TIFF Announces Human Rights Watch Film Festival line-up

Tibetan monk Golog Jigme describing his arrest in HRWFF closer Black Code
Black Code Media Inc. Courtesy Mongrel Media.

By Pat Mullen

The Toronto International Film Festival has announced the film’s for this year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival (HRWFF). Boasting a strong mix of Canadian and international titles, this year’s festival draws attention to essential stories around the globe that deserve attention at a time when walls, travel bans, threats to women’s rights, and other issues dominate the news day by day.

“Recounting stories of corporate corruption, digital activism, freedom of speech, the refugee experience, gender rights, marriage equality and so much more, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival invites audiences to participate in the vital dialogue that surrounds these issues that demand social change,” said Magali Simard, Senior Programmer, TIFF, in a statement from the festival. “This lineup of timely, powerful and cinematically engaging films shines a light on the pressing stories and issues around the world that urgently need our attention.”

“Our current state of world affairs serves as a call to action, urging us all to collectively rise up against human rights violations afflicting our neighbours and fellow citizens around the globe,” added Helga Stephenson, Chair of Toronto’s HRWFF. “We no longer live in a world where we can plead ignorance, and for those seeking the truth, our festival offers empowering and personal glimpses into the world of survivors whose commitment to the fight inspires us to care

This year’s festival opens with Sean McAllister’s A Syrian Love Story, which follows a family over five years as it experiences the Arab Spring movement. HRWFF closes with Nick de Pencier’s Black Code, which had its world premiere at TIFF last fall. Black Code looks at the perils of the Internet and the systems of control that play Big Brother to unsuspecting users. The fest also features encore presentations of TIFF Canuck hits We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice and Girl Unbound.

The line-up for this year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival includes:

A Syrian Love Story
dir. Sean McAllister | UK/France/Lebanon/Syria 2015 | 76 min. | 14A
Comrades and lovers Amer and Raghda met in a Syrian prison cell 15 years ago. When director Sean McAllister first meets their family in 2009, Raghda is back in prison, leaving Amer to look after their four boys alone; but as the Arab Spring sweeps the region, the family’s fate shifts irrevocably. Filmed over five years, the film charts their incredible odyssey to political freedom. For Raghda and Amer, it is a journey of hope, dreams and despair: for the revolution, their homeland and each other.
-Wednesday, March 29 at 8 p.m.

dirs. Heather White and Lynn Zhang
China/Hong Kong/USA/Netherlands 2017 | 88 min. | PG | North American Premiere
A courageous factory worker struggling with leukemia helps a group of young Chinese workers who have also been poisoned while making our favourite cell phones and electronic gadgets. Filmed over four years, this lushly photographed film takes the audience on an 8,000-mile journey to the world’s electronics factory floors and the neighbourhoods and hospitals surrounding the world’s largest electronics supplier, Foxconn. Complicit reveals the human costs of global outsourcing while highlighting the choices made by a group of inspired activists seeking change.
-Thursday, March 30 at 6:30 p.m.

Nowhere to Hide
dir. Zaradasht Ahmed | Norway/Sweden 2016 | 86 min. | 14A | Canadian Premiere
Nowhere to Hide follows male nurse Nori Sharif through five years of dramatic change, providing unique access into one of the world’s most dangerous and inaccessible areas: the “triangle of death” in central Iraq. Initially filming stories of survivors as American and Coalition troops retreat from Iraq in 2011, conflicts continue with Iraqi militias, and the population flees accompanied by most of the hospital staff; Nori is one of the few who remains. When ISIS advances on Jalawla in 2014 and takes over the city, he too must flee with his family at a moment’s notice, and turns the camera on himself.

Fantassút / Rain on the Borders
dir. Federica Foglia | Canada 2016 | 16 min. | 14A
Over 11,000 refugees from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries lived for months in dismal conditions hoping for the borders to open, and to continue their journey through the Balkan route.
-Friday, March 31 at 6:30 p.m.

Tickling Giants
dir. Sara Tacksler | Egypt 2016 | 111 min. | 14A | Toronto Premiere
In the midst of the Egyptian Arab Spring, Bassem Youssef makes a decision that’s every mother’s worst nightmare: he leaves his job as a heart surgeon to become a full-time comedian. Dubbed “The Egyptian Jon Stewart,” Bassem creates the most-viewed television program in the Middle East: he has 30 million viewers per episode, compared to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’s 2 million. In a country where free speech is not settled law, Bassem comes up with creative ways to non-violently challenge abuses of power. He endures physical threats, protests and legal action, all because of jokes. No unicorns or falafel were harmed in the making of this film.
-Saturday, April 1 at 6:30 p.m. with an introduction and Q&A by filmmaker Sara Tacksler.

We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice
dir. Alanis Obomsawin | Canada 2016 | 163 min. | PG
Toronto International Film Festival 2016
In 2007, the Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations filed a landmark discrimination complaint against Indian Affairs and Northern Development Canada. They argued that child and family welfare services provided to First Nations children on reserves and in Yukon were underfunded and inferior to services offered to other Canadian children. Veteran director Alanis Obomsawin’s We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice documents this epic court challenge, giving voice to the tenacious childcare workers at its epicenter. -Sunday, April 2 at 2 p.m. with an introduction and Q&A by filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin.
—> Read the POV interview with Alanis Obomsawin.

Girl Unbound: The War to be Her
dir. Erin Heidenreich | Afghanistan 2016 | 80 min. | PG
Toronto International Film Festival 2016
In Waziristan, “one of the most dangerous places on earth,” Maria Toorpakai defies the Taliban by disguising herself as a boy so she can play sports freely. But when she becomes a rising star, her true identity is revealed, bringing death threats on her and her family. Undeterred, they continue to fight for their freedom.
-Tuesday, April 4 at 6:30 p.m.
—> Read the POV review of Girl Unbound.

No Dress Code Required
dir. Cristina Herrera Borquez | Mexico 2016 | 92 min. | PG | Canadian Premiere
International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam 2016
Victor and Fernando are stylists in Mexicali, Mexico who are the go-to professionals for the city’s socialites. To their customers, they were a lovely couple — until they decided to legally marry. Losing the support of customers and friends and confronting a backlash of criticism, through their fight they woke up members of Mexicali’s society to fight homophobia and inequality.
-Wednesday, April 5 at 6 p.m. with an introduction by Kyle Knight, Researcher, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program, Human Rights Watch.

Black Code
dir. Nick de Pencier | Canada 2015 | 90 min.
Based on the book by Prof. Ron Deibert, Black Code is the story of how the internet is being controlled and manipulated by governments in order to censor and monitor their citizens. As they battle for control of cyberspace, ideas of citizenship, privacy and democracy are challenged to the core.
-Thursday, April 6 at 6:30 p.m. with an introduction and Q&A by filmmaker Nicholas De Pencier, with guest speaker Prof. Ron Deibert.
—> Read more on de Pencier in this POV interview.

TIFF’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival runs March 29 – April 6.
Vist tiff.net/humanrightswatch for more information.