The Human Condition

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival, now in its 22nd edition, is back this month in London, with 14 new films offering fresh new perspectives on contemporary human rights issues. Playing at various venues around the capital – the Barbican, the BFI Southbank and the Regent Street Cinema – thirteen documentary features and one fictional drama make up the selection, tackling issues from Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

Intriguingly, four of the films are made by photographers and photojournalists. Daniel McCabe’s This Is Congo is a look at the Democratic Republic of Congo and those caught up in violence there; he first travelled to the DRC in 2008 to cover the armed rebellions that were slicing up its eastern regions. McCabe, who calls the Congo “Narnia on acid”, looks at 2012’s M23 rebellion after he came into contact with Colonel Mamadou Ndala, hailed a hero after leading the fight against the rebels.

A Cambodian Spring, meanwhile, is the result of a nine-year odyssey by writer-director Chris Kelly, a regularly contributor to The Guardian. Winner of the Special Jury Prize for International Feature Documentary at Hot Docs 2017, and shot over six years, the film is a portrait of three people in modern-day Cambodia, embroiled in the so-called “land rights protests”, as citizens face forced evictions and ‘land grabbing’ from government and corporate entities in the name of “economic progress.”

Another very different form of human rights violation comes in 12 Days, a new film by renowned filmmaker and photographer Raymond Depardon. It tackles the psychiatric care system in France and those who are placed in it without their consent. By law, the hospital has twelve days to bring the patient before a judge, often with little information offered beyond medical recommendations. Set around these public hearings, it’s an emotive look at how fragile a person’s freedom can be.

The fourth film made by a photographer is Muhi – Generally Temporally. It’s the work of Rina Castelnuovo, an award winning Israeli photographer, who has worked for The New York Times Jerusalem for 23 years. The story focuses on Muhi, a young boy from Gaza who, after being rushed to an Israeli hospital in his infancy, has been trapped there, with his grandfather, for eight years, due to immigration constraints amid the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Four gems in a festival full of them.

The 22nd Human Rights Watch Film Festival runs until 16 March. For more details, click here.

James Mottram

1. Still from Daniel McCabe’s This Is Congo.