The 2014 edition of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival features eight challenging documentaries that lift the veil on human rights violations in every corner of the world.  Two are Academy Award winners and all are tough to watch.  Helga Stephenson, founder and co-chair of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival notes that the documentaries open our eyes not simply to injustice but to the resilience of the human spirit.   Stephenson encapsulates some of the films for Mrs. Robinson.
Saving Face looks at a disturbing trend in Pakistan – men burning their wives faces with hot oil.  It is hard to see women just like us disfigured and terrorised.
It’s happening in Toronto.  With these things people go “Tut, tut, that’s terrible” but when you see these women who have had cooking oil thrown in their faces and been set on fire it impossible to ignore.  It happens here, these are crimes of honour.  Some honour. These women are drowned, burned, and virtually imprisoned.  It’s not an unusual thing.  These killings are deemed justified and part of the courage of the women coming forward is that they say goodbye to life as they know it.

Highway of Tears is the doc on the 43 mostly aboriginal women who disappeared along B.C.’s Highway 16 over 40 years.  What a brutal story.
There was no bus service along that highway.  The communities were underserved and that facilitated the ease with which the men or man could pick off the women.  The complete constabulary of the region ignored the evidence.  They said “It’s just another drunken Indian hooker”.   Now there is a big study going on and they’re being made to answer for it but this does not bring those women back or end the sorrow for their families.

Which films are Oscar nominees?
The Square takes us out into Tahrir Square and Cairo and it’s incredible, it captures the most crucial period in the Middle East in recent history.   The Missing Picture shows us the brutality waged against Cambodia in the 1975 Kampuchean Revolution and why it happened.  You learn the Cambodians like the Laotians were dumped into the arms of the Khmer Rouge after the Americans had conducted the most massive bombing campaign in the history of bombing.  It’s nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar.
The festival is a real eye-opener, you can’t be unmoved by these films.
I’m not so sure we get many of the stories in the news but these films give me a hopeful feeling.   You find the most incredible characters, and sometimes the most deplorable and nasty situations and it’s the indelible human ability to survive and thrive despite appalling conditions that inspires me.
Human Rights Watch Film Festival Runs Feb 27 – Mar 6 in Toronto at Tiff Bell Lightbox