Human Rights Watch Film Festival, London

Raising Voices: Past, Present, Future

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival will be presented in London from 8 to 16 March, featuring 14 award-winning international documentary and feature films, half of them directed by women, says Human Rights Watch. The films offer fresh perspectives and critical insights on human rights concerns impacting people around the world today.

Many filmmakers, film subjects and Human Rights Watch experts will take part in in-depth post-screening Q&A and panel discussions at festival screenings at the Barbican, BFI Southbank and Regent Street Cinema. 

The festival will open at the Barbican on 8 March, International Women’s Day, with

Naila and the Uprising

Naila and the Uprising

Image by Naila and the Uprising

 Naila and the Uprising, directed by Julia Bacha, which celebrates the courageous Palestinian women activists who played a pivotal role in the first Intifada, 30 years ago.

“In a year in which women have collectively raised their voices against discrimination and abuse, the 22nd edition of the festival spotlights strong women who push back against formidable forces within their respective societies,” said John Biaggi, creative director of the Human Rights Watch Film festival. “We are thrilled to open with the powerful Naila and the Uprising, which showcases women change-makers, and we look forward to welcoming the director Julia Bacha and film subjects Naila Ayesh and Zahira Kamal”.

When a nationwide uprising breaks out in 1987, Naila Ayesh must make a choice between love, family and freedom. Undaunted, she embraces all three, joining a clandestine network of women in a movement that forces the world to recognise the Palestinian right to self-determination for the first time.

“I call on women all over the world, I call on Israeli mothers: double your efforts to lift the injustices from my people, so my son, and your son, and all children can live side by side,” said Ayesh, who will attend opening night.

In the closing night film Silas, directed by Anjali Nayar and Hawa Essuman, the activist Silas Siakor and a network of dedicated citizen reporters respond with swift action when the rights to one-third of Liberia’s land are illegally signed away to multinational companies.  “When they tear down the trees and strip the land, they tear down our people and strip away their lives,” Siakor said.

Silas compellingly demonstrates how dedicated individuals can lead and create change,” Biaggi said. “We look forward to welcoming Silas Siakor and the director Anjali Nayar to London.

The themes of female defiance, activists and resistance, environmental plunder and closed worlds are seen throughout the festival.

In The Poetess, directors Stefanie Brockhaus and Andreas Wolff introduce Hissa Hilal, who through her poetry performances challenges the repressive patriarchy ruling Saudi Arabia. In Margarita Cadenas’ Women of the Venezuelan Chaos, five resilient women creatively defend their fellow citizens, their families, and their very survival amid the national crisis that has enveloped their country. Sadaf Foroughi’s timely coming-of-age drama, Ava, portrays a strong and complex teenager who is pushed to the limits as she fights to find her voice, despite the constraints of her conservative, patriarchal community in Tehran.

The closing night theme of resistance and environmental plunder continues in Chris Kelly’s A Cambodian Spring, in which a fearless Buddhist monk and bold female leaders rally neighbours to oppose land-grabbing politicians and businesses, at considerable cost to their personal lives and friendships.

Directed by Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis, Whose Streets? takes an unflinching look at the Ferguson uprising in the US, told by the activists and leaders who live and breathe this movement for justice. “We are raising activists, we have to create a generation of activists if there's gonna be any change”, said Aurellia Davis-Whitt, activist and film subject.

Throughout 2017 and into 2018, demand for transparency across organisations, and individuals, continues to be demanded and increasingly seen.  The festival will screen three titles that expose viewers to worlds usually closed from the public eye: Mohammed Naqvi’s Insha’Allah Democracy shows a surprisingly intimate side of the former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan; Peter Nicks’ The Force takes us inside the Oakland Police Force in the US, which is struggling to make change amidst serious corruption and misconduct, and Adam Sobel’s The Workers Cup presents an exposé on working conditions that migrant workers face in building the 2022 World Cup site in Qatar, following a group of young labourers hoping to become footballers themselves.

Three compelling cinema-verité-style documentaries reveal how war and bureaucracy can force institutions of care and shelter to become places of imprisonment and containment. Set in France where each year 92,000 people are placed under psychiatric care without their consent, Raymond Depardon’s 12 Days captures the raw and vulnerable interactions at the border of justice and psychiatry, humanity and bureaucracy when a crucial decision must be made: will a patient be forced to stay in a hospital or granted freedom.

In Rina Castelnuovo-Hollander and Tamir Elterman’s Muhi – Generally Temporary, a young boy from Gaza has been trapped in an Israeli hospital for over eight years. Rushed there in his infancy with a life-threatening immune disorder, Muhi, and his doting grandfather, Abu Naim, are caught in an immigration limbo and only permitted to reside within the constraints of the hospital walls. And in The Long Season, the award-winning filmmaker Leonard Retel Helmrich (Position Among the Stars) spent a year-and-a-half in the Majdal Anjar refugee camp in Lebanon capturing the intimate daily lives of Syrians whose futures are postponed by war.

This year’s benefit gala on 7 March at RIBA features Daniel McCabe’s This Is Congo, an immersive and unfiltered look at this lush, mineral-rich country, from the rise of Rwandan and Ugandan-backed M23 rebels in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2012 to the present day, via four profoundly resilient characters. Described by Timo Meuller, researcher in the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch as, “the best documentary I’ve seen on the Democratic Republic of Congo. McCabe cares deeply about the country and does a great job walking the audience through the complicated historical trajectory of the Congo.” This is Congo will also screen within the festival programme.

Audiences also have an opportunity to watch selected festival titles online thanks to the continuing partnership with MUBI.

Tickets go on sale to general public on Tuesday 13 February. Members of Barbican and BFI Southbank can purchase tickets from 7 February.

For festival schedule and synopses, please visit:

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All tickets £12 – except Benefit Night Film

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Cinema 1

Level -2, Silk Street

Barbican Centre

London EC2Y 8DS

Cinemas 2 & 3

Beech Street

London EC2Y 8AE

Box office: 0207 638 8891


Belvedere Road, South Bank

London SE1 8XT

Box Office: 0207 928 3232


309 Regent St

London W1B 2UW

Box Office: 0207 911 5050


66 Portland Place
London W1B 1AD
Tel: 020 7307 3888

Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch defends the rights of people worldwide. We scrupulously investigate abuses, expose the facts widely, and pressure those with power to respect rights and secure justice. Human Rights Watch is an independent, international organisation that works as part of a vibrant movement to uphold human dignity and advance the cause of human rights for all. We are:

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Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Through the Human Rights Watch Film Festival we bear witness to human rights violations and create a forum for courageous individuals on both sides of the lens to empower audiences with the knowledge that personal commitment can make a difference. The film festival brings human rights abuses to life through storytelling in a way that challenges each individual to empathise and demand justice for all.


The HRWFF is proud to continue its exciting partnership with MUBI, the curated online cinema where members can watch, discover and share the best cult, classic and award-winning films from around the globe. MUBI will be showing select films from the Human Rights Watch Film Festival online during the London 2017 event.

People's Postcode Lottery
Thanks to players of the People’s Postcode Lottery for their support of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. People's Postcode Lottery manages multiple charity lotteries (also known as society lotteries). Players play with their postcodes to win cash prizes, while raising money for charities and good causes. A minimum of 31% goes directly to charities and players have raised more than £263 million to date for good causes across the country and internationally. For further information visit:

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