TIFF Announces Titles for 2019 Human Rights Watch Film Festival

The Silence of Others

By Pat Mullen

The Toronto International Film Festival unveiled the line-up for this year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival today. The festival, which runs at Toronto’s TIFF Lightbox from April 3 to 10, showcases seven politically engaged films from around the world. Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar’s critically acclaimed doc The Silence of Others is this year’s opening night selection and comes to HRWFF after a successful run at Hot Docs last year where POV’s Liam Lacey gave it a rave review. The Silence of Others chronicles the plight of survivors of Franco-era fascism as they face a growing populist movement in which citizens campaign to “Make Spain Great Again.” The film won Spain’s Goya Award for documentary and was one of 15 titles to make the December shortlist in the Oscar race for Best Documentary Feature.

HRWFF spotlights several stories by women behind the camera, including Ying Liang’s A Family Tour. The semi-autobiographical drama tells the story of Chinese filmmaker Yang Shu who was censored by the Chinese government when they disapproved of one of her movies. Ying follows Yang’s story as she returns to China from exile in Hong Kong to care for her ailing mother. The film is an especially relevant tale given that issues of Chinese censorship overshadowed the Berlin Film Festival as acclaimed director/artist/activist Ai Weiwei had his segment excised from the anthology film Berlin, I Love You amidst fears of retaliation from the Chinese government, while Zhang Yimou’s Cultural Revolution-era drama One Second was pulled at the last minute for “technical reasons.” The screening of A Family Tour will be introduced by Farida Deif, Canada Director, Human Rights Watch.

Also screening at the festival is No Box for Me. An Intersex Story, a study of gender identities by French filmmaker Floriane Devigne, and Tim O’Donnell and Jon Mercer’s Life Without Basketball, which confronts issues of diversity in sport with the story of Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, who fought for her right to wear a hijab on the basketball court. Both films make their Toronto premieres at HRWFF. Other docs at the festival include encore presentations of the TIFF hit Ghost Fleet, directed by Shannon Service and Jeffrey Waldron; the eye-opening The Cleaners by Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck; and Nancy Schwartzman’s #MeToo era true crime tale Roll Red Roll.

This year’s HRWFF also celebrates the careers of two talents who have made a significant contribution towards spotlighting human rights issues through film. The festival will honour doc duo Jennifer Baichwal and Nick de Pencier at HRWFF’s opening night reception. The pair recently used the power of film, photography, and interactive media to highlight the urgency of human activity and climate change through the Anthropocene project. The feature film won this year’s Rogers Award for Best Canadian Feature from the Toronto Film Critics Association and is nominated for two Canadian Screen Awards. The film is the culmination of their collaboration with photographer Edward Burtynsky, which began with Manufactured Landscapes (2006) and Watermark (2013).

“This year’s lineup showcases essential stories, giving audiences a chance to take the story off the screen, examine the injustices, and spotlight the heroes working on these crises every day,” said Helga Stephenson, Chair of the Toronto Human Rights Watch Film Festival, in a statement from TIFF. “It is designed not only to inspire people to join the cause, but also to help them understand how best to take action themselves. We’re especially looking forward to honouring Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier and their critical work in the field.”

“When we illuminate advocates combatting oppression around the world through films as compelling as these, we advance the conversations that help to make change,” added TIFF artistic director and co-head Cameron Bailey. The festival features several guest speakers from Human Rights Watch, as well as guest filmmakers and advocates in fields related to film subjects who may engaged audiences in post-screening Q&As.