'Hooligan Sparrow' is the closing doc for this year's Human Rights Watch Film Festival
‘Hooligan Sparrow’ is the opening documentary of this year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Film festival season is definitely in swing! Hot on the heels of Cannes comes another festival next month. However, unlike other film festivals, where celebrity presence is a main focus, the Human Rights Watch Festival centers on the struggles of ordinary people around the world. From June 10th-19th, the 27th edition of the festival will be presented in New York City by Human Rights Watch, an independent organization dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. Co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and IFC Center, the nine-day event highlights films from established and upcoming directors who focus on human rights content. This year’s festival selection includes 18 different films. Opening the festival is Hooligan Sparrow. From director, Nanfu Wang, the documentary follows Chinese activist Ye Haiyan (aka “Hooligan Sparrow”) as she protests against a school headmaster’s sexual abuse of young girls, leading both the director and Sparrow to become targets of government intimidation. In recognition of her work, Nanfu Wang will receive the festival’s 2016 Nestor Almendros Award for courage in filmmaking. Closing the festival is filmmaker Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami’s Sonita, which won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize. The film follows an Afgan teenager who overcomes living as a refugee in Iran (where female singers are banned from singing solo) and her family’s plans to sell her into marriage to follow her dreams of becoming a rapper.

'Sonita' is the closing documentary of this year's Human Rights Watch Film Festival
‘Sonita’ is the closing documentary of this year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Along with the opening and closing documentaries, much of the selection at this year’s festival highlight women’s rights and over half of the films are directed or co-directed by females. Among these films are two based around issues in the US. These include Jackson, which takes a close look at the politics of reproductive rights at Mississippi’s last remaining abortion clinic and Ovarian Psycos, which follows a defiant Latina bicycle gang fighting to take back the streets for women in East Los Angeles. On the international spectrum, there is Starless Dreams, a portrait of young women in a rehabilitation prison in Tehran; Tempestad which follows difficult life paths of two women amid the chaos of today’s Mexico; and The Uncondemned, a portrayal of a young group of lawyers and activists who fought to have rape recognized as a war crime in a landmark trial in Rwanda.

Three films in the festival address the fight for LGBT rights. Inside the Chinese Closet exposes the difficult decisions young lesbian and gay Chinese people are making when forced to balance their quest for love with parental and cultural expectations. HBO’s Suited explores the transformative work of Bindle & Keep, a Brooklyn tailor company that creates bespoke suits for clients across the gender spectrum while another American film addresses an issue that couldn’t be more timely in our current political situation. Growing Up Coy, shown in its world premiere, portrays the struggles of a Colorado family who take on a highly publicized legal battle to fight for their 6-year-old transgender daughter’s rights to use the girls’ bathroom.

A scene from 'Do Not Resist'
A scene from ‘Do Not Resist’

An additional film that cover’s one of America’s most pressing issues is Do Not Resist, an investigation into the increasing militarization of American police departments and how it overwhelmingly affects black Americans. The film was winner of the top documentary prize at the Tribeca Film Festival. Other films centered stateside include Almost Sunrise, which exposes the growing epidemic of soldier suicides through the story of two friends who embark on an epic journey to heal from their time in combat; Chapter & Verse which focuses on a former gang leader who struggles to restart his life in Harlem after eight years of incarceration; and HBO’s Solitary, exploration of life inside solitary confinement at a supermax prison.

Aside from films, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival will also present special programs that intertwine art and discussion. Afghan-born photographer, Zalmaï, and Human Rights Watch’s emergencies director will share images and their insights on how governments can effectively respond to the refugee crisis in a panel discussion called “Desperate Journey: Europe’s Refugee Crisis”. An exhibition of Zalmaï’s photographs will accompany this discussion in the Furman Gallery at the Walter Reade Theater. An additional panel, titled “The Emerging World of Virtual Reality and Human Rights,” will feature creators, journalists and human rights experts who will engage in a discussion on the evolving intersection of virtual reality and human rights.

Tickets are now available for the 2016 Human Rights Watch Film Festival in NYC.

View the trailer for the festival below:

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