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Still image from the film Mediha.

(Toronto) – The annual Human Rights Watch Canada Film Festival, celebrating its 21st year, in partnership with Hot Docs Cinema, will present a program of four films covering a range of human rights topics from March 21-28, 2024. The films will be presented from March 21-23 in person at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, and March 24-28 on the HRWFF digital platform.

The films address the plight of the Yazidis – a small religious and ethnic minority in northern Iraq persecuted by Islamic State (ISIS) – Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) youth in Canada, Indigenous forest guardians in the Amazon, and refugees attempting to reach Europe. Following the tradition of past festivals, all tickets for both in-person and digital screenings are free and accessible to everyone in Canada with internet. 

“Suffering and injustice are on the rise globally, and one essential step in reversing these terrible truths is to witness and to document wherever and whenever people’s rights are in jeopardy,” said Jennifer Baichwal, filmmaker and festival programming committee member. “This is the work of both Human Rights Watch and the brave filmmakers who have brought us the compelling narratives that make up this year’s festival.”

“The festival strives to prioritize space for identities, viewpoints, forms of expertise, and experiences either silenced or marginalized in the film industry, news, and media,” said Nicholas de Pencier, filmmaker and festival programming committee member. “We should learn from these stories and be inspired to take up their causes.”

The energy and power of young people in the fight for human rights take center stage in two films this year, beginning with the opening night film, Mediha, a heartfelt and intimate account of a teenage Yazidi girl recently returned from ISIS captivity, who turns the camera on herself as she initiates investigations into the crimes committed against her, standing up for her family and the Yazidi people in the process. With a very different energy, Summer Qamp is an uplifting, funny, and moving look at Camp fYrefly in the forests of Alberta, Canada, where LGBTQ+ teens explore their authentic selves, make friends, and build community, far away from the fierce political battle being waged against them.

We Are Guardians presents the powerful and dangerous work of Indigenous forest guardians battling governmental indifference, politically connected agribusinesses, cattle ranchers, and illegal loggers as they fight to protect their traditional land in the increasingly vulnerable Amazon rain forest.

In this year’s drama, the cinematic Green Border from acclaimed filmmaker Agnieszka Holland unfolds a complex set of struggles being faced by a small group of refugees caught in the middle of larger political machinations between Belarus and Poland as they attempt to reach Europe.

The festival is committed to expanding opportunities for audience members to enjoy the events together, and works to create features that increase accessibility, including for people who are blind or have low vision, and for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Three of the four films this year will feature descriptive video and play with open captions, with live transcription for the conversations to follow two of the films. Please refer below or visit the festival website for accessibility specifications and information on panel discussions for each film in the lineup.

The four films selected for the festival program include (listed in order of screening date):

Mediha (Canadian Premiere)
Directed by: Hasan Oswald
Presented on: Thursday, March 21, 7 p.m.
Synopsis: Mediha, a teenage Yazidi girl recently returned from Islamic State (ISIS) captivity, turns the camera on herself, capturing an astonishing journey as she confronts her past to fight for her future. In 2014, ISIS committed atrocity crimes against the Yazidis, a small religious and ethnic minority in northern Iraq. Those who survived are still unable to return home. Mediha and her brothers, Ghazwan and Adnan, must now rebuild their lives with the whereabouts of their parents and brother unknown. Mediha takes us on her quest for justice by initiating investigations to uncover the truth about the people who caused her family harm and sharing her story with the world.

“It’s empowering to see Mediha as both a character and creator,” said Sarah Sanbar, Middle East and North Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “As a viewer, you really empathize with her and understand why it’s so important to bring home the thousands of Yazidis who are still missing, compensate survivors, and hold perpetrators accountable.”

Programming: A post-screening discussion with Jason Loftus, producer, and Balkees Jarrah, Human Rights Watch associate international justice director, moderated by Human Rights Watch senior Canada director, Carine Chehab.

Accessibility: The film is captioned and includes descriptive video; the discussion panel following the film will be live captioned.

Summer Qamp
Directed by:
Jen Markowitz
Presented on: Friday, March 22, 7 p.m.
Synopsis: Summer Qamp follows a group of LGBTQ+ youth as they attend a camp like no other: a judgment-free zone where they explore their authentic selves while building community, finding joy, and making memories that will last a lifetime. In the forests of Alberta, Canada, sits Camp fYrefly, a haven for LGBTQ+ teens far away from the fierce political battle being waged against them. Uplifting, funny, and moving, Summer Qamp joins the campers as they make friends, explore crushes, and share experiences around transitioning and intersectionality, while never losing sight of the bravery of these young protagonists, whose identities are challenged by society outside of the camp boundaries.

“The film captures such a range of conversations, everything from coming out to your parents, to working through self-harm, to how an alien looking at earth through a telescope would perceive it,” said Bill Van Esveld, associate children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch.

Programming: A post-screening discussion with Grace Donner, Camp fYrefly counselor and film participant, and guests, moderated by Human Rights Watch senior Canada director, Carine Chehab.

Accessibility: The film is captioned and descriptive video; the discussion panel following the film will be live captioned.

Green Border
Directed by: Agnieszka Holland
Presented on: Saturday, March 23, 3 p.m.
Synopsis: This stunning new drama by the Academy-Award nominated Polish director Agnieszka Holland zeroes in on the human collateral and political opportunism at stake in Europe’s battle over migration. In the treacherous and swampy forests that make up the so called “green border” between Belarus and Poland, migrants from the Middle East and Africa trying to reach the European Union are trapped in a geopolitical crisis cynically engineered by the Belarusian dictator, Alexander Lukashenko. In an attempt to provoke the EU, migrants are lured to the border by propaganda promising easy passage to the bloc. The lives of Julia, a newly-minted activist who has given up her comfortable life, Jan, a young border guard, and a Syrian refugee family, all pawns in this hidden war, intertwine.

We Are Guardians
Directed by: Chelsea Greene, Rob Grobman, and Edivan Guajajara
Presented on: Saturday, March 23, 6 p.m.
Synopsis: Meet Brazilian Indigenous activists fighting to protect their home, an illegal logger in a desperate financial state, and a landowner driven to preserving the rich ecosystem at all costs. Directed by an Indigenous activist and environmental filmmakers, produced by Fisher Stevens, and executive produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, this film offers intimate storytelling, providing a human entry point into the Amazon's critical situation that affects us all.

We Are Guardians is a poignant portrayal of the diverse group of people on the front line of efforts to save the Brazilian Amazon. The filmmakers expertly dissect the economic drivers that fuel large-scale environmental destruction, while exposing the corruption and partisan politics that enable it. A loud call to action,” said Luciana Téllez Chávez, senior environment and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Learn more about the full festival lineup here.

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