London Human Rights Film Festival 2015


Wim Wenders

Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Celebrating Individual and Community Efforts to Effect Change

18-27 March 2015, London
Barbican, British Museum, Curzon Soho, Ritzy Picturehouse

(London, February 12, 2015) – The 19th edition of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London will be presented from 18 to 27 March, 2015 with a programme of 16 award-winning documentary and feature films, Human Rights Watch said today.

The festival will include live music performances following screenings of Beats of the Antonov and No Land’s Song and a Guardian Masterclass focusing on human rights reporting and digital storytelling. The festival will take place at the Barbican, British Museum, Curzon Soho, and Ritzy Brixton.

“This year’s festival features many determined, brave individuals – such as Colombia’s philosopher-politician-teacher Antanas Mockus, the Afghan school founder Razia Jan, and Guatemala’s first female attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz   who have made huge personal sacrifices to bring about change”, said John Biaggi, director of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. “Nearly every film in this year’s festival celebrates the power of individuals and communities to challenge and interrupt the status quo, whether societal taboos or family truths. Particularly heartening is how young people from all around the world are demanding change and transparency whether its through the democratic process or, on a more personal level, by knowing and challenging difficult family truths and taboos.”

This year’s film programme, which will feature a Q&A session after every screening, includes the international premiere of Joey Boink’s Burden of Peace, the European premiere of Marcia Tambutti Allende’s Beyond My Grandfather Allende, an exclusive preview of Beth Murphy’s What Tomorrow Brings, plus 11 UK premieres.

The programme is organised around four themes: Arts Versus oppression; Changemakers; Family History and Human Rights; and Home and ‘Security’. Within these themes festival titles look at climate change, the democratic process, migrant homelessness in Europe, journalists’ security, the complete ban on abortion in Nicaragua and girls’ education in Afghanistan. The programme has a strong Latin American focus with films from Chile, Columbia, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Peru, and includes films focusing on Afghanistan, China’s Uyghur minority, Europe, Egypt, Turkey  and Lebanon, Iran, Palestine, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

The fundraising benefit film and reception for Human Rights Watch will take place for the first time at the British Museum, on Wednesday 18 March. The event will include the UK Premiere of Wim Wenders’ and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado’s Academy Award® nominated The Salt of the Earth followed by a discussion with the photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale and with Carroll Bogert, deputy executive director for external relations, Human Rights Watch. The moderator will be David Mepham, UK director at Human Rights Watch.

The Salt of the Earth follows the internationally renowned photographer Sebastião Salgado  – Juliano Ribeiro Salgado’s father – across continents as he builds a new masterwork on climate change, one image at a time.

The opening night event on Thursday 19 March at the Curzon Soho will be the UK premiere of The Yes Men are Revolting attended by Laura Nix and the Yes Men.

For the last 20 years, notorious activists the Yes Men have staged hoaxes to draw international attention to corporate crimes against humanity and the environment and expose the dangers of letting greed run our world. In their third cinematic outing (after The Yes Men and The Yes Men Fix The World), they are now well into their 40s, and their mid-life crises are threatening to drive them out of activism forever – even as they prepare to take on the biggest challenge they’ve ever faced: climate change.

The festival will close on Friday 27 March at the Ritzy with Jon Stewart’s powerful and effecting directorial debut Rosewater, starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Kim Bodnia and Shohreh Aghdashloo. The film is both a moving personal story and a tribute to journalists who risk their freedom, and even their lives to tell the stories behind world-changing events. The screening will be followed by a discussion with film subject Maziar Bahari.

In 2009, Iranian/Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari was covering Iran’s volatile elections for Newsweek. One of the few reporters living in the country with access to US media, he made an appearance on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”. The interview was intended as satire, but if Tehran’s authorities got the joke, they didn’t like it. They rousted Bahari from his family home and threw him into prison. Rosewater recounts Bahari’s efforts to maintain his hope and his sanity in the face of isolation and persecution – through memories of his family, recollections of the music he loves, and thoughts of his wife and unborn child. Rosewater is based on the memoir ‘Then They Came for Me‘ by Maziar Bahari with Aimee Molloy. 

This year’s centrepiece film is the European premiere of Beyond My Grandfather Allende, a highly personal documentary made by the granddaughter of Salvadore Allende, Marcia Tambutti Allende, who will attend festival screenings.

In 1970, Salvador Allende became the first democratic-socialist president elected in Latin America. Following his violent removal from power by a military coup d’état in Chile on September 11, 1973, and his death the same day, Allende and his iconic image became a worldwide symbol for democracy and human rights.

The documentary follows Tambutti on an intimate journey as she struggles to recover the personal side of her grandfather, which her family did not always welcome –something not always welcomed by her family. The paradox between public and private deepens her search and often mirrors elements of Chilean society. Throughout Tambutti’s exploration, the viewer feels the reluctance and discomfort of her family and begins to understand the complex emotions and politics that have ruled over them all for over 40 years.

A second Latin-American documentary within the Family History and Human Rights strand is Mikael Wiström’s Storm In The Andes in which two very different young women find common ground in a painful yet liberating search for the truth about family members involved in the 20-year war initiated by the Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path, rebels in Peru.

Josefin Ekermann who grew up in Sweden, travels to Peru against her family’s wishes to find out the real story about her Peruvian aunt, Augusta La Torre, who she discovers created the violent Maoist guerrilla movement Sendero Luminoso, together with her husband, Abimael Guzman. In Peru, Wiström introduces Josefin to Flor Gonzales, whose father was the leader of a successful peasant rebellion against the landlords in 1974. Flor is trying to find out what happened during her childhood and why her oldest brother was arrested and killed during the war that was started by Sendero Luminoso in 1980. Mikael Wiström and Josefin Ekermann will attend the festival.

Three titles in the Arts Versus Oppression strand demonstrate the restorative and revolutionary power of music and storytelling:

Beats of The Antonov is a celebration of defiant cultural expression and a unique perspective on the complex realities of a divided Sudan. The Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka spent two years living alongside farmers, herders, and rebels displaced in the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountain regions during a government campaign against the rebels, filming their lives in hillside hide-outs and refugee camps. Destructive air-raids are but occasional moments in the film, which instead focuses on the vibrant music of the region: a pulsing lifeblood of cultural resilience in the face of everyday conflict. After a raid, it is not unusual to hear the sound of laughter and music signalling that a strike is over. Young women exert a powerful agency through ‘Girls Music’, and improvised compositions become a wry commentary on the daily injustices of war. Hajooj Kuka will attend the festival.

The screening at the Ritzy Picturehouse will be followed at Upstairs at the Ritzy by a live performance by Minnjiaraby, a band founded in 2001 by Senegalese guitarist, singer and composer Abdoulaye Samb.

Francois Verster’s The Dream of The Shahrazad is at once observational documentary, concert film, political meditation, and visual translation of an ever- popular symphonic and literary classic. The film uses the metaphor of Shahrazad–the princess in the classic tale of The 1001 (Arabian) Nights who saves lives by telling stories to the murderous Sultan Shahriyar – to explore the ways in which creativity and politics coincide in response to oppression. It was and filmed before, during, and after the so-called Arab Spring.

The film weaves a web of music, politics, and storytelling through a series of  characters, including conductor Cem Mansur who uses Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade suite as a tool for Istanbul political education, a young female Lebanese internet activist, a visual artist who finds his own “dream of Shahrazad”, and a Cairo theatre troupe who turn the testimonies of mothers of the Egyptian revolution martyrs into storytelling performances. Francois Verster will attend the festival.

Ayat Najafi’s political thriller and musical journey No Land’s Song looks at the loss of the female voice in Iran. The Islamic revolution of 1979 banned female singers from appearing in public. Women are no longer allowed to perform solo, unless to an exclusively female audience, and recordings of former female icons can only be bought on the black market.

But Sara Najafi is determined to revive the female voices as she courageously plans an evening of Iranian and French female soloists to rebuild shattered cultural bridges. For two-and-a-half years, the director, Ayat Najafi follows the preparations between Tehran and Paris that are always touch and go. What’s still possible? What goes too far? Sara Najafi’s regular meetings with the Ministry of Culture shed light on the system’s logic and arbitrariness, though officials there can only be heard and not seen. Ayat Najafi will be on Skype for a Q&A session following festival screenings.

Strong, inspirational characters and stories in the Changemakers strand:

Joey Boink’s Burden of Peace follows Guatemala’s first female attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz. After taking office, she gets spectacular results, including the arrest of a former head of state charged with genocide. But her determined efforts encounter strong resistance from powerful elites that have typically felt above the law. With extraordinary access to Paz y Paz from the beginning of her term, Boing allows viewers to witness her battle to bring to justice powerful criminals and corrupt politicians. Burden of Peace is an epic tale of personal sacrifice, hard-fought change, and hope. Joey Boink will attend the festival.

Andreas M. Dalsgaard’s Life is Sacred reveals how the unorthodox presidential candidate Antanas Mockus and his enthusiastic young activist supporters attempt to reverse the vicious cycle of violence that is part of everyday life in Colombia with an imaginative and positive election campaign. As mayor of Bogotá, dressed in a Superman costume and with an indomitable trust in the good intentions of his fellow citizens, he took on towering crime rates and people’s bad traffic habits. But his idealism is both his strength and his weakness in an aggressive political system in which he struggles to restore people’s faith in being able to make a difference. Andreas Dalsgaard will attend the festival.

Filmed over three years, Camilla Nielsson’s observational storytelling delivers compelling insight into the inner circles of politics in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Democrats follows two political opponents, the forceful Mangwana of the long-time ruling party ZANU-PF, and the Movement for Democratic Change’s progressive Mwonzora, as they face the gargantuan task of writing a new constitution. for the country. The process is marred from the outset: sinister theatrics from ZANU-PF corrupt a nationwide consultation designed to hear the people’s voice, secret police keep a watchful eye on the proceedings, and meetings descend into violent clashes. Mangwana and Mwonzora are determined to push on. But as the drama unfolds, the grave personal costs of to reaching political victory become clear. Camilla Nielsson will attend the festival.

Alessandra Zeka and Holen Sabrina Kahn’s A Quiet Inquisition follows Dr. Carla Cerrato, a gynecologist and obstetrician  who in her  day-to-day work must choose between following Nicaragua’s abortion ban, which endangers her patients, and providing the care that she knows can save a woman’s life. In 2007, the newly elected government of Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist revolutionary who converted to Catholicism to win votes, overturned a 130- year-old law protecting therapeutic abortion. The new law entirely prohibits abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, or when a woman’s life is at stake.

As Cerrato and her colleagues navigate this dangerous territory, the impact of this law emerges— illuminating the reality of the prohibition against the backdrop of a political, religious, and historically complex national identity. Alessandra Zeka and Holen Sabrina Kahn will attend the festival.

In What Tomorrow Brings the director, Beth Murphy, follows one year in the life of the first all-girls school in a remote, conservative Afghan village. The film traces the inter-connected stories of those who bring the school to life: students, teachers, village elders, parents, and the school’s founder, Razia Jan. While the girls learn to read and write, their education goes far beyond the classroom, with lessons about tradition and time. They discover their school is the one place they can turn to understand the differences between the lives they were born into and the lives they dream of leading. Beth Murphy will attend the festival.

European economic migrants, China’s Uyghur minority and “Intifada milk”-producing cows are the subjects of the festival’s Home and ‘Security’ strand:

The Shelter is the third part of Fernand Melgar’s documentation of the migrant experience in Europe (The Fortress and Emmy-nominated Special Flight), and  testament to the power of film to shed light on stories hidden in the shadows. This latest offering charts a cold winter at an emergency shelter for homeless migrants in the wealthy city of Lausanne. His sensitive approach renders the camera invisible, immersing us straight to the heart of a hidden bunker where the same dramatic ritual unfolds every night. Shelter staff have the terrible task of randomly selecting the evening’s residents: women and children first, men later if there is room. The shelter can hold 100 people, yet frustratingly, only 50 ‘chosen ones’ will be allowed inside the concrete walls. Those who remain outside face a long and lonely night. Fernand Melgar will attend the festival.

In the thriller-like Uyghurs, Prisoners of the Absurd Patricio Henríquez lays bare the worrisome drifts in the global economic war and the fight against terrorism.  The film follows 22 members of China’s Uyghur minority who happen to be in Afghanistan in October 2001 as US-led forces invade in search of Osama bin Laden.

These Turkic-speaking Muslims are fleeing repressive authorities in Beijing, which view them
as dangerous terrorists. They are about to become pawns on the chessboard of international politico-economic interests. Sold to US forces, they are illegally detained at Guantánamo for years. Henríquez’s film focuses on three of these “survivors of the absurd.” Patricio Henríquez will attend the festival.

Told variously from the perspectives of Palestinian activists from the West Bank town of Beit Sahour, Israeli military officials, and – via stop-motion animation – cows, Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan’s The Wanted 18 tells the true story of town residents who buy 18 cows and produce their own milk as a co-operative. Their venture is so successful that the collective farm becomes a landmark, and the cows local celebrities – until the Israeli army declares that the farm is “a threat to the national security of the state of Israel.” The dairy is forced to go underground, with the cows producing their “Intifada milk” and  the Israeli army in relentless pursuit. Amer Shomali will attend the festival.

The festival will also feature a Guardian Masterclass on human rights reporting and digital storytelling, which will show how Human Rights Watch used the techniques and strategies of international crisis reporting and multimedia storytelling to reveal the invisible humanitarian crisis in the little-known Central African Republic.

Peter Bouckaert, the Human Rights Watch emergencies director, and Marcus Bleasdale, a leading photojournalist, will discuss the essentials of international crisis reporting – from on-the-ground investigation methods, to using multiple platforms to reach the broadest audience possible.

In November 2013, the two men began a journey to document the ethnic cleansing, war crimes and horrific bloodshed that were taking place in the little-known Central African Republic. Culminating in the multimedia project The Unravelling their investigations have become the most important source of information on a crisis that continues today. The afternoon seminar includes documentary footage from The Unravelling, as well as discussions on how the project was produced and disseminated.

For more information on the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, please visit:

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