With screenings held at both the Film Society of Lincoln Center and at IFC Center in NYC, the 28th edition of the New York Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2017 boasted an impactful roster of 21 impactful and topical feature documentaries and panel discussions. These events showcased courage, resourcefulness and the power of the human spirit in the continuing fight for justice. Human Rights Watch (www.HRW.org) is an independent international organization that works as part of a vibrant movement to uphold human dignity and advance the area of human rights for all. Their far reaching incredible work is manifested in the powerful events that took place from June 9th-18th.
The opening night film, NOWHERE TO HIDE, depicts the strength of a male nurse named Nori Sharif who lives with his wife and children in Jalawla, Iraq. As the US troops left Iraq in 2011, director Zaradasht Ahmed armed Sharif with a camera, asking him to capture the day to day occurrences in his town and workplace. Armed with the camera and a passion for sharing his reality, Sharif reveals how life changes as the majority of his coworkers at the hospital flee when the Iraqi army pulls out in 2013 due to militant activity. The changes in his life and town in the five years that he films is poignant, especially as he sets out to capture the story of displaced people and becomes one himself as his family winds up in a refugee camp.
Another standout is MUHI, GENERALLY TEMPORARY. From Jerusalem-based filmmakers Rina Castelnuovo-Hollander and Tamir Elterman, is the story of little Mohammad, or Muhi, a young boy who has been trapped in an Israeli hospital since he was an infant battling a deadly immune disorder. Muhi and his grandfather, Abu Naim, are in the middle of an immigration dance with the boy’s visa status unclear and his dedicated grandfather without a work permit or visa. They are confined to the grounds of the hospital as live goes on for their extended family in Gaza. One of the most heartbreaking and awe-inspiring documentaries created, it shines a light on the love and devotion of one family amidst the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, humanizing the people caught in the middle.
CITY OF GHOSTS from Academy Award-nominated director Matthew Heineman (CARTEL LAND) is a haunting look at a determined and fearless group of citizen journalists in Syria who formed a group called “Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently” or RBSS to inform the world of the takeover of their city by the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014. The guilt, frustration and terror that they share as some flee for safety while others stay behind to report from the front lines only strengthens the bond that they share over a common goal of covering reality that many would want to see remain silent.
Director Tiffany Hsiung tackles a poignant issue in THE APOLOGY. Through the stories of Grandma Gil in South Korea, Grandma Cao in China and Grandma Adela in the Philippines, the atrocities of thousands of women and young girls who were kidnapped and were subjected to sexual slavery at the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II are told. Many never told their stories even to their families, riddled with guilt and shame. Seven decades after the trauma, these “comfort women” and their advocates are seeing to make sure that they are able to tell their stories and that this abomination is accurately recorded in history.
Other crowd favorites include THE BLOOD IS AT THE DOORSTEP, THE GOOD POSTMAN and 500 YEARS. The New York HRWFF is truly an opportunity for viewers to open their minds, consciousness and hearts to the struggles and triumphs that occur just outside our doorsteps or half-way around the world.