Human Rights Watch Film Festival (June 12–22) Opens in NYC

Humans Need to Be Watched Closely
By Mark Jackson, Epoch Times

The Bible, the Talmud, the Tao Te Ching. All the other religious and spiritual books ever written. You’d think humans would have some semblance of civility by now, having studied these things for millennia.

But alas, no. Human trafficking, prison rape, domestic violence, genocide. We humans just can’t get it together. And it doesn’t appear to be getting better, but worse. Humans need watching. Especially our rights.

Starting out small 25 years ago, as a film series shown on a TV in a New York theater, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival now has a 100,000-member worldwide audience. And the films are up on the big screen.

This year’s festival, running June 12–22, features 20 documentaries and two fiction films about human rights struggles, including 19 New York premieres and an unprecedented 16 features by women. This year’s program has five themes: armed conflict and the Arab Spring, human rights defenders, LGBT rights, migrants’ rights, and women’s and children’s rights.

The Films

One of the heavy hitters in the lineup is “Watchers of the Sky” (June 18, 19), about the little-known life of Raphael Lemkin, the man responsible for creating the word “genocide.” A life of deep suffering led him to dedicate himself to the quest of discovering how to bring the law to bear on the inevitable cycle of human mass slaughter.

In “For Those Who Can Tell No Tales” (June 16), an Australian tourist goes on holiday to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Sleepless nights, vague hauntings, and various clues lead to her unearthing the fact that her hotel, situated in a beautiful town on the border of Bosnia and Serbia, was once a rape camp.

Getting painfully closer to home, “Siddharth” (June 21) by Indian-Canadian Richie Mehta follows the story of a father’s search across India for his young son who he had sent to work in a factory. Human trafficking looms. 

The HBO documentary “Private Violence” explores the fact that the most dangerous place for a woman in America is sometimes her home. Director Cynthia Hill and executive producer Gloria Steinem will be present for its June 13 opening-night screening.

The festival will close with “Scheherazade’s Diary” (June 22), a tragicomic documentary about female inmates in Lebanon who are about to embark on a 10-month drama-therapy project. These “murderers of husbands, adulterers, and addicts” tell stories of domestic violence, horrible childhoods, destroyed marriages, and sad romances.

Human Rights Watch is an organization dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. The HRWFF bears witness to human rights violations and abuses through storytelling.

“Twenty-five years is quite a milestone and we would like to acknowledge the enthusiastic support of our audience, which has allowed the festival to grow into what it is today,” said festival director John Biaggi in a press release.

“This anniversary is also an opportunity to reflect on the fact that human rights concerns have only increased. One look at the breadth of this year’s program confirms that the festival is even more crucial today.”

Most films will be screened at the Walter Reade Theater and at the IFC Center. Tickets $8–$14; and

Follow Mark on Twitter: @FilmCriticEpoch