Every spring a large gathering of human rights defenders and filmmakers come together for the Movies that Matters Film Festival. While this year’s festival had to move online, the celebration of the selected ground-breaking films moved forward.
As part of the festival, an international jury awards one filmmaker with the Camera Justitia Award and €5,000 for their work shining light on marginalized global issues. This award celebrates stories about legal dilemmas, finding the truth, international law and the fight for justice. This year’s films focused on some of the most entrenched human rights issues WITNESS works to curtail – police violence, sexual and gender-based violence, structural discrimination, forced disappearances, summary executions, immigration violations, corporate corruption and authorized crime. WITNESS’ lead for our Video as Evidence Program, Kelly Matheson, chaired the jury with fellow jury members Christophe Paulussen and Alex Szalat.
For a synopsis of the films that will allow you to determine which ones you would like to add to your watch list, here’s the findings from the 2020 Camera Justitia Jury.
Since time immemorial, stories have had the power to bind people and build solidarity. Stories that connect us matter even more in a time like this when we find ourselves having to physically separate from each other.
The selection of films for the Camera Justitia competition 2020 does just that. The films share emblematic stories from around the world of grave human rights violations. They remind us that just because the world has slowed down and our current focus is, understandably, on a global pandemic, that every day, without pause, tens of thousands of illegal acts result in human rights violations.
As the 2020 Camera Justitia jury, we would like to underscore the importance of every film in this competition and, with this new-found space to read, watch films and reflect, we would encourage viewing each of them in the quiet of your own home with family and friends or through online ‘watch parties’ which are now a viable way to get together, share a common experience and discuss the issues raised in the films with the people whose opinions you value most.
This year’s Camera Justitia films remind us that once global health concerns stabilize and life returns to a semblance of normal, we must not only continue our focused work to secure systemic human rights change, but we will likely have to dig in harder as oppressive regimes, states, armed groups and individual perpetrators will take advantage of a destabilized world to ravage human rights further.
Here, in alphabetical order, are our top reasons why each film is an important contribution to the fields of human rights and law.
Antigone is a beautiful, captivating film about contemporary issues of police violence, migration and citizenship. Of all the films in the competition, this one will leave audiences inspired by the profound sacrifices we make for the ones we love and the solidarity that can arise from a single spark.
Collective takes audiences on an unexpected journey guided by a team of unstoppable investigative journalists. The story starts with a tragic fire in a concert hall and then takes us to hospital rooms, corporate offices and backrooms in government ministries. Along the way, the film exposes cracks in Romania’s health care system, corporate cover-ups and corruption in national ministries, while also introducing us to a tenacious government official who tries to change the system.
Corpus Christi sheds light on the complex themes of truth telling and forgiveness through a former detainee that moves to a small town in Poland and is mistaken for a priest. Through an intense performance by the film’s main character and layered storytelling, the film sends out a clear set of messages. Don’t be quick to judge others. Don’t jump to conclusions. Ask hard questions. Think first.
The Guardian of Memory asks, “What if there’s no discernible distinction between organized crime and the state powers fighting them?” It succeeds in addressing this question by exploring the relationship between the drug cartels and the federal forces fighting them along the Mexico-Texas border. This poetically shot documentary features strong, emotional and personal testimonies touching on issues of migration, extortion, kidnapping and murder all as a form of authorized crime. Visually, the director represents what is lost – and the traces of what is left behind – by showing the two sides of the border with beauty instead of violence.
La Causa is an impressive, shocking and raw portrait of Venezuela’s broken prison system. What stands out is the director’s courage in embarking on this film, and the unprecedented access he grants to the viewer of life inside the prison walls. He offers a portrait of a place that is hell on earth for some, and comparable to daily life for others. The way the film captures a myriad of characters responding to their struggles within this system powerfully represents humanity in all of its diversity.
nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up follows the developments in the murder case of a young Cree-man with a promising future, Coulten Boushie. As the film unfolds, Coulten’s family, friends and broader community take us deeper and deeper into the ongoing structural racism that is present in Canada and Canada’s legal system today. The film also succinctly summarizes the backstory so we understand where this racism came from.
Nuestras Madres engages audiences in a story about intergenerational trauma over 35 years after General Ríos Montt implemented his “scorched-earth” operation. Set in present-day Guatemala the story follows an older woman, widow to a murdered and missing husband, who asks a young anthropologist—whose father also disappeared—for help. The story then quietly explores deeply-embedded human rights impacts and the courage it takes to face loss decades later. This film stands out for its cinematography and touching narrative about humanity in the aftermath of the violent dictatorship. It holds your attention from beginning to end.
The Scarecrows opens our eyes to pervasive, yet all-too-often untold, issues in today’s Tunis. From the threat of terrorism to discrimination against women, the plight of the LGBT community and the obstacles faced by the lost generation of youth—this film powerfully visualizes a story of human rights issues through the story of two women, their families, and their advocates.
Recognizing the important message each film brings to a global conversation, as a jury, we could only select one winner. For 2020, the Camera Justitia Award goes to Collective by Alexander Nanau.
“When the press bows down to authorities, the authorities will mistreat the citizens.” ~ Collective
As a jury, we felt Collective embodied what this award represents. Collective exposes Romania’s failing health care system – a system with a mandate to care for its patients, not kill them. It reveals the partnership between corporate interests and State agents to cover up mass corruption. It emphasizes the role free press plays in the fight to secure basic human rights, reminding us that, “When the press bows down to authorities, the authorities will mistreat the citizens.” It underscores the critical role of whistleblowers and the courage it takes to come forward for the larger good. And finally, it introduces us to visionary human rights defenders embedded in the press, in the health care system and in the government that give us hope and show us that there is a path forward that is rooted in human rights if we choose to take it. Filmed and edited like a feature film, this documentary is full of suspense and could not be timelier. As healthcare systems around the world are overwhelmed and incapable of delivering proper care to patients, this film gives us a blueprint of how things should and could be done.
We would also like to express our profound appreciation to Andres Figueredo along with a Special Mention for his film La Causa. In this film, Figueredo appears to take extraordinary risks that, in turn, gives us access into a world we would otherwise never see and never know.
Thank you from the 2020 Camera Justitia Jury to all the filmmakers, their crews, their funders and all the people in the films who courageously shared these stories that matter.