(London, 10 February 2022) – Human Rights Watch proudly presents the 26th edition of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival from 17-25 March, in partnership with Barbican Cinema, and generously supported by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery.
Ten compelling new films from around the world are presented at this year’s festival, including three screenings at the Barbican in London with live, digital Q&A’s — Opening Night, Centrepiece, and Closing Night. The festival will stream a full digital edition across the UK and Ireland, with pre- recorded in-depth talks with filmmakers, film participants, activists, and Human Rights Watch advocates.
The filmmakers at this year’s festival foreground issues around freedom of choice, cultural expression, and family trauma, showing individuals and communities standing in solidarity to create change and amplify marginalised voices. Even during the global pandemic, communities are coming together and making a difference —from journalists in Myanmar, Latinx community members in Texas, and young girls in Bangladesh, to judges in Poland and asylum seekers in the UK.
The Opening Night film is the world premiere of Silence Heard Loud, which poetically weaves the intersecting first-person stories of seven asylum seekers in the UK, fighting to preserve their dreams and dignity as they navigate the British immigration system. The artist-filmmaker Anna Konik first met her protagonists, Angela, Janahan, Merwa, Michael, Mohamed, Nirmala and Selamawit in 2018, while she was running an art workshop, organised by Compass Project, which enables refugees seeking asylum in the UK to study at Birkbeck University. They had fled war, terrorism, ethnic hatred, persecution and domestic violence. It seems that they have achieved their goals and may now start a new life in Europe. But she raises the issue of whether this is really the end of their problems and the beginning of a new, better life.
The inspirational Closing Night film, award-winning Bangla Surf Girls, is the coming-of-age documentary about three teenage girls, Shobe, Aisha and Suma, who join a local surf club in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh and fight to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to chase their dream of becoming Bangladesh’s first women surfers to compete internationally. This intimate and collaborative debut film by a Bangladeshi filmmaker Elizabeth D. Costa, produced and written by Lalita Krishna, was made possible through the deep trust gained by the filmmaker with the girls and their families, and reveals how local solutions have wide-reaching impact.
“We are living through unprecedented times, and the films in this year’s line-up speak directly to many issues we currently face,” said John Biaggi, director of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. “We are very proud of this year’s film and discussion programme, which highlights the ability to create change through courageous individuals on both sides of the lens, and to experience what happens when, little by little, solidarity turns into a resounding voice that the powers that be can’t ignore. We look forward to welcoming audiences back into the Barbican’s beautiful Cinema 1 and to inviting mainland UK and Irish audiences to our digital screenings and conversations.”
Laura Chow, head of charities at People’s Postcode Lottery said: “Film is an incredibly powerful medium for raising awareness and engaging people on some of today’s most pressing human rights issues. I’m pleased that players of People’s Postcode Lottery are supporting Human Rights Watch’s UK Film Festival and look forward to seeing what the festival has on offer.”
Gali Gold, head of Barbican Cinema, said: “It’s a privilege for Barbican Cinema to co-present this year’s edition, and the line-up of these 10 powerful films, which bring to the fore vital human rights issues. I am particularly thrilled to welcome the festival and its audience back to Cinema 1 for the Opening, Closing and Centrepiece screenings with three important and strong titles, Silence Heard Loud, Boycott, and Bangla Surf Girls and to take part in the live on-line, discussions, which we will beam into the cinema.”
Freedom of expression and threats to democracy are the focus of five films in the programme.
In Boycott, the Centrepiece presentation of this year’s festival, the veteran filmmaker Julia Bacha (Naila and the Uprising; Budrus) pulls back the curtain on the architects of anti-boycott laws in 33 states of the US that are designed to curtail freedom of speech and penalise individuals undertaking boycotts to create social change. As the wave of anti-boycott legislation has swept through the US, so has a counter-wave in defence of freedom of speech. Boycott focuses on the personal stories and legal battles of everyday Americans – Alan Leveritt, a newspaper publisher in Arkansas, Mikkel Jordahl, an attorney in Arizona, and Bahia Amawi, a childhood speech therapist in the Texas public school system – who are challenging these laws.
Directed by Petr Lom, a group of anonymous filmmakers, the “Myanmar Film Collective,” present the visceral hybrid film Myanmar Diaries, which intimately reveals what life is like inside their country after the military overthrew the civilian government just over a year ago. Short, creative vignettes made by 10 young anonymous filmmakers, combine artistically with harrowing citizen journalism, to show how Myanmar went from the military coup to nationwide protests and civil disobedience, to barbaric repression.
The festival is delighted to announce that Myanmar Diaries is awarded the inaugural Tony Elliott Impact Award, supported by Time Out. The award, in honour of the magazine’s founder Tony Elliott, a committed human rights advocate and champion of emerging film talent, will give financial support to the filmmakers, and additional promotional support to help amplify the film’s future international distribution. Myanmar Diaries was unanimously selected by Rufus Elliott; the film critic Anna Smith and the Time Out Global Film Editor Phil de Semlyen for its nail-biting storytelling, guerrilla inventiveness, raw courage, and filmmaking craft.
Through insightful interviews and beautiful animated sequences, Jason Loftus’ immersive documentary Eternal Spring reveals the persecution of religious movements, and political dissent by the Chinese government. Stunning animation of drawings by the comic book artist Daxiong (Justice Laws, Star Wars) graphically reveal his personal memories and experiences, following a bold and perilous hack into state television by a group of Chinese activists.
Judges Under Pressure directed by Kacper Lisowski, written and produced by Iwona Harris, provides a clarion call to the growing vulnerability of judicial independence through the stories of several Polish judges under threat of being fired or arrested by Poland’s right-wing ruling party. One of these judges is Igor Tuleya, who withstands pressure and issues verdicts that are unfavourable to those in power. The film shows the consequences of his uncompromising stance, how political pressure affects his life, and the remarkable solidarity shown to him by other judges and citizens.
As millions of Americans stand to lose their access to abortion, communities of colour and low- income communities will be most impacted. Maya Cueva and Leah Galant’s On The Divide chronicles three people with diverse perspectives who are connected to the only remaining abortion clinic in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas along the US-Mexico border, which has become a battleground for reproductive rights.
The impact of trauma on families, and the importance of cultural connection are explored in three films in the festival.
In Jana Matthes and Andrea Schramm’s Tacheles – The Heart of the Matter, Yaar, a young Jewish Berliner, attempts to process and overcome intergenerational trauma by developing a video game set in 1940’s Germany based on his grandmother’s experience, where he enables Jews to defend themselves and Nazis to act humanely. Yaar’s father is shocked, and the work opens old family wounds left unaddressed for generations. Yaar must find his way between the trauma of preceding generations, and his own claim to an unburdened life.
In the emotionally resonant Daughter of a Lost Bird, made over a seven-year period by Brooke Pepion Swaney, viewers meet Kendra Mylnechuk Potter, who was adopted into a white family as a child, as she finds her birth mother and discovers her Native American identity and the purposeful erasure of cultural identity for Native communities in the United States. In many ways, Kendra Potter is a perfect example of cultural assimilation. She grew up in a loving, upper middle-class family, and feels no loss with the absence of Native American culture in her family or life. And yet as a Blackfeet/Salish woman, and Kendra’s friend, Swaney, the director, could not imagine that Kendra could be content or complete without understanding her Lummi heritage.
Cultural and intergenerational trauma erupt in Dina Amer’s extraordinary directorial debut, You Resemble Me, an intimate drama about the complex life of Hasna Aït Boulahcen, a refugee and survivor of abuse in France who, after the November 2015 Paris bombings, was inaccurately labelled “Europe’s first female suicide bomber.” With executive producers Spike Lee, Spike Jonze, Alma Har’el and Riz Ahmed, Dina Amer’s provocative film explores the unexamined roots of trauma and the devastating decision that one woman made in the name of belonging.
All 10 festival films are available to stream throughout the festival dates. In-person and online audiences will be able to participate in the live-captioned Q&A discussions for the Opening, Closing and Centrepiece screenings at the times detailed below. Pre-recorded film talks will be available for the digital-only programme throughout the festival. Details about the screenings and discussions can be found at https://ff.hrw.org/london
Poland / 2022 / Anna Konik / 71m World Premiere
Barbican, Thursday 17 March, 6.30pm (screening), followed by live digital discussion beamed into the Cinema and digitally, for online audiences at 7.45pm.
Also streaming across the UK + Ireland from 17-25 March, online audiences can watch the film and discussion at their own pace.
In English and Arabic with English subtitles.
In Silence Heard Loud we meet seven individuals from six countries who journeyed to the UK in search of safety—fleeing from war, terrorism, ethnic hatred, persecution, and domestic violence. But the issues now facing Angela, Janahan, Merwa, Michael, Mohamed, Nirmala, and Selamawit are complex: endless asylum procedures with no permission to work, uncertainty about their futures, and the loneliness of longing for family and home. After many years of integrating into their new local communities and rebuilding their lives, their futures are still under threat. At any moment, the UK Home Office could force them to leave their lives and the relationships they have forged. This artfully crafted film is a reminder of the struggles facing members of our community, and the continued fight for refugees to find freedom and dignity as they navigate the British asylum system.
“Silence Heard Loud is authentic, personal and humanising – providing insight into the lives of the people it features, showing their everyday activities alongside their difficulties, and the human impact of immigration detention, racism, and exclusion.”, Emilie McDonnell, advocacy coordinator, Human Rights Watch
Canada / Elizabeth D. Costa / 2021 / 86m UK Premiere
Barbican, Friday 25 March, 6.30pm, followed by live digital discussion beamed into the Cinema and digitally, for online audiences at 8.00pm
Also streaming across the UK + Ireland from 17-25 March, online audiences can watch the film at their own pace.
In Bengali with English subtitles. English captions are also available.
Shobe, Aisha, and Suma, three teens from Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, are poised to make history as Bangladesh’s first women surfers in an international competition.
Driven to succeed and guided by their devoted coach, the girls find freedom in the waves as surfing becomes their only ticket out of poverty and the way for them to determine their own futures
against the backdrop of stifling families and oppressive community judgement. After their coach makes the decision to leave the club, the financial support for their surfing dries up and the odds of achieving their dreams seem insurmountable. A powerful coming-of-age story and tale of resistance by Bangladeshi filmmaker Elizabeth D. Costa, Bangla Surf Girls will have you cheering for every wave and hurdle these young women overcome.
“I may be just a kid, but I dream big. When I play with waves, I forget everything. Surfing is.… I can’t explain the feeling. It’s completely intoxicating. All my dreams have to do with surfing, but none of these dreams can happen if I am forbidden to surf.”, Shobe, film participant, Bangla Surf Girls
“Bangla Surf Girls is fantastic: compelling, beautiful, and fun to watch. The film captures very powerful statements from the girls, revealing their depth, thoughtfulness, and courage.”, Elizabeth Calvin, senior advocate, Children’s Rights Division, Human Rights Watch
U.S.A. / Julia Bacha / 2021 / 70m European Premiere
Barbican, Sunday 20 March, 3.00pm followed by live digital discussion beamed into the Cinema and digitally, for online audiences at 4.10pm.
Also streaming across the UK + Ireland from 17-25 March, online audiences can watch the film and discussion at their own pace. In English.
In a country where voting rights are under attack, the ability to boycott, or “vote with your dollar,” has been an important and impactful way for citizens of the United States to bring about change.
In Boycott, the award-winning filmmaker Julia Bacha pulls back the curtain on a movement of conservative legislators and lobbyists in the United States who are succeeding in curtailing free speech. Thirty-three states have introduced anti-boycott laws, which require individuals and companies seeking public contracts to sign a pledge promising they will not boycott Israel. After a journalist in Arkansas, an attorney in Arizona, and a speech therapist in Texas are told they must choose between their jobs and their political beliefs, they launch legal battles. Their stories cut to the heart of a pressing national issue and illustrate how the right to free speech could be redefined across US society for generations to come.
“Anti-boycott laws are a Pandora’s Box that could be used to silence voices of dissent on a whole range of issues.… Boycott lays bare what is at stake for everyday American citizens. It also shows the power of courageous individuals who are taking on great risk to stand up for the rights of all.”, Julia Bacha, director, Boycott
U.S.A. / Brooke Pepion Swaney / 2021 / 66m European Premiere
Streaming to UK + Ireland audiences, 17-25 March, including a pre-recorded discussion In English. English subtitles and captions are available.
Kendra Mylnechuk Potter was adopted into a white family and raised with no knowledge of her Native American parentage.
This beautifully personal film documents her journey as she discovers her Native identity—finding her birth mother, April, also a Native adoptee, and returning to her Lummi homelands in Washington State. In Daughter of a Lost Bird, Kendra and April’s stories show the impact of intentional government actions to erase an entire culture, including the 1958 Indian Adoption Project, which removed Native children from their families and placed them in white homes in an effort to “kill the Indian and save the man.” This poignant story shows, as James Baldwin put it: “History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us.”
“I identified as white. This strange confusion of white guilt, and native anger. Where does it sit in me? And how do I sit with both of those things?”, Kendra Mylnechuk Potter, film participant, Daughter of a Lost Bird
“This story we have been telling for seven years can’t be wrapped up in a neat bow, because it’s such a complex experience to be Native in this country. And sometimes painful, but also beautiful, and powerful, and a million other things.”, Brooke Pepion Swaney, Director, Daughter of a Lost Bird
Canada / Jason Loftus / 2022 / 86m UK Premiere
Streaming to UK + Ireland audiences, 17-25 March, including a pre-recorded discussion. In Mandarin Chinese and English with English subtitles. English captions available.
In March 2002, a state TV station in China was hijacked by members of the outlawed spiritual group Falun Gong. Their goal was to counter the government narrative about their practice.
In the aftermath, police raids sweep Changchun City, and comic book illustrator, Daxiong (Justice League, Star Wars), a Falun Gong practitioner, is forced to flee. He arrives in North America, blaming the hijacking for worsening a violent repression. But his views are challenged when he meets the lone surviving participant to have escaped China, now living in Seoul, South Korea. Combining present-day footage with 3D animation inspired by Daxiong’s art, Eternal Spring retraces the event on its 20th anniversary, and brings to life an unprecedented story of defiance, harrowing eyewitness accounts of persecution, and an exhilarating tale of determination to speak up for political and religious freedoms, no matter the cost.
“History has taught Chinese people a lesson: dare to stand up to the Party, and you will suffer.” Daxiong, film participant, Eternal Spring
Poland / Kacper Lisowski / 2021 / 87m UK Premiere
Streaming to UK + Ireland audiences 17-25 March, including a pre-recorded discussion. In Polish with English subtitles.
Democracy in Poland is hanging by a fragile thread. Facing arrest and fines if they issue rulings that are not to the government’s liking, judges join their fellow citizens and take to the streets.
Since regaining power in 2015, the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) has portrayed judges as elitist and incompetent at best, and as dissidents at worst. Judges Under Pressure follows Judge Igor Tuleya, the face of the protest movement, as he works inside and outside the courtroom with his fellow judges—risking their freedom to defend the rights of citizens. With a soundtrack featuring Polish independent artists that expresses the urgency and far-reaching impact of the situation at every level of society—the film culminates in the biggest protest in Polish history, with both Polish citizens and lawmakers from across Europe taking a stand to keep Polish democracy from slipping towards authoritarianism.
“These are beautiful people—the judges, but also the citizens, who refuse to back down. They don’t always have a camera in their hands; sometimes it’s just a piece of paper. This is a film for them.”, Kacper Lisowski, director, Judges Under Pressure
Netherlands, Myanmar, Norway / The Myanmar Film Collective / 2022 / 70m UK Premiere
Streaming to UK + Ireland audiences, 17-25 March, including a pre-recorded discussion In Burmese with English subtitles.
Myanmar Diaries by the Myanmar Film Collective, an anonymous group of filmmakers, reveals the realities of life since February 1, 2021, when the country’s military overthrew the civilian government.
Under the military’s rule of terror, the country’s media has been taken over—with the junta jailing local and foreign journalists, and repeatedly blocking mobile and internet communications. Moving organically back and forth between documentary and fiction, Myanmar Diaries is composed from a set of journalistic, raw, emotional, and creative short films, smuggled out of the country and edited together to express one strong voice of resistance that encapsulates collective anger, fear, and hope for a better future. An urgent look behind the headlines, it shares the voice of those who are standing up to the brutality of the military and fighting for freedom of expression.
U.S.A. / Maya Cueva & Leah Galant / 2021 / 79m UK Premiere
Streaming to UK + Ireland audiences 17-25 March, including a pre-recorded discussion In English and Spanish.
As millions of Americans stand to lose their access to abortion, communities of colour and low- income communities will be most impacted.
On The Divide tells the story of Whole Women’s Health, the last remaining abortion clinic on the US- Mexico border. The film breaks away from politics to show all sides of the story. We meet the clinic’s security guard, Rey, a fervent Catholic in his late sixties; Denisse, a young mother of four who volunteers as a clinic escort; and Mercedes, an ex-gang member and mother who is now part of the pro-life church movement; as well as other members of the Latinx community who find themselves in the “grey area” of the national debate. The filmmakers, Maya Cueva and Leah Galant, demonstrate how people who once held rigid beliefs can change—and what choice and survival really look like for those most affected.
“We made this film because we wanted to highlight the nuances in religion and abortion and really focus on a Latinx community that is often misrepresented in the news or is not highlighted around the issue of abortion. We wanted to show all the intersections that come into play and why people make the choice that they make.” Maya Cueva, co-director, On the Divide
“Our characters share many cultural similarities, and their stories create space for connection and dialogue as opposed to division. Their stories demonstrate how people who once held rigid beliefs can change and what choice and survival really looks like for those in the heart of the battle surrounding reproductive rights.”, Maya Cueva and Leah Galant, directors, On the Divide
Germany / Jana Matthes & Andrea Schramm / 2020 / 104m
Streaming to UK + Ireland audiences, 17-25 March, including a pre-recorded discussion. In German, Hebrew, and English with English subtitles.
Three generations removed from the Holocaust, Yaar is a young Jewish Berliner desperate to leave the past behind.
He develops a computer game set in 1940s Germany featuring a young Jewish girl based on his grandmother, Rina, which enables Jews to defend themselves, and Nazis to act humanely. Yaar’s father is shocked, and the work opens old family wounds left unaddressed for generations. Tacheles
– The Heart of the Matter follows the journey of this family’s painful confrontation with history that will forever change Yaar’s relationships with his father, and explores with growing self-awareness how trauma of survivors is inherited, asking the burning question from the perspective of a 21-year- old: what does the Holocaust have to do with me?
“Tacheles is a very important film. It shows how crimes and injustice can ruin the lives not merely of the survivors but also of the following generations decades after they took place.”, Wenzel Michalski, Germany director, Human Rights Watch
France, Egypt, U.S.A. / Dina Amer / 2021 / 90m
Starring Ilonna and Lorenza Grimaudo, Mouna Soualem, Sabrina Ouazani, Dina Amer Streaming to UK + Ireland audiences, 17-25 March, including a pre-recorded discussion
In French and Arabic with English subtitles.
Who was Hasna Aït Boulahcen? After the November 2015 Paris bombings, she was labelled “Europe’s first female suicide bomber.”
Journalists swarmed around her story, trying to extract details about the mysterious young woman who lived on the outskirts of Paris. In this drama, for which Spike Lee, Spike Jonze, Alma Har’el and Riz Ahmed were executive producers, the director, Dina Amer, pieces together Hasna’s story from over 300 hours of interviews, from a little girl protecting her younger sister from an abusive home to a young woman who finds herself trying her best to survive on the streets. This nuanced drama shows what happens when society fails to protect a child, and how discrimination, poverty, and abuse facing young people can allow radicalisation to plant roots and grow, with devastating impact on the wider community.
“A very compelling depiction of how radicalisation happens.” Sara Kayyali, Syria researcher, Human Rights Watch
“The film is an invitation to look before and behind the headlines, not for absolute truths or permanent answers, but an insistence on lifting the veils and beginning the conversations that conceal our shared humanity.”, Dina Amer, director, You Resemble Me
Tickets go on sale to Barbican members on Wed 16 Feb, and to the public on Thu 17 Feb 2022. Barbican In-cinema prices:
£12 – individual ticket price
£9.60 – Barbican Member
£9 – Barbican Corporate Member
£5 – Young Barbican/Barbican staff/City of London staff
Digital festival tickets
£6 – Individual ticket
£4.80 – Individual ticket for Barbican/HRW Members (with use of code)
£4 – Young Barbican Members / Students (with use of code)
£4.50 – Barbican Corporate Members (with use of code)
£40 – Digital festival pass with access to all 10 films
£60 – Digital festival pass with access to all 10 films – Barbican/HRW Member price (with use of code)
The festival offers free tickets to members of the public for whom the cost of a ticket would be a barrier for participation. Members of the public may email firstname.lastname@example.org for a free ticket code for in-cinema or digital screenings. (Limited free tickets available, first come first served.)