For cinema lovers who like their films to address and shed light on contemporary issues, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival is your one-stop shop for socially conscious filmmaking. Year in and year out, the fest spotlights work from filmmakers eager to raise awareness of difficult topics and spark conversations about everything from human trafficking to fracking and everything in between. “In a year when women have spoken out against abuse, harassment and oppression, the festival highlights the outstanding work of women filmmakers telling epic stories of women fighting injustice with resilience and courage.” said John Biaggi, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival creative director.
That’s definitely the case in Margarita Cadenas’s Women of Venezuelan Chaos. Using the testimonials of five women from diverse backgrounds, this documentary paints a picture of the current economic crisis affecting Venezuela right now. Featuring stunning visuals and creative soundscapes, Women of Venezuelan Chaos shows both the natural beauty and the broken infrastructure of the country. Intimate scenes at a hospital with no resources and in bedrooms where mothers bemoan their son’s wrong imprisonment put in perspective what so often remains an abstract understanding of the disconnect between the Venezuelan government’s denials and the every day life of its citizens. But perhaps the most telling detail comes during the brief credits sequence at the end of the film’s trailer: “Fearing persecution,” you read, “some of the technical crew and the rental company in Venezuela decided to remain anonymous.”
Women of Venezuelan Chaos screens June 15 9:15pm and June 16 3:30pm with a Q&A with filmmaker Margarita Cadenas.
Equally attempting to put a country’s current situation in context is Kim Hopkins’ Voices of the Sea (Voces del mar). With phone camera footage out at sea interspersed with striking images of Cuban coast life, the doc follows Mariela Mora Quintana, a young Cuban mother who’s slowly considering leaving her homeland for a better life in the United States. But with changing diplomatic conversations and with her husband’s commitment to staying in the island (he believes, as Castro once said, that you can sustain yourself on ideas if you must), she’s seeing her window to leave close up. Awash with the steel blues of the ocean that surrounds the life of Mariela’s fishing village, which is both promise and barrier, Hopkins’ film is a compassionate look at a community risking it all to survive.
Voices of the Sea screens June 15 6:30pm and June 17th 8:45pm with a Q&A with Kim Hopkins .
Tackling an issue closer to home is The Unafraid. Directed by Heather Courtney and Panamanian-American filmmaker Anayansi Prado, this documentary is bound to make you tear up; in frustration, in anger, but most likely also in how hopeful and inspiring its subjects are. High school seniors Alejandro, Silvia, and Aldo, all Georgia natives want, like many their age, to follow their dreams and go to college. Only, their undocumented status means they’re barred from attending the top five public universities in the state, while being DACA recipients means they’re ineligible for in-state tuition at public colleges. Initially conceived as a Seven Up-esque film where the directors would return every summer for a decade to follow their journey, the documentary’s purpose changed four years in with the 2016 election. What’s on screen then, is the plight of three Americans to make a life for themselves in the country they’ve always known as home. With teary confessions, powerful images at rallies, and even quite upsetting images taken by phones of late night encounters with traffic cops, The Unafraid gives voice to these inspirational members of the generation of “undocumented, unapologetic and unafraid” young people who are determined to overcome and dismantle oppressive policies and mindsets.
The Unafraid screens June 21 7:00pm with a Q&A with filmmakers Anayansi Prado and Heather Courtney
The Human Rights Watch Film Festival runs June 14-21, 2018.