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The 2021 Human Rights Watch Film Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary with a full digital edition available to stream across the UK. Featuring 10 powerful and uplifting new documentaries – each accompanied by a live, online discussion with filmmakers, film participants, and Human Rights Watch researchers from around the world – the festival is presented exclusively on Barbican Cinema On Demand from 18-26 March. Celebrating campaigners, individuals and journalists who shine a light on disruptive forces, this year’s empowering programme highlights trailblazing women, activists’ resilience and resistance, education as an essential tool for change and a special spotlight on Latin America. With films from Ireland, Germany, Kenya, the Philippines, the United States and Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela, eight of this year’s line-up are directed or co-directed by women.

Gali Gold, Head of Cinema, Barbican tells Something Curated, “I am thrilled that we are able to host this year’s powerful line-up on Barbican’s Cinema On Demand, while our cinemas are still closed. The conviction of the storytellers in the festival’s programme is always inspiring to see, and it’s wonderful to know that audiences across the UK can join us this year.” John Biaggi, Director of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival adds, “The full festival programme, which audiences across the UK can enjoy, encapsulates the core work of Human Rights Watch to defend rights and secure justice. I look forward to our expert panellists exploring this and more in our in-depth online discussions throughout the festival.” Ahead of the festival’s launch next month, Something Curated highlights five films not to miss from this year’s programme.

The 8th, 2020 || Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy & Maeve O’Boyle

Capturing a crucial moment in women’s rights, this is the story of how Ireland overturned one of the world’s most restrictive laws on abortion. The film follows veteran campaigner Ailbhe Smyth and self-described glitter-activist Andrea Horan as they chart a bold strategy of grassroots activism to engineer the impossible and carry a traditionally conservative and religious electorate over the line to extend rights to women seeking an abortion. An urgent narrative, a cautionary tale and a roadmap for progressive reforms in a modern era where authoritarianism is on the rise, The 8th shows a country forging a new path at a time when reproductive rights are threatened around the world.

Unapologetic, 2020 || Ashley O’Shay

This is a profound and necessary story ripe for a country, and indeed a global reckoning, with racial injustice. After two Black Chicagoans, Rekia Boyd and Laquan McDonald, are killed at the hands of the police, the Movement for Black Lives demands justice and organises to challenge an administration complicit in violence against its residents. Unapologetic introduces Janaé Bonsu and Bella Bahhs, two fierce activist leaders whose upbringing and experiences have shaped their view of what liberation could and should look like, as they urge for an expansive view of public safety that does not depend on the police. This invigorating documentary illuminates the love underpinning the anger and frustration that comes with being Black, queer women in the US, and elevates those who are most often leading the way while being denied the spotlight.

Belly of The Beast, 2020 || Erika Cohn

When two brave women find a pattern of illegal involuntary sterilisations in California’s women’s prisons, they launch a battle against the system. With a growing team of women inside prison working with formerly incarcerated colleagues on the outside, they uncover a series of state-wide crimes – from dangerously inadequate health care to sexual assault to coercive sterilisations – primarily targeting Black, Latinx and Indigenous individuals. Captured over seven years, this shocking and emboldening legal drama is a damning account of a shameful and on-going legacy of eugenics and reproductive injustice in the United States, featuring a group of extraordinary women determined to ensure it ends here and now.

A Thousand Cuts, 2020 || Ramona S. Diaz

Nowhere is the erosion of democracy and the power of social media in politics more evident than in the Philippines. When elected president in 2016, Rodrigo Duterte promised violence with a declared “war on drugs.” Join the prominent journalist Maria Ressa and her publication Rappler as they investigate thousands of government-sanctioned murders of primarily poor people accused of using or selling drugs. To suppress reporting on his mounting abuses, Duterte unleashes a powerful disinformation campaign on social media, targeting journalists with arrests, and violent threats. In this searing film, follow Ressa and her fearless team as they risk their own freedom in defence of truth and democracy.

Mujer de Soldado (Soldier’s Woman), 2020 || Patricia Wiesse Risso

Magda Surichaqui Cóndor was a teenager when soldiers arrived in her small Peruvian village in 1984. Sent to root out members of the Shining Path, soldiers of the Peruvian army used their sweeping powers to rape and humiliate local women, leaving them shunned by their own communities, often with children in tow. Three decades later, Magda has joined a number of other women in bringing charges against their abusers. With stunning cinematography and respectful intimacy, Patricia Wiesse Risso accompanies Magda and her friends as they reminisce over their youth and their lives since, whilst they sit and chew coca leaves, peeling potatoes and spinning wool.

Feature image: Still from A Thousand Cuts, dir. Ramona S. Diaz (featured in the photo: Maria Ressa)

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