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Human Rights Watch Film Festival puts young, queer joy front and center

 February 1, 2024 at 3:14 PM PST

S1: Welcome in San Diego , it's Jade Hindman. This year's Human Rights Watch Film Festival highlights a film about Lgbtq+ youth and finding their identity. This is Midday Edition , connecting our communities through conversation. Welcome in San Diego , it's Jade Hindman. This year's Human Rights Watch Film Festival highlights LGBTQ plus youth. Plus an author and local chef receive high honors. They'll join the show as well. This is Midday Edition , connecting our communities through conversation. The 14th annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival is coming up next month. This year's lineup explores a range of social issues , including refugee rights , disability rights and the right to a free and independent press. It's hosted by the Museum of Photographic Arts at the San Diego Museum of Art , and will run from February 2nd through February 10th. The festival will kick off opening night with the documentary Summer camp , which follows a group of queer youth as they spend their summer in Alberta , Canada , building community and finding their authentic selves away from judgment. Jen Markowitz is a filmmaker and director of Summer camp gin. Welcome.

S2: Thank you very much. It's nice to be here.

S1: It's great to have you and Jennifer. Ned Bosc also joins us. She's the director of the Human Rights Watch film Festival. Jennifer , welcome to you , too.

S3: Thank you so much.

S1: All right , so , Jen , I'll start with you. Summer camp is your first feature film. And like we mentioned , it follows this group of teens to this LGBTQ plus camp , which is Camp Firefly in rural Alberta.

S2: There are similar camps for queer young people around the United States and around Canada. But one of our exec producers , Hello Friend Media , they have a relationship with the musical artists Tegan and Sara and Tegan and Sara have a the Tegan and Sara Foundation , which does a lot of fundraising efforts for this particular camp. And as well , it was the the camp that we found that was the most camp like taking place in the woods with very classic camp activities going on as well. So it seemed sort of like , like the obvious choice to go with , with the , with Camp Firefly , in addition to me being Canadian as well. Yeah.

S4: Yeah.

S1: And an important part of being a teenager , you know , and is to , is figuring out who you are. And for many of the teens in this film , camp is the first time they're exploring their gender and sexuality in a completely safe space.

S2: I think. I think while I made the movie , I did some thinking about my own life up until this point and what my life was like when I was that age. And I tried to remember the first time that I stepped into a room where I saw only people from the same communities that I belong to , and it didn't happen until I was an adult. So it really became a priority to me , as well as the entire filmmaking team , all of whom are part of the queer community. To really foster that on film and take the campers leads in , in , in filming some of the activities that they were that they were interested in , we in no way went into that experience attempting to craft a story by , um , pointing people in one direction or the next. Instead , we really were flies on the wall , observing these kids , really living their authentic true selves for the first time. And it was incredibly it was an incredibly beautiful experience. It really changed my life.

S1: And I mean , some of the campers we meet aren't fully out to their parents , or they live in communities that aren't necessarily accepting.

S2: As supportive as parents can get. It's not always a comfortable conversation to have with parents when you're a kid. So I think that with the subjects of the film , when the filmmaking team stepped into the room , they saw themselves reflected in the team , and that trust was really built slowly. They had just as many questions for us as as I had for them , and it really came. The trust came slowly and over the several months that I spent getting to know them prior to the team landing wheels on the ground , boots on the ground , rather at the camp. So , you know , they they really they took their time in getting to know us. And it didn't seem like such a delicate balance so much as a natural growth of a trusting , working relationship that I had with the kids.

S1: And , Jennifer , there are efforts to suppress Lgbtq+ identity in classrooms across the country. We're seeing it in book bans and the suppression of curricula , and it's taking a toll on young people.

S3: Um , of course , there are horrible and damaging laws and policies being rolled out across the country. And I think what this film does is it gives a moment to really look at the lives and the kids and the families behind these policies and , you know , at the Human Rights Watch film Festival , we really believe in the power of film to to create dialogue and to really support movements for social justice and change. And this film , it provides an opportunity to really hear from the young people and also to just remember that , you know , there are people behind whose lives are deeply impacted , um , whose health and safety and mental health , uh , physical safety are really threatened by these policies. And instead of focusing on the laws themselves , I think this film gives a moment for the public to remember that we're talking about kids and we're talking about families , and we're seeing these young people come into their own , just as every other kid does at summer camp when they're away from their families for the first time , processing who it is that they want to be and who they want to become. And I think another one of the most powerful pieces of this film is that it also shows the opportunity for young people to meet other , you know , older folks in the movement who let them know , look , you're going to be okay. You know , you may feel alone , but you're not. And there's a huge movement that needs to continue and it needs to grow. And and we need your support , young people , you have a place in history just like we did. And you know , this journey is just beginning for you. So long answer. But I really care deeply about this film. Absolutely.

S1: Absolutely. Well and and also a lot of youth and young people will be there for the opening reception of this movie and for a live panel discussion with the filmmakers and local LGBTQ plus advocates as well.

S3: So yes , we'll be joined on stage with three young advocates from glisten , Rainbow Spaces. Um , we'll be hearing from a young person who started a gay straight alliance at their high school , and people can expect we'll be showing the film. There's a reception before the film so we can really , you know , it's it's nice to take this moment to celebrate queer joy , um , to celebrate , you know , the joy of being a kid who gets to know themselves and feel safe in their community. And so we'll show the film , and then afterwards , we'll have a great discussion with Yasmeen Mullins , someone from the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch , of course , Jennifer Markowitz , the incredible director. And then these and some young advocates from San Diego.

S1: Jennifer , I want to talk about the other films that are in this year's lineup to one that particularly stood out to me was Bad Press. And it looks at the right to a free and independent press in Native American tribes. So can you tell us more ? More about what that film is and why you wanted to showcase it.

S3: When I saw this film , Bad Press , I was at the edge of my seat. Here in the film , we're following a journalist , Angel Ellis , who's with the Muskogee Nation , who is covering the elections of her tribe , but suddenly learns that the tribal council leaders have decided to to just do away with a free press. And that means that from now on , they're going to be reading and editing every article that comes out and approving it before it hits the public. And in the film , you follow this journalist who is fighting for not only her job , but truly for her community and her tribe and the future of being able to expose things that are happening in her community , uncover the truth , you know , offer room for debate , and we will have both filmmakers on the journalists take part in a conversation after the film. Right.

S4: Right.


S3: San Diego happens to be my personal favorite because the San Diego community , year after year , you see a lot of the same faces come back and you'll see some people enter the festival for the opening night , and you'll see them come to every screening. And we learn from each other. We we give feedback. We're we're really engaging in dialogue around so many of these important issues that sometimes we're just maybe spinning , spinning out about at home , looking at our phones. But it's a moment to really come together and learn what can we do together as a community. But what I do think is the the thread that that weave through all of the films truly is that there's a lot. I mean , it's this is an incredibly challenging to put make as an understatement moment in time for human rights , for people everywhere. But what we see in these films is that individually , we can each truly contribute to making a difference , whether that is that camp counselor and summer camp that's showing love and respect to a young person , to , you know , the journalist standing up for her community , to immigrant rights activists and faith communities working together. And then also we're showing film on disability rights , which is a beautiful and very life affirming film that just shows you , you know , we can love ourselves just the way we are , and we can challenge ableism where it exists. Um , in our society , there is a lot of positivity and hope , and I'm really proud. And I am every year really to be able to provide this platform , to tell the stories of the people truly making change out there. We don't hear these stories enough.

S1: And Jen , your film's main tagline is about centering queer joy.

S2: I made this film for the younger version of myself , and I made this film for any young queer person who just needs a break from what is going on in the world and wants to have an 85 minute period of time where they can just experience joy and safety and feeling good about themselves and feeling confident about their future. So that , to me is the biggest audience takeaway. And I get and I tend to see that when there are young people in the audience. But what has occurred to me recently is that there is as much takeaway when people who don't understand the queer community , people who protest events like this have an opportunity to see this film , because once you sit down in front of an individual from a community that you're trying to suppress , there's an opportunity to really connect on a human level and forget about some of the obstacles that these people put in their own way , that prevent them from understanding the queer community.

S1: I've been speaking with Jen Markowitz , a filmmaker and director of Summer camp , and Jennifer Ned Belsky , deputy director of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. The Human Rights Watch Film Festival will take place in person at the Museum of Photographic Arts in the San Diego Museum of Art on February 2nd and third. It will also run virtually until February 10th. Thank you both so much for joining us.

S5: Thank you so much , Jade.

S3: Thanks for having us.

A group of teenagers help another camper dye their hair in this still from the film, "Summer Qamp."
Courtesy of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival
A group of teenagers help another camper dye their hair in this undated still from the film, "Summer Qamp."

The 14th annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival is set to return to Balboa Park. It’s hosted by the Museum of Photographic Arts at the San Diego Museum of Art and will run from Feb. 2 through Feb 10.

The festival kicks off opening night with the documentary “Summer Qamp,” which follows a group of LGBTQ+ youth as they spend their summer in Alberta, Canada, participating in the usual summer camp activities while also building community and finding their authentic selves.


  • Jen Markowitz, filmmaker and director of "Summer Qamp"
  • Jennifer Nedbalsky, deputy director of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival