2018 Films

69 Minutes of 86 Days

In a recent statement echoed by United Nations officials, Amnesty International has called the Syrian refugee crisis the worst humanitarian disaster of our lifetime. Fittingly, as the Syrian Civil War has escalated since 2011, one of the most prominent themes of human rights film festivals around the world has been that of displaced citizens seeking asylum or other forms of humanitarian assistance. Norwegian documentarian Egil Haaskjold Larsen’s latest production, 69 Minutes of 86 Days, thus joins a long list of films that seek to enhance our understanding of the sheer magnitude and global impact of the refugee crisis. But, unlike so many of its precursors, this visually arresting, hauntingly scored tone poem dispenses with the kind of expositional information (e.g., onscreen text, voiceover narration) that lards other motion pictures, and instead emphasizes motion itself — the nearly wordless movement of one particular family (including a charismatic three-year-girl named Lean Kanjo) as they journey by land and sea, through countless border checks over a three-month period, toward their destination in Uppsala, Sweden. Watching 69 Minutes of 86 Days, especially as it builds toward its emotionally stirring conclusion, audiences experience the unshakeable, empathy-building sensation of having “lived” with a group of people accustomed to the physical strain of immigration and for whom open arms are the most welcoming sight imaginable. Learn More

Anote's Ark

Trained as a visual anthropologist, photographer Matthieu Rytz makes his stunning debut as a filmmaker with Anote’s Ark, a thought-provoking documentary about the plight of the roughly 100,000 people living on — and now regretfully leaving — Kiribati, a remote Pacific Island nation that is on the frontline of a global environmental crisis. As rising sea levels threaten its citizens with national extinction, Kiribati’s firebrand President Anote Tong races to find a solution to his country’s relocation problems while lobbying the world’s leading “carbon nations” (including China and the United States) to take a more active role in addressing climate change. Cross-cut with President Tong’s world-spanning initiative to save his nation are scenes depicting a young mother (Sermary Tiare)’s extraordinary journey to begin life anew with her husband and six children in New Zealand (where 75 of her country’s environmental refugees gained citizenship in 2014). This aesthetically striking yet heartbreaking film is a must-see for audiences in the United States, especially now that President Trump has declared his intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement (a decision that is scheduled to take effect in 2020). Notably, two other countries that previously had not signed the 2015 accord (Syria and Nicaragua) have decided to join, leaving the United States as the only country excluded from the global effort to mitigate the effects of climate change. Clips of President Obama’s galvanizing speech at the Paris conference as well as captioned text at the end of Anote’s Ark, informing us of an opposition party leader’s recent reversal of President Tong’s environmental policies, highlight how much work remains to be done in order to confront this most pressing, potentially catastrophic global issue.Learn More

Chega De Fiu Fiu

Inspired by Brazilian feminist blogger and Think Olga founder Juliana de Faria’s “Chega de Fiu Fiu” campaign (a crowdfunded effort to end gender-based abuse, launched four years ago), this electrifying, eye-opening documentary brings to light an issue that few men ever bother to ponder. Specifically, it exposes the culture of “catcalls” that women must endure when navigating the streets of São Paulo, Brasília, and other areas where verbal and physical harassment have become an increasingly prominent part of daily life. Besides de Faria, many other social activists (including Chega de Fiu Fiu’s co-directors Fernanda Frazao and Amanda Kamanchek Lemos) are seeking to make public spaces safe for women, and have called on urban planners and local governments to rethink the design of cities while ensuring access to safe transportation alternatives and well-illuminated pedestrian routes. Turning their lens toward three representative individuals, each from a different part of Brazil, the filmmakers give their empowered subjects an opportunity to speak for themselves; from Raquel, a black manicurist and nursing student, to Teresa, a white history teacher, to Rosa, a trans woman artist who deals not only with objectifying catcalls but also with demoralizing hate speech. Asking audiences to look at the world through the eyes of these women (presented by way of hidden-camera footage), Chega de Fiu Fiu makes a crucial contribution to the Time’s Up Movement and is essential viewing for anyone who believes that cities belong to all of its inhabitants, regardless of their gender.Learn More


In November of 2017, the online resource announced its Word of the Year, one that has gained renewed relevance in the United States owing to recent political events. That word, “Complicit,” hints at the moral entanglements that result from partnering with others involved in wrongdoing. It is also the title of one of the most important documentaries to come out of China, the country where many of our smartphones are manufactured (and often at the cost of human lives). Co-directed by Heather White and Lynn Zhang, Complicit was filmed covertly over a grueling three year period in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, two so-called “electronics zones” where local and migrant workers are forced to contend with unsafe workplace conditions as well as hazardous chemicals. Prolonged exposure to toxic solvents and carcinogens, including Benzene and n-Hexane (which were banned in developed countries more than four decades ago), frequently leads to nerve damage, paralysis, and cancer. Incorporating footage sourced from undercover workers, and balancing the perspectives of victims with those of activist groups such as Labor Action China, this riveting film is a rude awakening to people who say they “can’t live” without their cellphones. It is also a reminder that there are winners and losers in the game of global capitalism, and that no one can claim innocence so long as we remain complicit in rewarding electronics manufacturers with our undying patronage. Learn More

Crime + Punishment

The standard definition of a “whistleblower” as a person who publically or privately raises a concern about illegal or unscrupulous workplace practices fails to conjure the ethical conundrums and professional consequences of such a brave act. Stephen Maing’s Crime + Punishment shines a light on a small group of African American and Latino police officers in New York City (the “NYPD12”) who put their careers and lives on the line while blowing the proverbial whistle on the racial injustices that have become so tragically endemic to their profession. In doing so, this gripping film — much like the courageous men and women who gradually uncover systemic levels of abuse directed at ethnic minorities — exposes how precincts not only protect and serve but also, in adopting ostensibly outlawed policing quotas (the subject of a recent class-action lawsuit), criminalize the most vulnerable members of society. With unprecedented access to private documents and incriminating audio recordings, Maing synthesizes material from over a thousand hours of footage (including candid interviews with Sandy Gonzales, Edwin Raymond, Felicia Whitely, and other active duty members of the NYPD12), providing irrefutable evidence that minority communities have been targeted by law enforcement at an inordinate rate simply to meet a certain number of arrests and summonses each month. Learn More

Dead Donkeys Fear No Hyenas

Verdant, arable farmlands in Africa, especially in biodiverse but poverty-stricken countries like Ethiopia, have been called “green gold.” This is because of their exploitable, exportable resources and the relative ease with which local bureaucrats are able to evict indigenous people from their homes, thus clearing the way for foreign investors and land grabbers to step in. Swedish director Joakim Demmer’s eye-opening documentary, seven years in the making, brings international attention to the long-unchecked government corruption that has robbed many Ethiopian farmers of their livelihood. With the procedural rigor and pulse-pounding suspense of a detective story, Dead Donkeys Fear No Hyenas investigates the roles of the European Union, the World Bank, and the UK’s Department for International Development in allowing such injustices to occur, but focuses specifically on local officials (not only from Ethiopia but also from Kenya, South Sudan, and other areas) who put profits above the lives of their own people. Few films are as insightful about the negative impact of foreign aid and the dark undercurrents of developmentalism as this bracing example of journalistic cinema.Learn More

Freedom For The Wolf

Bearing a title that was inspired by a quote from the philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who once warned his readers of the deleterious effects of unrestrained capitalism and economic individualism (writing, “Freedom for the wolves has often meant death to the sheep”), director Rupert Russell’s feature-length debut should be required viewing for anyone who doubts the recent rise of “illiberal democracy.” The latter expression, which some political scientists and journalists call “empty democracy,” refers to the illusion of freedom that comes from presumably free elections but which masks governments’ troubling tendency (even in advanced, developed nations) to deprive people of civil liberties as well as access to information that might make them question the status quo. Traversing three continents and taking the viewer from the streets of Hong Kong (where a series of “Umbrella Movement” demonstrations against the Chinese government took place in 2014) to the U.S. capital (where hundreds of thousands participated in the Women’s March one day after President Trump’s 2017 inauguration), Freedom for the Wolf maps out a present-day history-in-the-making and reveals how the same spirit of protest can be found in everything from the Arab Spring to #BlackLivesMatter. Agitational cinema at its best, this incendiary documentary is sure to rile even the most passive, apolitical onlookers.Learn More

Mama Colonel

For decades, but especially after the Continental War ripped Central Africa apart beginning in the 1990s, sexual abuse has been a facet of life for many people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (a country labeled by some human rights organizations as the “worst place in the world for women”). Indeed, rape was, and continues to be, used as a weapon of war, often at the hands of security force members (including the Congolese army and other military groups) who abduct women and children as sex slaves. Victims of abuse have been denied opportunities to report their traumatizing experiences, or have simply remained silent for fear of recrimination and stigmatization. One woman, the fortysomething Honorine Munyole, confronts this crisis head-on, hunting down perpetrators — some of them high-ranking government officials — who have long been shielded from investigations and prosecutions by corrupt politicians. As the titular hero in director Dieudo Hammadi’s documentary Mama Colonel, this mother of seven children and full-time police officer has seen her share of rights violations as the head of a unit protecting minors in the eastern city of Bukavu, where she first earned the respect of her peers fifteen years ago. Now that she is transferring to Kisangani, however, a new set of obstacles awaits Munyole, who remains resolute in her commitment to bringing perpetrators to justice. Hammadi’s film — a loving tribute to a heroine as courageous and inspiring as any fictional superhero — arrives in the midst of the #TimesUp Movement, giving U.S. audiences a more global perspective on the issue of sexual violence and focusing our attention on a tireless champion of children’s rights and women’s rights who refuses to remain silent. Learn More

Memory in Khaki

Following its premiere at the 2016 Karlovy Vary Film Festival, director Alfoz Tanjour’s A Memory in Khaki has garnered international acclaim for its lyrical treatment of the decades-long oppression faced by Syrians, millions of whom have been forced to flee their country and its authoritarian government because of their political beliefs. What distinguishes this gripping documentary from the many other equally lauded motion pictures that explore the prelude to and consequences of the Syrian Civil War (such as last year’s City of Ghosts and Last Men in Aleppo) is the filmmaker’s wide-ranging look at how the system of oppression associated with Bashar al-Assad’s rise to power continues to be felt today by Syrians living abroad, from Finland to France. Symbolized by khaki, a neutral, seemingly bland color that conjures traumatic memories of blood-stained military uniforms and school clothing (part of the Assad regime’s efforts to control people’s bodies and minds), that palpable feeling of oppression is offset by the hope for a better future that each of the film’s five interviewees courageously nurtures. Stitching together several different monologues in which those far-flung individuals (including Tanjour himself) speak with heartbreaking honesty about their experiences as exiles or refugees, A Memory in Khaki will stir the emotions of anyone who has longed for the familiarity — if not always the comforts — of home.Learn More

Minding The Gap


Comparisons to Richard Linklater’s poetic coming-of-age drama Boyhood (2014) are fitting yet inadequate in gesturing toward the boundless exuberance and bottomless depth of feeling awaiting viewers of the Sundance sensation Minding the Gap. Shot by first-time filmmaker Bing Liu over five years, this Rust Belt documentary begins by showing a trio of teenage skateboarders goofing around in their blue-collar, crime-ridden hometown of Rockford, Illinois, but quickly takes the viewer on a ride as perilous as any freestyle maneuver or high-flying trick in their arsenal. Focusing on Bing’s childhood friends Zack and Keire, survivors of domestic abuse and broken homes, this deeply personal exploration of toxic masculinity’s effects on young men and women is kept aloft by these subjects’ infectious passion for their favorite pastime, yet remains grounded in the very real poverty and violence that make escape from such conditions difficult if not impossible. Minding the Gap not only marks the debut of a talented, wise-beyond-his-years director; someone from whom equally great work is sure to come. It also augers a new era of liberated — indeed, liberating — youth-centered documentary filmmaking.Learn More

Nowhere To Hide

Nowhere to Hide" follows a man - the medic and father Nori Sharif - through 5 years of dramatic change in the war-torn Diyala-province; one of the most dangerous provinces in the middle of Iraq. From the time of the American retreat to the fall of Nori's home town, we follow him filming stories of survivors. In a world trapped between ISIS and the different Iraqi Militias, his integrity and humanitarian vision is the only thing that drives him to continue against all odds. Even when, as last man standing, he is forced to turn the camera towards himself. We are given a unique insight into one of the worlds most dangerous and inaccessible areas - the "triangle of death" in central Iraq. We get to know and hear the stories of the people who live there; survivors of this 'new war" that has become the norm - where the enemy is invisible, and there is nowhere to hide.Learn More

Other Side of Everything, The

Having burst onto the filmmaking scene with Cinema Komunisto (2010), her feature-length exposé of the ties between the movie industry of the former Yugoslavia and that country’s authoritarian regime prior to President Tito’s death in 1980, director Mila Turajlic returns with a more intimate — but no less-sweeping — look at her own family’s entrenchment in political events. Focusing on her mother, Srbijanka, a former professor at Belgrade University whose decades-long commitment to socially progressive causes would be an inspiration to any activist today, The Other Side of Everything brings together personal memory and public history to quietly devastating effect. Set largely within a single space (that of Srbijanka’s home, which was partitioned by the Communist government decades ago and left in a state of internal division after the rise of Slobodan Milošević in the 1990s), this film explodes the literal and figurative walls that might otherwise contain its firebrand protagonist, giving her an opportunity to talk back to Serbian nationalists who have labeled her a “traitor” and to government officials who once subjected her to state surveillance. As the winner of the prestigious Best Feature-Length Documentary Award at last year’s IDFA (the world’s largest festival devoted to nonfiction cinema), The Other Side of Everything earns its many accolades by keeping the past alive and reminding audiences that the hard-earned right to protest — to raise one’s voice against ruling forces — is essential to democracy.Learn More

RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked The World

In recent years, a string of nonfiction films have brought long-underappreciated and professionally marginalized creators of American popular music into the spotlight, from the Los Angeles-based group of session players featured in The Wrecking Crew (2008) to the backup singers largely responsible for the Motown sound and so lovingly documented in 20 Feet from Stardom (2013). Alfonso Maiorana and Catherine Bainbridge’s recent festival hit Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World is perhaps the most revelatory of the bunch, writing a much-needed chapter in the annals of a cultural form that has often been whitewashed by historians. Taking a cue from the Native American rock and roll guitarist Link Wray (who, born to Shawnee parents, gained fame for his 1958 instrumental single “Rumble”), this documentary is like a soul-shattering power-chord blast, sure to floor audiences and send them on a hunt for the legendary recordings of musicians like Delta blues great Charley Patton and electric guitarist Jimi Hendrix. However, besides memorializing the many accomplishments of these and other artists, Maiorana and Bainbridge open up the contextual scope of their film to examine the U.S. government’s shameful campaigns to erase indigenous cultures as well as the solidarity between African Americans and Native Americans that was needed in order to survive and even thrive in a historically racist industry. Learn More

Student Film Competition Selections

The third annual ACT Human Rights Film Festival continues its special student filmmaker section, celebrating excellence in the field of socially conscious cultural production. Eight student films that examine a range of human rights issues from domestic violence, immigration, sexual assault, identity, and war will screen.Learn More