Women, the State and Film Activism

Film Festival Announcement by Khalid Ali

The 25th Human Rights Watch Film Festival, UK Digital Edition, Barbican Cinema On Demand, 18–26 March 2021, https://ff.hrw.org/london

Reproductive rights and the right to family, survivors of rape and access to healthcare are the focus of several documentaries in the 25th edition of Human Rights Watch Film Festival taking place from 18-26 March, presented exclusively on the Barbican Cinema On Demand platform.

Two documentaries champion the resilience and resistance of the women protecting reproductive rights. The opening night film, The 8th by Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy, and Maeve O’Boyle, follows veteran campaigner Ailbhe Smyth and self-described glitter-activist Andrea Horan as they chart a bold strategy of grassroots activism to engineer the impossible and carry a traditionally conservative and religious electorate over the line to extend rights to women seeking an abortion, in the lead up to the historic 2018 Irish referendum on abortion. In Erika Cohn’s Belly of the Beast former prisoner Kelli Dillon and her radical lawyer Cynthia Chandler are bravely waging a legal battle against the US prison system to eradicate the hidden practice of illegal involuntary sterilisations in California’s women’s prisons. With a growing team of women inside prison working with formerly incarcerated colleagues on the outside, they uncover a series of state-wide crimes—from dangerously inadequate health care to sexual assault to coercive sterilisations—primarily targeting Black, Latinx and Indigenous women.

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Belly of the Beast also poses the question of psychological toll of living with trauma and the stigma placed on the survivors. Similarly, Patricia Wiesse Risso’s Mujer de Soldado provides space for Magda Surichaqui Cóndor and her friends, remarkable Peruvian Indigenous women, to process their own healing as survivors of rape from the hands of army members three decades prior. Magda was a teenager when soldiers arrived in her small Peruvian village in 1984. Sent to root out members of the Shining Path, soldiers of the Peruvian army used their power to rape and humiliate local women, leaving them shunned by their own communities, often with children in tow. Three decades later, Magda has joined a number of other women in bringing charges against their abusers—with the trial still ongoing.

State accountability is also sought in Maxx Caicedo and Nelson G. Navarrete‘s A La Calle, a first-hand account of Venezuelans’ efforts to reclaim their country from Maduro’s policies that have plunged it into a political, economic, and humanitarian crisis. With a collapsed health system, opposition leaders rally to organise humanitarian aid deliveries, risking imprisonment—and, even, their life—and medical students take the frontline protecting street protesters’ wellbeing, following constant violent police and army clashes.

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