This year’s edition highlights a broad diversity of themes and topics: failures in the justice system, the importance of a free press, the intersection of health and human rights, climate change and environmental justice, and a timely and personal look at the Ukraine conflict. What shines through is the determination and courage of individuals standing up for their freedom and rights.
This year’s festival will present 10 films screening at Film at Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and IFC Center May 31-June 8 with in-depth post-film discussions with filmmakers, film participants, activists, and Human Rights Watch researchers. The films will also be available on our streaming site for audiences across the US to watch at home from June 5-June 11.
Two films this year turn a critical eye on systems of justice. Our Opening Night film, Seven Winters in Tehran, is a haunting documentary about Reyhaneh Jabbari, a 19-year-old Iranian woman sentenced to death for killing the man who tried to rape her. The film focuses on the patriarchal justice system, where men are in charge and women’s voices are often silenced. In our Centerpiece film, Theatre of Violence, we are taken on a journey through the modern history of Uganda by a charismatic Ugandan lawyer who is defending former child soldier Daniel Ongwen as he faces trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. It becomes clear that this is not just a trial of one man, a victim-turned-perpetrator, but also of a European form of justice imposed on an African country.
The importance of a free press is explored in The Etilaat Roz—where a courageous Afghan journalist records his team at Kabul’s largest newspaper as the Taliban takes over Afghanistan in 2021. In Draw Me Egypt - Doaa El-Adl, A Stroke of Freedom, we witness the daily struggles of one of the most prominent cartoonists of the Arab world, Doaa El Adl, who faces censorship, intimidation, and death threats as she takes on the patriarchy through her art.
Three films in this year’s festival delve into issues of health and human rights. Our Closing Night film, Pay or Die, follows three families struggling with the crushing financial reality of living with Type 1 diabetes in the US, where pharmaceutical companies, bolstered by the government’s lack of regulation, push the price of insulin to exorbitant levels. Koromousso, Big Sister introduces us to three joyful and passionate activists—survivors of female genital mutilation (FGM)—who find strength and joy in each other as they work to remove stigma and to educate their communities about a life-changing new procedure for reconstructive surgery. In Nicolo Bassetti’s tender documentary, Into My Name, we meet four young transgender men in Italy on a journey of self-discovery as they seek to determine their own gender identities while dealing with society’s often-rigid boundaries and navigating the labyrinthine medical system.
Two films in our program focus on environmental justice and the effects of climate change. Razing Liberty Square profiles Liberty Square, a historically black neighborhood in Miami that was the first segregated public housing project in the South. As rising sea levels cause widespread damage to wealthy oceanfront neighborhoods in the city, it draws the attention of developers, and a “revitalization” project begins that threatens to erase this community. We Are Guardians expertly weaves together multiple threads—Indigenous forest guardians, illegal loggers, cattle ranchers, and a landowner struggling to preserve the rich ecosystem within his land from encroaching settlers—to help paint a picture of the complexity of what is happening to the Amazon.
The festival takes a close look at Ukraine with When Spring Came to Bucha by renowned photographer Mila Teshaieva, which beautifully profiles the citizens of Bucha, Ukraine, after the Russian army has left, as they work to rebuild their lives and community while supporting one another and finding moments of joy.
This year’s program reflects the festival’s ethos of celebrating representation, and diversity of content and perspective. We strive to prioritize space for identities, viewpoints, forms of expertise and experiences either silenced or marginalized in the film industry, news, and media.
We welcome you to join us in celebrating the power of individuals to make a difference at this year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival.