Ascensión Mendieta enters the cemetery where her father’s remains have are buried in a mass grave.

© 2019 Modesto Aranda
Human rights are featured prominently in this year’s Oscar shortlists. Five of the 15 shortlisted films for Best Documentary (out of 166 eligible titles) are part of the 2018 and 2019 Human Rights Watch Film Festival. We’re rooting for one to win the Oscar statuette on February 24th, and look forward to the final nominee list to be announced tomorrow.

Here’s a quick guide to the five HRWFF title that made the short list. 

Charm City

Working with local journalists and spending more than three years with communities in Baltimore, Maryland, has made for one of the most unassuming films we have seen on policing and racism in the U.S. This brilliant film was directed by Marilyn Ness (who produced E-Teama film featuring Human Rights Watch researchers working in crisis situations). 

The Distant Barking of Dogs

A hauntingly beautiful film, The Distant Barking of Dogsby Simon Lereng Wilmont embeds the viewer into the lives of two young boys growing up in eastern Ukraine on the conflict’s frontline. The film captures the boys’ diminishing innocence in the midst of war, while bringing to the fore the most basic human rights of life, liberty, and security. 

Minding the Gap

Filmmaker Bing Liu shares a coming-of-age story shot over 12 years in Rockford, Illinois, where he captured footage of himself and two friends, young men bound by a love of skateboarding and the desire to escape volatile family life. The film grapples with the cycles of shame and abuse in a town with some of the highest rates of domestic abuse in the U.S. While navigating a relationship between his camera, his friends, and his past, Liu weaves a rich and epic story while remaining intimate and immersive. 

Nadia Murad, featured in On Her Shoulders by Alexandria Bombach.

On Her Shoulders

This film by Alexandria Bombach accompanies Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad, a member of Iraq’s Yazidi community who escaped sexual slavery under ISIS, as she bears the weight of her community’s trauma in the pursuit of international action. A departure from traditional biopics, the camera turns on us as bystanders, journalists, news consumers - challenging us to question our demand for more stories without helping solve the problems. 

The Silence of Others

Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar’s film has won awards around the world, shedding light on a dark era of Spain’s history that haunts it to this day. Under General Francisco Franco’s rule, it is estimated that 100,000 people were disappeared and murdered. With its “Amnesty Law,” Spain prohibited legal recourse by survivors and families. The film follows brave people, assisted by others navigating international criminal processes in Chile and Guatemala, as they break the silence and seek justice. 

In the last few years, the Academy Awards nominees for Best Documentary have diversified, as the Academy expanded the number of its members able to vote for documentaries, and increased the number of women and people of color who are members.  We hope this will open up additional opportunities and support for people to tell their stories and share their perspectives,