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Arts & Culture

Human Rights Watch Film Festival: What To See

Sepideh and her telescope
courtesy Human Rights Watch Festival
Sepideh and her telescope

Rundown of films screening

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival, which promises at least one story with a local angle, starts Thursday night at the Museum of Photographic Arts.

Film festivals aren’t usually associated with human rights discussions. And if they are, the expectation is often that the stories are dark, difficult, and depressing. Enter the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, whose line up runs the gamut from inspiring to stories that will make your incandescent with concern for their subject.

This year’s selection showing at the Museum of Photographic Art has plenty of both. According to Raya Greenbaum, the museum's marketing and communications director, this year’s selections should be of particular interest to San Diego audiences.


For one, five out of the six films are San Diego premieres and one has a local angle. “Lady Valor” is the story of San Diego resident and former Navy Seal, Chris Beckwith and Beckwith’s journey from high ranking Nave Seal to transgendered woman (Kristen Beckwith). Beckwith’s story is one many transgendered people face and the documentary follows her as she pursues her new life with the same bravery and passion she brought to her work as a Navy Seal.

Another film that will also engage local audiences is “The Homestretch,” a moving look at a much too common story: homeless teens at risk.

“Although it takes place in Chicago, this should resonate in San Diego because of the numbers of homeless youth present here," Greenbaum said.

Two other films take an unusual look at life outside the U.S. “Sepideh,” a Danish-Iranian documentary, opens the film festival while “Return To Homs” helps close out the festival on Sunday.

“Sepideh” is a charming, deeply engaging documentary about a young girl, Sepideh, who dreams of reaching for the stars as an astronaut. She is fatherless and lives in the shadow of the tomb of Cyrus the Great in the conservative Iranian province of Fars. Like many young women in similar situations, Sepideh’s dreams are in danger of falling to earth. The Assistant Director as well as a Senior Researcher from Human Rights Watch will be present to talk about the film and answer questions.


In “Return To Homs,” the festival looks to a very contemporary situation, one that affects many San Diegans who have fled civil war. Shot between 2011 and 2013, “Return to Homs” is an inside view of what happens when young Syrians stand up for civil rights, only to find themselves in constant danger of losing their human rights as well as their lives.

According to Greenbaum, the museum chose these films from the longer festival list because of their relevance to San Diego.

“We wanted to bring awareness to these subjects and increase a sense of connectedness," said Greenbaum. Among the other issues highlighted are sexual violence against LGBT teens and young people (“Out At Night”) and domestic violence against women and girls (“A Private Violence”).

An added component of all the screenings is an after-show talk back with people involved in the film, "Human Rights Watch," and local experts.

The idea is to use the films as a way of communicating personal stories that put a face on human rights issues such as restricted opportunities, human trafficking, and resistance, and to help people see that they too can be part of affecting change.

"People can access these films on their own time, but this gives them a sense of participating, it expands their connection to the film and to the issue," Greenbaum said.

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival starts Thursday night and ends Sunday. For more information, visit the festival's website.