest movement, and Osama, a 24-year-old media activist and cameraman. The close-up camerawork takes the viewer right into the city and scenes of grim battles in a deserted city soon replace those of lively protest parties in the streets. World Cinema Grand Jury Prize Documentary, Sundance Film Festival 2014   Courtesy of Proaction Film

Renowned cinematographer and filmmaker Nestor Almendros (1930–1992) was a founder of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, actively involved in the selection of films and the promotion of human rights filmmaking. Even while deeply immersed in his own projects, he took the time to call the Festival team to mention a strong documentary or promote a work-in-progress. Believing in the power of human rights filmmaking, Nestor devoted himself to becoming a mentor to many young filmmakers. It is in the Festival's loving memory of Nestor and our desire to celebrate his vision that we proudly bestow this award to filmmakers for their exceptional commitment to human rights.

The Festival is delighted to present director Talal Derki and producer Orwa Nyrabia—filmmakers of Return to Homs—with our 2014 Nestor Almendros Award for courage in filmmaking.

Anti-government protests erupted in Syria's southern governorate of Daraa in March 2011 and quickly spread to other parts of the country, including Homs. Security forces responded brutally to stamp out dissent, launching large-scale military operations in towns nationwide. During these operations, Human Rights Watch documented the unlawful killing of thousands of protesters and residents; arbitrary arrests, detention, and torture of thousands, including women and children, peaceful activists, and journalists; and the denial of medical assistance. In July 2012, as the peaceful uprising morphed into an internal armed conflict, laws of war violations by the government accelerated, including indiscriminate bombing and artillery attacks on populated areas and the use of starvation during sieges.