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Nairobi: Films to Raise Awareness, Spark Debate

Human Rights Watch Film Festival

(Nairobi) – The Human Rights Watch Film Festival will mark its fourth year in Nairobi on November 10-14, 2014, with a program of films to raise awareness and spark critical reflection and debate while encouraging activism.

The five films to be screened tell the stories of inspiring individuals committed to challenging oppressive social, legal, and economic barriers and fighting for justice, often against great odds. The films will be shown in the Alliance Française de Nairobi, Monrovia/Loita Street. Admission is free.

“This year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival in Nairobi brings an array of thought-provoking films that raise issues ranging from the rights of women and sexual minorities to murky dealings of oil corporations and the scope of international justice,” said Laetitia Bader, researcher at Human Rights Watch and coordinator of the 2014 Nairobi screenings. “These films give voice to people who courageously risk their lives and freedom to challenge abuse of power, discrimination, and injustice.”

The festival is co-sponsored by Africa Center for Open Governance, Amnesty International, Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Kenya), Center for Reproductive Rights Inuka Kenya, National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC), and PAWA 254.

On opening night, the festival will kick off with Big Men, which exposes the lack of transparency and the corruption in oil contracts with multinational companies in Ghana, and the dire environmental and social effects on the people who live in the oil belts of Nigeria. As Kenya seeks to exploit its recently discovered underground natural resources, the film raises the question: Is oil a blessing or a curse? John Githongo of INUKA Trust will be the guest of honor at an opening reception beginning at 6:30 p.m. on November 10.

On November 11, the documentary Private Violence will be presented, telling the story of two survivors of domestic violence in the United States. The film highlights the fact that the most dangerous place for a woman in America is her own home. This is a story of courage and solidarity within a group of women determined to escape the vicious circle of intimate-partner violence, seek redress, and expose this deadly societal ill despite many legal, social, and economic obstacles.

The November 12 film, Born this Way, from Cameroon, describes the brutalization and harassment of the gay community in the West African country through the eyes of four gay activists. The film also portrays the broader global fight for equal rights and justice within the gay community.

The November 13 film, A Quiet Inquisition, is based in Nicaragua, where the newly elected government has overturned a 130-year-old law protecting therapeutic abortion. The new law entirely prohibits abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, or when a woman’s life is at stake. The story is told through the daily life of an obstetrician and gynecologist in a local hospital who is exposed to the mental, medical, and emotional anguish of the medical workers who have to make the agonizing choice of saving a life or breaking the law.

The festival will end with Watchers of the Sky on November 14. The film is inspired by Samantha Power’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem From Hell. It uncovers the forgotten life of Raphael Lemkin – the man who created the word “genocide” and believed that the law could protect the world from mass atrocities. 

Each film will be followed by a panel discussion or a question-and-answer session featuring activists, lawyers, and doctors who will engage the audience in debating the film’s relevance to the situation in Kenya, and the possible solutions and engagements that might contribute to a more just and rights-respecting world.   

Film Summaries and Discussion Participants

Monday, November 10, 2014, 6:45 p.m.: Big Men (USA, 99 minutes)
A cautionary tale about the toll of American oil investment in West Africa, Big Men reveals the secretive worlds of both corporations and local communities in Nigeria and Ghana. Director Rachel Boynton gained unprecedented access to oil companies in Africa and has created an account of the ambition, corruption, and greed that epitomizes Africa’s “resource curse.” The film uncovers the human impact of oil drilling and includes footage of militants operating in the Niger Delta. It provides a nuanced and compelling illustration of the responsibility that a range of actors bear for the environmental, economic, and political harm inflicted by resource extraction.

Discussion: John Githongo, INUKA Trustee, and Gladwell Otieno, AFRICOG
Moderator: Otsieno Namwaya, Human Right Watch

Tuesday, November 11, 2014, 6:30 p.m.: Private Violence (USA, 81 minutes)
Private Violence explores a simple but deeply disturbing fact of American life: the most dangerous place for a woman in America is her own home. Every day in the United States, at least four women are murdered by abusive (and often, former) partners. Through the eyes of two survivors – Deanna Walters, a mother who seeks justice for the crimes committed against her at the hands of her estranged husband, and Kit Gruelle, an advocate who seeks justice for all women – the film bears witness to the complex realities of intimate partner violence. Private Violence shapes powerful questions that hold the potential to change society: “Why does he abuse?” “Why do we turn away?” “How do we begin to build a future without domestic violence?” 

Discussion: Christine Ochieng, FIDA-Kenya, and Prof. Wambui Mwangi
Moderator: Monica Tabengwa, Human Rights Watch

Wednesday, November 12, 2014, 6:30 p.m.: Born this Way (Cameroon, 84 minutes)
There are more arrests for homosexuality in Cameroon than in any other country in the world. With intimate access to the lives of four young gay Cameroonians, Born This Way steps outside the genre of activist filmmaking and offers a vivid and poetic portrait of day-to-day life in modern Africa. This is a story of what is possible in the global fight for equality.

Discussion: Njeri Gatheru, National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and Neela Ghoshal, Human Rights Watch

Thursday, November 13, 2014, 6:30 p.m.: A Quiet Inquisition (USA, 65 minutes)
At a public hospital in Nicaragua, Dr. Carla Cerrato, an obstetrician and gynecologist, must choose between following a law that bans all abortions and endangers her patients, or taking a risk and providing the care that she knows can save a woman’s life. In 2007, Dr. Cerrato’s daily routine took a detour. The newly elected government of Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist revolutionary who converted to Catholicism to win votes, overturned a 130-year-old law protecting therapeutic abortion. The new law entirely prohibits abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, or when a woman’s life is at stake. As Dr. Cerrato and her colleagues navigate this dangerous dilemma, the impact of this law emerges – illuminating the tangible reality of prohibition against the backdrop of a political, religious, and historically complex national identity. The emotional core of the story – the experiences and situations of the young women and girls who are seeking care – illustrate the ethical implications of one doctor’s response.

Discussion: Evelyne Opondo, Center for Reproductive Rights, and Dr Joachim Osur, Amref Health Africa
Moderator: Laetitia Bader, Human Rights Watch

Friday, November 14, 2014, 6:30 p.m.: Watchers of the Sky (USA, 114 minutes)
Watchers of the Sky interweaves five stories of courage, compassion, and determination, while setting out to uncover the forgotten life of Raphael Lemkin – the man who created the word “genocide” and believed the law could protect the world from mass atrocities. Inspired by Samantha Power’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem From HellWatchers of the Sky takes viewers on a provocative journey from Nuremberg to The Hague, from Bosnia to Darfur, from criminality to justice, and from apathy to action. Editing Award and Special Jury Award for Use of Animation, US Documentary, Sundance Film Festival 2014.

Discussion: Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International, and Dr. Godfrey Musila, law lecturer, University of Nairobi
Moderator: Hanan Salah, Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch is one of the world’s leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. We work tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and fight to bring greater justice and security to people around the world. Through the Human Rights Watch Film Festival we bear witness to human rights violations and create a forum for courageous individuals on both sides of the lens to empower audiences with the knowledge that personal commitment can make a difference. The film festival brings to life human rights abuses through storytelling in a way that challenges each individual to empathize and demand justice for all people. To learn more about our work or to make a donation, visit   

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