This year's programme is organised around four themes: 'Arts Versus Oppression'; 'Changemakers'; 'Family History and Human Rights'; and 'Home and Security'. It takes a closer look at migrant homelessness in Europe, the illegitimate manipulation of the democratic process and the wider, more ruinous repercussions of climate change on communities ill-equipped to deal with rising sea levels and global temperatures. This year's event has a strong Latin American contingent with films from Chile, Columbia, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Peru. However that's not to say that there is a narrower focus, as there's also works championing issues in Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Palestine, Zimbabwe and in Uyghurs - Prisoners of the Absurd (2014) looks at China's Uyghur minority living in Afghanistan.
Focusing on a small cluster from this diasporic community who were severely affected when US troops invaded in 2001, the film explores how these men were sold as terrorists to the US Government and treated as unlawful combatants; ultimately imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay and forced to endure inhumane treatment as part of their incarceration. Another highlight of this year's programme is Camilla Nielsson's Democrats (2014) an intuitive (if perhaps slightly blinkered) look into the mechanism behind the questionable political actions of Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party in Zimbabwe. Following the discourse between the long-time ruling ZANU-PF, and the Movement for Democratic Change as they attempt to develop a new constitution, Nielsson presents us with an insightful look into the underhand tactics that led to violent clashes throughout the country. Whilst refusing to leave the safety of the film's Western perspective and attempt to understand the views of those affected personally by these absurd political parlour games, the film is a genuinely gripping depiction of a very real, very disheartening David and Goliath power struggle.
The third instalment of Fernand Melgar's documentation of the migrant experience in Europe The Shelter (2014) will also screen at this year and charts a particularly cold winter at an emergency shelter for homeless migrants in the wealthy Swiss city of Lausanne. Predominantly known for housing the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee, Melgar presents a less glamorus side of the city, his sensitive approach attempting to render the camera invisible. Focusing on the heart-breaking procedures essential for the shelter to operate, we observe as staff are forced to randomly select the evening's fifty chosen residents, whilst informing those unlucky enough to make the cut that they'll be facing a long and incredibly cold night on the streets. Each film at this year's event will feature a Q&A session after every screening and the festival also boasts live music performances and a Guardian Masterclass focusing on human rights reporting and digital storytelling. The festival closes on Friday 27 March at the Ritzy with Jon Stewart's gripping and surprisingly oneiric directorial debut Rosewater (2014), starring Gael Garcia Bernal as Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari who was detained by Iranian forces and brutally interrogated.
Tickets for the festival are on sale now, and can be purchased from ff.hrw.org/london.
Patrick Gamble | @PatrickJGamble