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A still from the film ‘Minding the Gap’

Five movies to catch at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival

The London leg of this international fest shines a welcome light on some of the world's shadiest corners

By Sophie Monks Kaufman

There are 15 docs and dramas showing at London’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival, a ten-day cinema shindig that brings to life some of world’s human rights abuses. Some are harrowing, some invigorating, while all are eye-opening.

Films like ‘No Box for Me: An Intersex Story’ and ‘The Cleaners’ challenge gender binaries, medicine, technology and social media, while other films tackle themes like whistle-blowing, oppression and David v Goliath stories. As the festival hits London, here are our top five picks of the films showing. For more information and to book tickets visit the Human Rights Watch Film Festival London website here.  

RECOMMENDED: More film events and pop-ups in London

A still from the film ‘Facing the Dragon’

Facing the Dragon (2018)

Director: Sedika Mojadidi

US-Afghani filmmaker Sedika Mojadidi decided to bear witness after US troops pulled out of Afghanistan in 2011. The result is a personal frontline vision of a moment in history. With the Taliban on the rise, two women – Nilofar, a politician driven by selfless compassion, and Shakila, who became a journalist after her domineering husband died – are caught between duty and safety. 

A still from the film ‘Minding the Gap’

Minding the Gap (2018)

Director: Bing Liu

Golden hour for three skaters in the Rust Belt town of Rockford, Illinois is captured by the glidecam of Bing Liu. His doc initially flies on the euphoric energy of youth, before becoming an unflinching exploration of growing up amid male violence. This is an intimate reckoning, examining the lattice of psychological scars in both perpetrators and victims.

A still from the film ‘The Cleaners’
Konrad Waldmann

The Cleaners (2018)

Directors: Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck

The grim work of content moderators in The Philippines hired to delete inappropriate content from the internet is one side of a doc that also poses questions about lack of moral accountability at social media giants. Former Facebook, Twitter and YouTube employees discuss free-speech-compromising deals with foreign governments, and paint Silicon Valley as a cult of positivity with no capacity to recognise the darker forces its connectivity abets.

A still from No Box For Me. An Intersex Story

No Box for Me: An Intersex Story (2018)

Director: Floriane Devigne

A celebratory character study of intersex people in France and Switzerland led by 25-year-old Deborah, who has the soul of a lover and the lyricism of a poet. She glories in non-binary identities, finding representations across art and culture, and checks in with a doctor who is challenging the medical orthodoxy of performing gender-determining operations on children without consent.

A still from the film ‘Roll Red Roll’

Roll Red Roll (2018)

Director: Nancy Schwartzman

In 2012 a high-school-footballer rape case put Steubenville, Ohio on the international map, attracting intervention from Anonymous. This is a brutal watch that uses social media from the teenage perpetrators who jokingly live-tweeted a sexual assault. A local blogger dug up their tweets and helped bring this story to the national news. Nancy Schwartzman’s doc is full of sorrow and shows exactly what we fight when we fight toxic masculinity.


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