Indigenous Resistance & LGBTQ Rights Take Center Stage at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Lead Photo: '500 Years' Courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival Photo credit: Saul Martinez
'500 Years' Courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival Photo credit: Saul Martinez
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If you’re a fan of socially conscious filmmaking, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival is the one for you. The New York City fest champions award-winning film programs that inspire, provoke and motivate in the defense of human rights. This year’s selection includes projects that tackle police brutality, freedom of the press, and climate change denial. And a trio of films about Latin America—all of them by female directors—are definitely ones you want to keep an eye out on throughout the fest.

Maite Alberdi’s Los niños (The Grown-Ups) is set in a Chilean school for people living with Down Syndrome. The protagonists of Alberdi’s doc—Ana, Ricardo, Andrés, and Rita—are in their forties and work in the school’s kitchen, which also doubles as a catering company. They’re all mostly self-sufficient and are being taught what they’ll need to know to live independently. But issues of intimacy, sex, prejudice, and discrimination come into play in this tender look at what it means to live with Down Syndrome. As Andrés tells his girlfriend Ana, the best they can do is be a model: “We can open people’s minds and they can see us having a normal life together.”

Just in time for Pride, Cristina Herrera Borquez’s Etiqueta no rigurosa (No Dress Code Required) takes viewers across the border to witness firsthand what the fight for marriage equality looks like in Mexico. When Victor and Fernando, a gay couple living in Mexicali, Baja California, decide to get married, they set into a motion a years-long legal battle. It exposed how Mexico’s bureaucrats in states and cities away from more liberal areas of the country can still obstruct same-sex marriages, even when doing so goes against Mexico’s Supreme Court decisions. The doc has an uplifting message of resilience and unity in the light of rampant homophobia, best summed up by the t-shirts that Victor and Fernando wear to show their pride: “Porque BC Somos Todos” (“Because Baja California is all of us.”) This may be a story about one couple, but it is also about what they represent.

In what will surely be one of the most buzzed about events at the festival, HRWFF will be hosting The Resistance Saga, where filmmaker Pamela Yates will be showing the three films she’s made about the plight of indigenous Guatemalans in the Central American country. In addition to catching When the Mountains Tremble (1984) and Granito: How to Nail a Dictator (2011), audiences will be able to see her latest, 500 Years. The documentary, which premiered at Sundance in January 2017, is the story of Maya resistance in Guatemala. The day-long immersive gathering includes the screening of all three films, with two 15-minute intermissions, followed by a discussion on long-term movement building with the Maya women protagonists, and a reception and concert by Maya singer/songwriter Sara Curruchich, singing her inspiring songs of resistance.

Human Rights Watch Film Festival runs June 9-18, 2017 in New York