Archive for the ‘Human Rights Watch’ Category

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2023

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival Presents 10 Award-Winning Films
in the London Edition, 16-26 March 2023

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival, now in its 27th year in London, presents a line-up of 10 award-winning, international documentary films in partnership with Barbican Cinema, and generously supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

The festival programme, presented in person at the Barbican from 16-24 March, includes in-depth Q&As and panel discussions with filmmakers, film participants, activists and Human Rights Watch researchers following all screenings. The films will also be available to catch up digitally across the UK and Ireland on the festival website from 20-26 March. This year’s edition opens with the London premiere of Delikado:

DELIKADO directed by Karl Malakunus

Documentary focussing on three environmental defenders who are risking their lives to stop corporations and governments seeking to steal the increasingly valuable natural resources of their home, Palawan, an island in the Philippines. With its rich biodiversity and natural beauty, Palawan is one of Asia’s most visited tourist destinations, but for a small network of environmental crusaders, it is more akin to a battlefield. The battles fought by these climate activists are shared by allies worldwide – but the abusive regime of former President Rodrigo Duterte adds urgency to this deepening human rights crisis. The filmmaker and journalist Karl Malakunas, who has been based in Asia for two decades, will attend the festival.


Lukasz Konopa and Emily Langballe will attend the festival to present their closing film Theatre of Violence that raises complex questions about new forms of colonialism and definitions of justice in the landmark International Criminal Court trial of Daniel Ongwen. The former Ugandan child soldier, Ongwen was abducted as a child – as were an estimated more than 20,000 other children – by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. Intimidated and indoctrinated, he quickly learned to kill or be killed. In the unfolding debate his defence lawyer, Krispus Ayena, grapples with questions of accountability when someone is both victim and perpetrator, and the underlying issue of what justice looks like when being conducted in an international court, far away from key cultural and historical context.

NO U-TURN (London Premiere)

In his debut documentary the celebrated filmmaker Ike Nnaebue takes viewers on a journey with fellow Nigerian citizens leaving their country, travelling north through Africa and beyond, in search of work and the opportunity to build a future in Europe, despite the known and unknown challenges lying ahead. As he retraces his own stalled journey, made over 20 years ago, this self-reflective travelogue is overlaid with a powerful poetic commentary and insight into the impact of a colonial past, to unpack the deep longing of an entire generation in search of opportunities.

CATEGORY: WOMAN (European Premiere)

Written and directed by a former Olympian, Phyllis Ellis, Woman focuses on four female athletes from the Global South who are targeted and forced out of competition by regulations imposed by World Athletes, stirring relentless debates on their “legitimacy” as athletes and as women. Using women’s naturally varying androgen levels to evaluate their performance advantages, the sporting institution creates new rules, declaring that certain female athletes must medically alter their healthy bodies to compete in their sport. The film exposes an industry that puts women’s lives at risk, and raises issues of racism, sexism, and the right to determine another persons’ biological sex.

I DIDN’T SEE YOU THERE  (London Premiere),

As a person with a disability navigating the world from a wheelchair, the filmmaker Reid Davenport is often either the subject of unwanted gaze — gawked at by strangers — or paradoxically left invisible, ignored, or dismissed by society. In I Didn’t See You There (London Premiere), Davenport sets out to make a film about how he sees the world without having to be seen himself, capturing indelible images informed by his disability. This is a personal, political, and unflinching account – offering a perspective and stylistic approach rarely seen in film. I Didn’t See You There will have two relaxed screenings at the festival, which are open to all audience members.

KOROMOUSSO, BIG SISTER (European Premiere)

With candour, humour and courage, a group of African-Canadian women challenge cultural taboos, and build a road to individual and collective healing in Koromousso, Big Sister (European Premiere). Working with co-director Jim Donovan, Habibata Ouarme combines her own experience of female genital mutilation (FGM) with personal accounts from some of her friends, to begin a journey of personal discovery, with discussions on the importance of female pleasure and the complexity of the female anatomy, while working to shed long-held feelings of shame and loneliness. While finding strength and joy in their own frank and intimate conversations together, Habibata and her friends continue to advocate for wider access to restorative surgery and facilitate community conversations in Canada and worldwide.


Seven Winters in Tehran (UK Premiere), directed by Steffi Niederzoll, explores the case of Reyhaneh Jabbari, a young Iranian woman who became a symbol of resistance and women’s rights worldwide. In 2007, Reyhaneh, 19, is sentenced to death in Iran for the murder of a man who tried to rape her. Using secretly recorded videos provided by her family, their testimony, and the beautiful, lyrical letters she wrote from prison, voiced by Holy Spider actress Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Seven Winters in Tehran opens a window into the many ways women are oppressed and silenced in Iran, and the immense risks taken by those who defend and support them.


If The Streets Were On Fire (London Premiere) introduces BikeStormz, a movement of young cyclists that attempts to offer a safe and welcoming space for youth in London. Starting as a protest against violent crime with the slogan “knives down, bikes up,” BikeStormz, founded by a social activist, Mac Ferrari-Guy, has grown into a movement and safe space for young people around London to freely express themselves. The filmmaker Alice Russell beautifully captures groups of young people as they glide through the city, doing wheelies, tricks, and acrobatics and cheering each other on as they travel through the postcode-neutral space of central London. Yet as they come together and find liberation through cycling, they are threatened with arrest and accused of anti-social behaviour.


Marek Kozakiewicz’s Silent Love (UK Premiere) is a coming-of-age and a coming-out story about embracing new roles and redefining old ones. Aga, 35, is legally adopting her teenage brother, Milosz, after their mother’s death – a process that probes into her life choices. However, there’s something she can’t share in their conservative Polish village: her long-term relationship with her girlfriend, Maja. Aga has always hidden her relationship from friends and family, and must continue to hide it from the social workers for fear of losing her case for Milosz. Silent Love delicately captures this trio’s discreet struggle as they begin to live as a family, against the prejudices of an ultra-conservative and viscerally homophobic society.


The impact of war on the day-to-day lives of citizens of a small town in Ukraine is profiled in When Spring Came to Bucha (UK Premiere), which poignantly captures how a small community continues with life amid trauma and loss, while war rages on close by. After a month of intense fighting, the Russian army withdrew, leaving the town destroyed in its wake. Yet in the midst of suffering, a young couple gets married, and life must go on. This heart-rending yet empowering documentary tells stories of loss, hope, and resistance, as the spring flowers of Bucha begin to bloom.

Details about the screenings and discussions can be found HERE


May God Be With You (2021) IDFA 2021

Dir: Cleo Cohen | Israel Doc

Cléo Cohen’s directorial debut is a highly personal exploration of her own identity as the granddaughter of Jewish Arabs who emigrated from Tunisia and Algeria to France during the 20th century.

In the intimate confines of the family homes Cohen plays devil’s advocate, questioning the time honoured subject of Jewish identity and the relationship between Arabs and Jews in the Maghreb. What emerges is a generational conflict, as well as a very subjective view of the past from the older generation’s perspective.

Cohen starts with a provocative bon mot in the opening titles which manages to ruffle a few feathers back home: What is the shortest joke in history?: “A Jew met another Arab.” When defending the Arabs’ view of history she is told: “Defend the Arabs and you’ll see what happens to you”. When she answers back: “the worst massacre of Jews took place in Western, Christian Europe” a swift reply comes: “If the Arabs were organised, they would have done the same to us. Cleo does not feel Jewish at all when her grandma Denise tells her “the Arabs got what they deserved.”

In an attempt to gain context she then speaks to Richard Cohen (to whose memory the film is dedicated) former lawyer for the FLN in Algeria. He nods, too weak to answer in full. And Daniel Shebabo is equally frank: “The French got the Jews on their side during the wars of Independence in the Maghreb – separating them from the Arabs via the Cremieux Decree, which made Jews French overnight in 1960. I still remember the pride my mother felt. It caused some confusion with other Pied-Noirs, but my mother said we are Pied-Noirs. My family never mingled with Arabs.”

Denise Houri, is firmly in the Jews’ camp and considers herself ‘in exile’ from her native Tunisia. “It was hard finding ourselves in another country. But we can’t go back, the old country won’t be the same any more. Memories stay still in time. You are often disappointed if you go back. Alain went, he sent photos”. Nevertheless, Cleó is planning to visit Oran in Algeria. Denise is hard-line when it comes to Cleó’s duty regarding her own (as yet unborn) children: “You will be the guide for the people of Israel, on their behalf. You must pass that on to your children. Transient Jewish identity is a value. They should never marry an Arab. I practice my religion at home. Cultural blending is not a good idea.”

Daniel Shebabo talks about the thorny issue of identity: “Identity is never a foregone conclusion. It can always be undermined by yourself or others. I am re-assured by being Jewish, but I do not distance myself from others. The more you are re-assured, the better you can accept others with different identities. In Tunisia I mainly lived with Muslims.”

The director wanders around Denise’ flat, resting in the huge bath tub, and reading Albert Memmi’s classic of 1957 ‘The Colonizer and the Colonized” from his perspective as a French-Tunisian writer of Jewish origins. She reflects that “Arabs are not just Tunisians, there are Christian Arabs, Muslim Arabs and Jewish Arabs too. We are not Muslims, but we are Jews with an Arab culture and identity. Our mother tongue is Arabic, but we are Jews. I am an Arab by culture, but not a Jewish Arab.”

A highly personal feature which nevertheless touches on ideological conflicts, not only between Jews and Arabs, but also within the Jewish communities themselves. An important film that attempts to shed light on the complex the issues surrounding cultural and religious identity, antisemitism, racism and colonialism. AS


Human Rights Watch Festival 2021 | Women have their say

Opening this Thursday 18 March, this year’s HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FESTIVAL  kicks off with The 8th about Ireland’s women-led campaign to engineer the impossible – to overturn the 8th Amendment, a constitutional ban on abortion.

In Belly of the Beast two women wage a near impossible battle against the US Department of Corrections to expose modern-day eugenics and reproductive injustice in California prisons.

Mujer de Soldado reveals a deeply moving picture of female solidarity among four Peruvian women, who are bringing charges of historical rape against their abusers.

And in the Closing Night film on 26 March Unapologetic new talent Ashley O’Shay spent four years chronicling the lives of two young, black, queer women within the Black Lives movement in Chicago. In Ashley’s words: Unapologetic serves as a blueprint to that moment (last summer)…. I hope you walk away feeling inspired, and hopeful, and righteously rageful at the systems that have failed women.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | Tickets go on sale February 18 and can be purchased via the Human Rights Watch Film Festival or Barbican Cinema On Demand.

The Lesson | Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2021 | 18-26 March 2021

Dir: Elena Horn | Germany, Doc 60′

It is often said that those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. At the age of 14 every school child in Germany is taught about the atrocities that occurred under Nazi rule. Filmmaker Elena Horn returns to her hometown in rural Germany to follow four of these children as they first learn about the Holocaust.

Five years in the making (2014-19), the film touches upon important social and political issues including the resurgence of the far-right, xenophobia, the fractured, disparate collective memory of National Socialism, and the surprising lack of intimate knowledge of the younger generations on the subject.

Screening at this year’s HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FILM FESTIVAL the documentary opens as the camera pans over the summer countryside where a girl from a village in West Germany (where not much has changed since 1932) recalls talking to a tall, dark athletic American after an evening out with college friends. He turns to her and says: “your grandparents killed my grandparents” this was her first meeting with a Jewish guy and she was 21.

Screening during this year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival, the documentary goes on to explore with archive footage and clips from the contemporary German classroom how despite the perceived exemplary educational system, new generations are growing indifferent to their nation’s dark past and unwilling to apply the lessons learned to the realities of today. Filmed against the backdrop of changing political scenery during five years of production, in Germany and across the world, the film subtly suggests the urgency and importance in tackling the uncomfortable modern reality of truths therein. MT

Elena Horn is a young German filmmaker who started her career as a media psychologist researching the framing effects in the news coverage of the Iraq War in the US, Britain, and Sweden. Today she is working as a story producer for ZDF, WDR, SKY and SPIEGEL TV Wissen. Elena’s films focus on questions around education, migration, working culture, love, and ethnic conflict, employing visual inspirations from the world of music and dance. As a director, Elena is a fellow of the Logan Non-Fiction Program in New York. Her short documentary Pizza, Democracy and the Little Prince, co-directed with Alessandro Leonardi, earned the “Best Short Documentary Award 2019” at the Sedona Film Festival. Currently Elena is working as a director for ARTE, a French-German culture channel.




Waiting for the Barbarians (2019) ***

Dir: Ciro Guerra | Cast: Mark Rylance, Robert Pattinson, Johnny Depp | Historical drama 110′

Colombian filmmaker Ciro Guerra continues his exploration of imperialist oppression with this stunningly scenic saga set in magnificent desert surroundings where Mark Rylance plays the humanitarian face of colonialism.

WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS is the Oscar nominated director’s third drama and his English language debut following on from Embrace of the Serpent and Birds of Passage. Based on the novel by Nobel Prize-winning South African writer J.M. Coetzee, who also wrote the script, it takes place in an unspecified country and feels like a small scale version of Lawrence of Arabia with its exotic magnetism. But this is a far more sober parable that sees Rylance’s archaeologist ‘Magistrate’ falls prey to his own desires – there’s no fool like an old fool – when he falls for a young nomadic woman who has been captured in a desert raid by soldiers in the remote outpost where the he has made a niche for himself and gained the trust and respect of the locals.

‘The Magistrate’ is a cultured gentleman who speaks the local language and understands the customs – although the characters are made up of a multi racial group from North African to Mongolian and the locations are in Morocco. His experience of the country is a peaceful one very much in the vein of “live and let live”. His view is that Colonial rule is an imposition rather than a civilising influence, and that forcing the local populace to accept the ways of the interloper is tantamount to to war.

When Johnny Depp arrives as the po-faced effete Police Chief Joll he has other ideas. A couple of local “barbarians” have been arrested for thieving, Inspector Joll insists on a draconian interrogation, leaving them bloody and beaten and extracting from them a putative admission of treachery that enables him to maintain his position of colonial oppression.

All this power-posturing is as relevant now as it ever was but the choice of a non-specific cultural backdrop is more difficult to reconcile on film than it is on the page, left to our imagination. And its odd to see Mongolian tribesmen roaming around in the Moroccan desert. But the hero of the piece eventually turns into an outcast after he becomes sexually obsessed by the “barbarian” girl (Mongolian actress Gana Bayarsaikhan). His subsequent decision to return her to her family is deemed a dereliction of duty, allowing Joll to come down heavily with his metal cosh – another fantasy element to the narrative, along with the alarming finale.

Waiting for the Barbarians is an admirable drama but one that leaves us contemplating its message rather than its characters, who unreachable despite the best efforts of a stellar cast. Robert Pattinson is handed a rather bum role as Joll’s sneering secretary Officer Mandel, a farcry from his strong recent run with the French Dauphin in The KingHigh Life and The Lighthouse. Rylance manages to make us pity and root for The Magistrate up to a point, even though he becomes a figure of fun in the end for his Christ-like goodness. Fortunately the baddies get their come-uppance: and Rylance eventually finds redemption giving the film a satisfactory conclusion and some scary moments such as the menacing final scene. MT





The Flood (2019)***

Dir: Anthony Woodley | Cast: Lena Headey, Iain Glenn, Ivanno Jeremiah | Drama 98′

Inspired by the growing issue surrounding immigration Anthony Woodley has put together a moving drama that examines both sides of this tragic human crisis.

Crowned by three tremendous central performances The Flood centres on the plight of a doe-eyed Eritrean man Haile (a stunning Jeremiah) who has had a traumatic time getting to England in the back of a lorry. The action flips back and forth between the official interrogation in stifling government offices and Haile’s eventful journey, his doe-eyed gentleness making it clear that he is certainly no criminal despite the unfortunate circumstances of his discovery by police.

Lena Headey makes for a convincing world weary immigration official wading diligently through the tears and excuses while drowning in a personal crisis of her own. “Everyone has their story” she posits sarcastically, while swigging water from a plastic bottle (that we later discover is vodka). Iain Glen plays her exhausted boss bowing under pressure to meet government targets.

Refreshingly The Flood is a cinematic, understated and sleek-looking film full of decent well-intentioned souls trying to survive rather than the hard-nosed characters we’ve come to expect in the growing ‘immigration’ genre. Helen Kingston’s script is based on Woodley’s own accounts during his time volunteering in the Calais Jungle. But one can’t help wondering too about the UK housing crisis, as one of the successful imigrées opens the front door of her new council home. MT

THE FLOOD is in UK cinemas and on demand from 21st June

Human Rights Watch Festival | 15-22 March 2019

Creating a forum for courageous individuals fighting worthwhile causes on both sides of the lens, this year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival returns to the Barbican, BFI Southbank and Regent Street Cinema with an international line-up of 15 award-winning documentary and feature films from Venezuela, South Africa, Palestine, Thailand and more.

The festival will open at the Barbican on 14 March with Hans Pool’s Bellingcat – Truth in a Post-Truth World, which follows the revolutionary rise of the “citizen investigative journalist” collective known as Bellingcat, dedicated to redefining breaking news by exploring the promise of open source investigation. 
Among other topics highlighted in the festival are: modern-day slavery in the fishing industry, South African students’ #FeesMustFall movement and the call for the decolonization of the education system; ‘boys will be boys’ rape culture; the impact of non-consensual gender assignment surgery on intersex infants; urban displacement; and a behind the scenes access to the trial of Ratko Mladić. Many filmmakers, protagonists, Human Rights Watch researchers and activists will take part in in-depth post-screening Q&A and panel discussions, some of which are detailed below:

UK Premiere: Screwdriver Mafak
Palestine-USA-Qatar 2018. Dir Bassam Jarbawi. With Ziad Bakri, Areen Omari, Jameel Khoury. 108min. Digital. EST. 15

Shot entirely on location in the West Bank, award-winning Palestinian director Bassam Jarbawi’s debut feature film tackles the physical and emotional toll of one man’s return home after 15 years in an Israeli jail. This mesmerising drama examines the trauma of reintegration after imprisonment, together with the unpredictable set of challenges faced in modern-day Palestine.


UK Premiere: Facing the Dragon 

Afghanistan-Turkey-Germany-Australia 2018. Dir Sedika Mojadidi. 81min. Digital. EST. 15 

Afghan-American filmmaker Sedika Mojadidi pursues two awe-inspiring women on the front lines as the United States withdraws from Afghanistan and the Taliban regains their hold. As the country’s fragile democracy shakes, threats of violence increase against Shakila, a journalist, and Nilofar, a local politician. They are soon forced to choose between duty and love for their country, and their families’ safety. 


UK Premiere: Roll Red Roll 

USA 2018. Dir Nancy Schwartzman. 81min. Digital. 15 

In small-town Ohio, USA, a sexual assault involving members of the beloved high-school football team gained global attention. With unprecedented access to a local community struggling to reconcile disturbing truths and the journalist using social-media evidence to reveal them, this true-crime thriller cuts to the heart of debates around engrained rape culture, and unflinchingly asks: ‘Why didn’t anyone stop it?’ 


UK Premiere: The Sweet Requiem Kyoyang Ngarmo
India-USA 2018. Dirs Ritu Sarin, Tenzing Sonam. With Tenzin Dolker, Jampa Kalsang Tamang, Tashi Choedon. 93min. Digital. EST. 15

At the age of eight, Dolkar fled her home with her father to escape Chinese armed forces, and faced an arduous journey across the Himalayas. Now 26, she lives in a Tibetan refugee colony in Delhi, where an unexpected encounter with a man from her past awakens long-suppressed memories, propelling Dolkar on an obsessive search for the truth.

Tickets go on sale to the general public on 12 February 2019. Members of BFI Southbank can purchase tickets from 5 February and members of the Barbican can purchase tickets from 6 February.

Flesh Out (2019) *** Berlinale 2019

Dir.: Michela Occhipinti; Cast: Verida Deiche, Amal Oumar, Aichetou Najim, Sidi Chiglay; Italy/France 2018; 94 min

Governments in the Western world are desperately urging people to lose weight. Not so in Africa. In her second feature Italian filmmaker Michela Occhipinti (Letters from the Desert) travels to  Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott where it turns out that Islam is at the root of the situation. And once – as in FGM – the matriarchs are in control. Occhipinti uses a non-professional cast to explores the conflict between Verida and a repressive tradition with lyric poeticism.

Young beautician Verida (Deiche) is expected to gain a great deal of weight so she will meet the requirements of her arranged marriage to Amal. Verida’s husband-to-be Amal (Oumar), is well off and drives a Mercedes, the usual car in North Africa. Her best friend, Aichetou (Najim) dreams of going to Cairo, and is proud of her rudimentary English, which includes phrases such as ‘good-bye’ and ‘fuck-off’. Both young women are clearly enjoying their life in the 21st century, and Verida is readying .Bonjour Tristesse’. But three months before the wedding, Verida’s mother Sidi (Chiglay) makes her gain weight, as is customary in the region. The intention is to gain a more imposing stature, and lend gravitas to their new family. Verida is totally against the idea and starts taking pills to counteract the gain – but to no avail. She finally challenges her mother, kicking over a bowl of food. Her mother reacts by taking her off into the desert, where she is force fed a mixture of milk and cereal, the same method for producing foie gras. When Verida spews out the brew, the women force her to eat her own vomit, and Verida’s mother condones their actions. After arguing with Amal, she decides to take charge of her life.

Flesh Out has a languid pace, Occhipinti takes her time introducing the main protagonists. Verida and Aichetou are very close, they daydream and have pillow fights, and although work is the centre of their life, but the family elders think differently, the men’s wishes enforced by the senior women in their community. A worthwhile and well-crafted experience, enlivened by DoP Daria d’Antonio fabulous desert scenes. AS


On her Shoulders (2018) ****

Dir.: Alexandria Bombach; Documentary with Nadia Murad; USA 2018, 94 min.

Alexandria Bombach (Frame by Frame) has experienced human trafficking at first hand. This informs her devastating documentary about Yazidi human rights activist Nadia Murad, and her quest to bring justice to her compatriot victims of ISIS genocide. This crime against humanity is still waiting to be addressed by the international community. But Bombach started her project long before Murad was awarded the Nobel Price for Peace in 2018 – jointly with Denis Mukwege. Currently around 400 000 Yazidis, are living in the diaspora all over the world.

Nadia Murad, born 1993 in the village of Kocho, Sinjar province in northern Iraq, was a student when ISIS declared all Yazidi (members of a monotheistic religion) “a shame to Islam” and started a genocide in 2014. Over 5000 people were killed, 7000 women and children were imprisoned as sex slaves. Nadia Murad’s village was attacked on 15th September 2014, ISIS killing her mother and six brothers the same day. Nadia was taken with her two sisters to the city of Mosul, were she was raped, beaten and burned with cigarettes. She escaped, and was smuggled out of the country by neighbours. In Germany, 200 000 Yazidis are living in exile. Here, Nadia was offered psychotherapy for the trauma she had suffered. “But after one session I knew that this therapy would not help me, as long as many of us were still in captivity and nobody was prosecuting the ISIS members who are responsible”. Thus she became an activist, travelling the world for support. In 2015 she was made an Ambassador of the UN, Nadia was the first person to brief the assembly on Human Trafficking. She visited parliaments, among others the Lower House in Ottawa, and attended a rally in Berlin to mark the second anniversary of the genocide. She has tried to improve their dreadful conditions in camps in Italy and Turkey. In 2016 she re-visited the UN Assembly again, together with the human Rights lawyer Amal Clooney, to lodge a formal lawsuit against the ISIS commanders responsible for the atrocities.

Bombach’s greatest achievement is that she always concentrates on Nadia Murad as a real person – rather than an activist. It hurts to watch her suffering all over again in order to get attention for the survivors and justice for the dead and living. For over twenty years she lived in a peaceful village, where she dreamt of opening a beauty salon “so that girls could enhance their personality”. Then came the shock of enslavement, and now the stress of being on the international scene to fight for her fellow Yazidis. It begs the question, what is left of the real Nadia Murad? This indomitable young woman is still working to help her people despite ISIS assassination threats. Putting on a brave face, she tells her fellow Yazidis not to cry. But, Bombach catches the moments when Nadia breaks down – but only in private. A portrait of hope in the darkness of genocide. AS


JOY (2018) **** Marrakech International Film Festival 2018 | Winner Etoile d’Or

Dir.: Sudabeh Mortezai; Cast: Joy Anwulika Alphonsus, Precious Mariam Sanusi, Angela Ekeleme Pius, Jane Okoh; Austria 2018, 100 min.

German born writer/director Sudabeh Mortezai (Macondo) spent her youth in Vienna and Teheran before studying film at UCLA. Her second feature is centred around Nigerian women sold by their families as sex-workers to Europe. In the prologue, we see the local shaman performing the ‘Juju’ ritual on one of these young women: the victims have to leave an intimate part of themselves behind so they don’t run away, and send money home regularly.

We meet Joy (Alphonsus) on a dark night in Vienna where she is soliciting. Next to her stands young Precious (Sanusi), who has just arrived from Nigeria and does not want to sell her body, in order to pay back Madame (Pius), whom she owes 60,000 Euros. Back in the flat where the girls live in cramped  conditions, Madame holds Joy responsible for Precious’ attitude and tells her that her debt will increase if she doesn’t encourage the young girl to work harder. For good measure, Precious is than raped by two men, her cries of help going unanswered. The brutal treatment makes Precious fall into line and she becomes the highest earner of the group. Madame expresses her thanks by selling her for a profit to Italian pimps. 

Meanwhile Joy and Precious are continually pestered by their families to send more money home. Joy’s family ‘invents’ a fake illnesses so her clients will take pity and pay her extra.  And Precious’ mother asks her to sleep with more more men: “Can you imagine, the woman who gave birth to me wants me to do do that!” Joy, who has a daughter Chioma (Okoh), for whose upkeep she pays a nanny, is sent with Precious to the Italian border, keeping her passport. Precious asks her many times to relinquish the passport, so that she can escape. But Joy is well aware that Madame’s vengeance would be be grim, and she reminds Precious: “This is a game of survival of the fittest. I would kill you if I needed to. Do not trust me!”. Her calculation proves right when Madame ‘releases’ her, which is not so generous as it looks since new and younger girls have arrived from Nigeria.

The director takes a detached approach throughout. The gruesome details of the women’s suffering – Joy is bleeding heavily after being raped by three men, but Madame does not allow her to seek medical help. The whole circle of violence, starting in Nigeria is repeated over and over again, because the authorities in Austria want Joy to testify against Madame, but won’t grant her immediate asylum.

JOY explores a real and continuous nightmare that is happening all the time, in nearly every European city. Shot starkly by DoP Clemens Hufnagl, mostly at night, the few interior scenes reveal the misery and fear that haunts women daily. A depressing but worthwhile film that won the Etoile d’Or at this year’s MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL. MT



Srbenka (2018) **** Marrakech International Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Nebojsa Slijepcevic; Documentary with Oliver Frljic; Croatia 2018, 70 min.

Director/writer/DoP Nebojsa Slijepcevic (Gangster of Love) explores peer violence towards children  of different nationalities in Croatia, and examines how the generation born after the war copes with the dark shadows of history. 

The documentary is set in a Zagreb theatre, during the rehearsals of a play called Aleksandra Zec where the star turn is a Serbian girl who was murdered together with her whole family in 1991, just before the outbreak of war between Serbia and Croatia after the implosion of Yugoslavia. The murder of Aleksandra Zec and her family was an act of social cleansing, and Frljic wanted to show how the wounds of the war are still influencing daily life, not only in Croatia. One actor asks: “Do I become a Serb, because I am in a play about a murdered Serbian girl?” During the rehearsal and on the eve of the premiere, right-wing protesters threatened the director and his girl friend with violence. They were holding up placards saying “Why not a play about the 86 kids of Vukovar”, who were killed during a bombing raid in the civil war. Frljic wanted to detach actors from the play itself, so he let all of them talk about their feelings about the play and the Civil War. Four 12-year old girls – the same age as Aleksandra when she was killed – were also taking part in the play. They too were asked about their feelings, and some of them comment about their fear of Roma – “because when they break their arm, it heals quicker than ours, or “they are like lizards, when they lose a tail, it grows back quickly.”

Their role in the play is to ask the dead girl about her feelings towards her assailants. One of the girls has nightmares after rehearsals, she dreams about killing her sister and taking her organs out. They all admit to bullying Roma children at school. One of girl reports, that a class mate of her did not go to Catholic RE, and was called a Jew. One of the quartet, Nina Batanic, is actually Serbian, she has hidden this from her classmates, particularly from the boy who sits next to her and told her “I like to kill all Serbians, cutting their throat with my teeth”. But Nina is so brave she admits at the evening of the premiere that she is Serbian. After the play is over the camera follows her lingering on the way home.

Even after 25 years, the war is still the central issue. The fear of “the other” is kept alive by right-wing Nationalists, who see anybody who is not Croatian as an enemy. The trauma lets the violence simmer permanent under the surface. Frljic and Slijepcevic see their project as therapeutic, hoping, that when questions about nationality and minorities are brought to the surface, the resentment of ‘others’ might be reduced. But the four girls are living proof, how long the way to anything like a reconciliation still is. Srbenka is brave, but leaves little hope for the future –  and that goes for the whole of Europe. AS


This is Congo (2017) ***

Dir: Daniel McCabe | Doc | 91′ | Congo

Magnificent landscapes give way to mass murder and mayhem in This Is Congo, Daniel McCabe’s cinematic documentary that follows several of his compatriots surviving twenty years of conflict in this war-torn nation. Congo’s leaders have chosen war in place of an intelligent way of harnessing the country’s abundant mineral wealth, and ensuring peace and prosperity for its people.

Most of us have never been to this lush mid-African country three times the size of Texas. Fertile soil encourages agriculture and provides a rich cocoa-dusting for the country’s ample mineral reserves of tourmaline, manganese, copper, bauxite and gold.

McCabe knows from experience that filming will be dangerous here and certainly gives a flavour of the perils in the opening scene where booming mortar fire sends tremors through our seats while onscreen the fleeing Congolese protect their kids and livestock  on the run.

Bordered by Rwanda and Uganda, The Democratic Republic of Congo sounds like a country of the free and enabled. It is quite the opposite: a place divided by macho rebel forces, such as the M23, who compete with rival militia groups while the government-led forces continually strive to keep control and calm the masses under the auspices of Colonel Mamadou Ndala who eventually loses his battle – in the surprising final scenes – not to the enemy but to his jealous officers threatened by his energy and charisma.

Voiced by the melodic tones of Isaach de Bankole), the real heroes of the Congo are not the generals and fighters but the enterprising civilians: voluptuous business woman Mama Romance who trades precious gems in the main port of Goma and tailor Hakiza Nyantaba who traipses from village to village with his trusty Singer sewing machine. With great sensitivity and dispassion, McCabe shows us a nation surviving against the odds, its people forced into a peripatetic mode of existence, cheerful and philosophical despite their trial and tribulations. MT




Returning the Colonial Gaze

Focusing on Francophone African and French cinema, the Barbican presents Returning the Colonial Gaze showcasing works by bold filmmakers who, in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, reversed the “colonial gaze” to interrogate the former occupying nation from the perspective of their own countries.

The five-part season features films by directors from Mauritania, Senegal, Morocco, and Niger, using their art to reclaim the right to represent their cultures and histories, which had been undermined by years of colonial rule – helping to shape the national identities of their countries in the process. Also included are works by French directors who challenged and critiqued colonial narratives.

Returning the Colonial Gaze is part of the Barbican’s 2018 The Art of Change season, which explores how the arts respond to, reflect and potentially effect change in the social and political landscape.

Soleil O (18*)
Wed 2 May 8.45pm
Mauritania 1970 Dir Med Hondo 105 min Digital presentation
A key work of postcolonial cinema, this film follows the experiences of Mauritanian-born accountant Jean, who arrives in Paris to pursue his dreams. Told with caustic humor in a non-linear style, inspired by the European avant-garde as much as by West African oral traditions, his story explores many of the challenges facing immigrants in France: menial jobs, unacceptable living conditions, naked racism and bureaucratic indifference. The accumulation of injustices finally breaks his composure and leads to a political awakening.
Restored by Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in collaboration with Med Hondo. Restoration funded by the George Lucas Family Foundation and The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project.

Afrique 50 (18*)
France 1950 Dir René Vautier 17 min Digital presentation
Film restored by the Cinémathèque de Bretagne
+ To Be 20 in the Aurès (18*)
France 1972 Dir René Vautier 93 min Digital presentation
Film restored by La Cinémathèque française
Wed 9 May 8.45pm
This double bill presents two anticolonial films by French activist filmmaker René Vautier, the self-described “most censored director in France”. Afrique 50 is a scathing expose of French rule in West Africa. Censored for over 40 years in France and even landing its director in jail, the short work is paired with To Be 20 in the Aurè. This is a searing critique of the Algerian War, which follows seven days in the life of a military unit composed of young French conscripts. Held first at a harsh training camp then sent off to fight in the desolate Aurès Mountains, they become ruthless killing machines.

Afrique sur Seine (15*)
France 1955 Dirs Paulin Soumanou Vieyra, Mamadou Sarr 21 mins Digital presentation
+ Little By Little (15*)
France 1970 Dir Jean Rouch 96 min Digital presentation
And introduction by Barbara Knorrp
Tue 15 May 6.15pm
In this double bill, France, its inhabitants and traditions are discovered by visitors from Senegal and Niger. Afrique sur Seine, by Senegalese directors Paulin Soumanou Vieyra and Mamadou Sarr, adopts the style of contemporary ethnographic documentaries to lead us on a tour of Paris, investigating the customs of the local tribe – the Parisians. The second film in the double bill is part comedy, part docu-fiction Little by Little by French director Jean Rouch. Featuring Nigerien film stars Damouré Zika and Lam Ibrahim, it follows an African man as he travels to Paris to learn about the construction of tall buildings, only to be taken up by the oddities of French life. Introducing the double bill is anthropologist Barbara Knorrp.

Si Moh, The Unlucky Man (18*)
France 1971 Dir Moumen Smihi 17 min Video presentation
+ The East Wind (18*)
Morocco 1975 Dir Moumen Smihi 80 min 35mm presentation
Wed 23 May 6.30pm
The Barbican presents two attempts by Moroccan director Moumen Smihi to make films in a new way, closer to the local culture, and more distant from the Western tradition. Si Moh, The Unlucky Man depicts the lives of migrant workers in France, as Si Moh lives in the industrialised suburbs of Paris while longing for Maghreb and sharing experiences of alienation with his fellow migrants.
Following Si Moh, The Unlucky Man is The East Wind. Set in Tangier in the mid-50s, when the city was still an International Zone, the film portrays a place at the eve of its independence, as Aïcha resorts to magic to try to prevent her husband from taking a second spouse. Around her, a society of women creates its own form of active resistance as the larger independence movement grows around it.
Screening materials courtesy of the director, subtitles with thanks to Peter Limbrick of University of California Santa Cruz

An Adventurer’s Homecoming (18*)
Niger 1966 Dir Moustapha Alassane 34 min Video presentation
+ Touki Bouki (18*)
Senegal 1973 Dir Djibril Diop Mambety 85 min Digital presentation
Restored in 2008 by The World Cinema Foundation at Cineteca di Bologna/L’Immagine Ritrovata in association with the family of Djibril Diop Mambéty. Restoration funding provided by Armani, Cartier, Qatar Airways and Qatar Museum Authority.
Wed 30 May 8.45pm
This double bill includes works from directors from Senegal and Niger focusing on alienated young protagonists in thrall to Western pop culture. In An Adventurer’s Homecoming, a young man returns from a trip to the US with a suitcase full of cowboy outfits for himself and his friends. In their new get-up, they transform into a gang of swaggering bandits: barroom brawls and shoot-em-ups ensue. In Touki-Bouki, two young lovers, Mory and Anta, wander the streets of Dakar hatching wild schemes to raise money for their escape to Paris, the city of their dreams.


The Good Postman (2016) | Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Dir. Tonislav Hristov | Finland/Bulgaria 2016, | Doc | 82 mins.

In a remote village deep in the Bulgarian countryside only 36 people turned up to vote in the local elections. Great Dervent is crumbling to the ground and clearly on its last legs but resourceful local postman Ivan has a regeneration plan. Wealthy Syrian refugees have left traces in the decrepit school building in their search for a new home, and Ivan suggests to the villagers that they all gather round and welcome the newcomers into their community. Some agree but some are sceptical that the refugees will take over the few remaining jobs and prove a threat with their ‘criminal’ ways. And who can blame these hospitable and decent people who are used to their own kind and unaccustomed to outside influences?. There is no internet here but the media has not helped matters, whipping up a sentiment of zenophobia with negative TV reportage that fuels the growing climate of ultra-right nationalism.

Glowing with the bucolic splendour of this lush land in the extreme South on the border  with Turkey, Tonislav Hristov’s documentary is cinematic and soulful in tone, but very much along similar lines as the recent Ukrainian Cowboys (2016). Ivan the postman does not only deliver letters but also tea and sympathy to the ageing villagers, even doling out advice on water bills and medical help, he fervently believes the Syrians are a good thing: “Together, between us, we’ll create a good environment in the village”, “there will be children and they will laugh”.

Typically it is the latest immigrants to the village who are the most hostile about Syrians and other newcomers. Ukrainian wayfarer and recent arrival Halachev has taken a strident anti-immigration stance, considering his own credentials. Setting up a cranky electric organ on the common he preaches a negative diatribe: “Bulgaria for Bulgarians, the Syrians are worse than Gypsies”.

Hristov’s rather rambling but watchable documentary is accompanied by a mournful occasional score of folkmusic. It is a sad and rather pitiful story that contrasts sharply with the region’s peaceful and gently rolling countryside. As Ivan’s kindly wife sighs: “you remember a man for his goodness. People danced. Now nothing”. And clearly Ivan is a good and persevering man who will be remembered for his generosity of spirit in a fight that very much connects to a global narrative of survival for small communities all over the world. MT



Dir.: Pamela Yates; Documentary, Guatemala 2017, 106 min.

500 YEARS is the final part of Pamela Yates Guatemalan trilogy, which started in 1983 with When the Mountains Tremble, followed by Granito: How to Nail a Dictator in 2011. The three chapters of 500 years explore the struggle of the indigenous Ixil Maya over the last half millennium, since South America was colonised by Spanish forces, destroying a culture much older than the one of the European barbarians.

Part one deals with the trial of General Rios Montt, which started in 2013. Montt had come to power with the help of the Reagan administration in 1982, and was responsible for the genocide in which 100 000 Maya citizens were killed and 45000 ‘disappeared’, just like in Argentina at about the same time. 626 villages were destroyed, the survivors mourn the death, often of their children, like the parents of Ines, who was killed aged 16, in combat against the military forces. Maya women were gang raped by soldiers; the filmmakers uncover the ruins of a former ‘interrogation centre’, were a special ‘Rape Room’ had been set up. The small town of Salquil Grande was burned down to the ground by the soldiers in 1982, but has been rebuilt since, and is now again a centre for resistance for Mayans. Montt, bearing an eerie resemblance to Auguste Pinochet, sits unmoved through his trial, whilst his lawyers try to sabotage the proceedings, even walking out. The witnesses, particularly the women, are heart breaking. Some can’t even look at Montt. But the general’s daughter, Zury Rios, is adamant that all witnesses are paid money to denounce her father. She soon sets herself up as the presidential candidate for the Viva Party. Interviews in the streets of Guatemala City prove her point of view: many citizens do not believe that genocide happened in their country.

Part two looks at the history of the country, starting with the foundation of a democratic Guatemala in 1944. Ten years later, Jacobo Arbenz, president of the Republic, who had instigated land reforms, was overthrown in a CIA coup, and later murdered in Mexico. An era of instability followed, escalating into a civil war, which lasted from1960 to 1996. By now, the Mayans had been forced from the most fertile land into the mountains. But since 2010, dam building and mining projects mean that they are driven from their land again with force. The gigantic infrastructure projects also threaten ecological turmoil.

Uprising’, the last chapter, is the most impressive: it shows the disposal of president Otto Perez Molina (a former Inspector General of the Armed Forces) from office, for corruption in 2014. Whilst Yates shows the Maya population, participating joyously in the demonstrations and blocking highways, the real reason for Molina’s resignation and imprisonment was that he had lost the support of the, mostly European, middle classes. They had looked on, whilst the health and education services of the Mayas had been cut by the government, but were in uproar when the same happened to them.

Nevertheless, 500 YEARS ends on an uplifting note, when the new generation of Maya fighters let fly a huge, multi-coloured kite in their mountain village: “When we die, we die in peace, because of the struggle we have been in in”. Unfortunately for them, the new president, Jimmy Morales (a former TV comedian), who was elected in 2015 with a majority of 67%, has denied that there ever was a genocide of the Mayans.
Shot mostly on eye-level by DoPs Melle van Essen and Rene Soza, 500 YEARS is a sobering history lesson. It is also a structural triumph, gathering all the information in 106 minutes. Roger C. Miller’s score is, appropriately, melancholic. A true milestone.



5 Broken Cameras (2011) Human Rights Watch Festival


Directors: Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi | Cast:  Emad Burnat and family, the village of Bil’in and Nil’in, the soldiers and residents of Israel and occupied territories | 90 mins  Doc   Palestine, Israel, France

In 2005, Emad Burnat, Palestinian resident of the town of Bil’in, bought a camera to document the birth of his fourth son Gibreel. Just as he did so the Israeli army moved in and took his villagers land, so he spontaneously chose to document what happened, politically, geographically, but also the impact to his villagers and the next generation growing up with the conflict.

Five Broken Cameras swept up festival awards across the world, from Sundance to Sheffield, Durban to Jerusalem. It is a film that could not have been made by anyone other than a local, living through it as it happened. The footage is amazing. There is no reconstruction, nothing staged. It is completely different to footage one might witness on the news or a news of the self-same struggle, where M16 sub-machine guns, Humvees and tear gas come up against peaceful demonstrations, orchestrated with courage, heart and even humour.

Burnat, armed with nothing more than his camera and a deluded sense that it gives him immunity from the injustice and carnage around him, continues to film in ever escalating, ever more difficult circumstances. This documentary evolved of it’s own accord, as Burnat began to think only in hindsight of the images that he had; the story that lay in the footage he had gained and at such cost.

This is an astonishing and humbling film throwing into sharp relief the everyday fortitude of a people connected for thousands of years to the land where they live in occupying Israel. There is a sense of disbelief that this can actually be happening and is allowed to continue unabated by the watching world. One cannot help but be moved by these two extraordinary, intertwined stories; that of a man trying to do the right thing under extreme provocation and with such a love for humanity in an environment devoid of so much with beside a fence where antagonism is an everyday occurrence, and death a daily possibility. If you get a chance, see it. AT


Copyright © 2024 Filmuforia