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Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2020, Digital Edition Starts This Week

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival, a shining star that is eagerly anticipated each June as it brings stellar programming to New York City via a stable of films that are powerful and uplifting, has a new twist this year. For the 31st edition of the NY HRWFF, we will be going on a digital journey.

There are 11 fascinating global films to view and are available nationwide. Keeping the festival spirit and interactive nature alive, there will be in-depth online discussions with filmmakers, subjects and Human Rights Watch researchers. This special online edition is being co-presented by the festival’s incredible cinema partners IFC Center and Film at Lincoln Center, where the 2021 New York edition will be held.

This is truly a time of change in the world. Required viewing of these inspiring films that showcase stories of survival by those impacted by inequalities feels right. So let’s dive in to some amazing options.

While all films are incredible achievements, here are a few to keep on your radar:

Belly of the Beast (Opening Night Selection)

Directed by Erika Cohn, this documentary illuminates the pattern of illegal involuntary sterilization in California’s women’s prison system. A former inmate and a radical attorney take on the Department of Corrections in this fast-paced film that focuses on the targeting of women of color for this series of statewide crimes.

Down A Dark Stairwell

The case of Akai Gurley, an unarmed 28 year old African American man who was fatally shot in a NYCHA housing project in the Louis H. Pink Houses in Brooklyn in 2014 by Peter Liang, a Chinese-American NYPD officer while patrolling stairwells is one that gained lots of media attention. Director Ursula Liang (not related to the officer) depicts how the shooting affected both communities in New York as well as the tendrils that snaked out across the country and how protesters on both sides sought justice. Impactful were the scenes where protesters on both sides share profound dialogue, as both sides are willing to listen amidst their pain.

Radio Silence

Director Juliana Fanjul shares the story of the incorruptible Mexican news anchor and journalist Carmen Aristegui, as she is fired from her job at a radio station in 2015 after dismantling a scandal surrounding then President Enrique Pena Nieto. Her millions of listeners trust her and follow her as she creates a news platform in the face of threats of violence and the murder of a fellow high profile journalist.


One of the most touching films of the festival, Mira Jargil’s story of a family separated after they flee violence in Syria is one that will haunt you. Pediatrician mom Rana lands in Denmark, soccer team doctor dad Mukhles is in Canada and sons Jad and Nidal are struggling to grab some normalcy in Turkey at the tender ages of 11 and 17. In trying to find a stable future for their family, each member struggles with feelings of helplessness as they try to navigate a system that generally keeps families apart for years at a time.

Coded Bias

Director Shalini Kantayya uncovers the inefficiencies of facial-recognition software as it misidentifies woman and faces that are darker-skinned via the work of an MIT Media Lab researcher. The film delves into the impact of AI’s growing role in governing our liberties plus the ramifications of people who will be affected because of their race, gender and color.

The diverse array of film and the juxtaposition of the current climate of change across the world intertwine to give film lovers lots of food for thought and inspiration for action.

Tickets for each film are $9 and there is a film festival pass for $70 which will give you access to all the films being shown. For tickets and more information about NY’s HRWFF digital edition, please visit:

Photos Courtesy of HRWFF.

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