FEMINIST FRIDAY: Indigenous Resistance & “Comfort Women” At The Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Welcome to a special edition of our weekly Feminist Friday series, where we share a handful of our favorite videos of the moment. This time around, we’re highlighting some films from the upcoming Human Rights Watch Film Festival, taking place in New York City from June 9-18, and a number of other cities worldwide throughout the year. As the leading organization for defending human rights globally, the festival was launched in 2009 as a way to raise awareness of important stories and human rights violations with wider audiences.

This festival is unique in its selection process as it weighs both the artistic and creative merits equally with the human rights content of a project. It is the kind of storytelling that challenges viewers to empathize and demand justice for all people. While there are a collection of amazing filmmakers and stories we highly recommend you check out on the website, we have selected three films that are of particular interest to us, and fit in with our mission of elevating the voices and stories of women who don’t get the type of mainstream coverage they deserve.

The first film is ‘500 years’, from filmmaker Pamela Yates. It is the story of Mayan resistance in Guatemala — to threaten the powerful and empower the dispossessed, from the first trial in the history of the Americas to prosecute the genocide of indigenous people in 2013 to a citizen’s uprising that threatens to topple a corrupt government. The film exposes a world of brutality, entrenched racism and impunity, that challenges the historical narrative of Guatemala. Driven by universal themes of justice, power and corruption, the film provides a platform for the majority indigenous Mayan population, who now stand poised to reimagine their society.

‘500 Years’ is part of The Resistance Saga, a cinematic project indigenous peoples throughout the Americas have set the example of long-term courageous and strategic resistance against daunting odds, with a powerful example being the saga of the Mayan people. Other films include ‘When the Mountains Tremble’ and ‘Granito: How to Nail a Dictator’, also by Pamela Yates. All three films will have premiered at the Sundance Film Festival over a 33-year period.

The second highlighted film is ‘Lindy Lou, Juror Number 2’ from filmmaker Florent Vassault, combining themes of justice, morality, and a highly controversial issue. For 20 years, Lindy has lived with an unbearable feeling of guilt. Committed to fulfilling her civic duty, Lindy sat on a jury with 11 other jurors that handed down the death penalty to a Mississippi man convicted in a double homicide. When Bobby Wilcher was executed in 2006, Lindy had been his only visitor in 15 years.

Determined to understand the overwhelming regret that she has been grappling with for years, Lindy takes off on a road trip across Mississippi to track down and learn more about her fellow jurors tasked with deciding the fate of a man’s life all those years earlier. Lindy, a conservative, religious woman from the South, manages to tackle this oft-politicized topic with humor, an open mind and sincere curiosity.

Florent said he wanted to base this story around a woman who is living in conflict about her decisions, and the values she holds dear.

“It was important to me to give a sense of where Lindy comes from. She comes from the very conservative deep, deep south. Very conservative, and she made this incredible path out of being confronted with the death penalty, and that’s made her ideas evolve,” he said.

The final film we want to highlight is ‘The Apology’, by filmmaker Tiffany Hsiung. This film is a confronting look at the lives and stories of a group of women who have been abused, misrepresented, and often rendered invisible in greater conversations around war and victims of war.

The film follows the personal journeys of three former “comfort women” who were among the 200,000 girls and young women kidnapped and forced into military sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Some 70 years after their imprisonment in so-called “comfort stations,” the three “grandmothers”– Grandma Gil in South Korea, Grandma Cao in China, and Grandma Adela in the Philippines – face their twilight years in fading health.

After decades of living in silence and shame about their past, they know that time is running out to give a first-hand account of the truth and ensure that this horrific chapter of history is not forgotten. Whether they are seeking a formal apology from the Japanese government or summoning the courage to finally share their secret with loved ones, their resolve moves them forward as they seize this last chance to set future generations on a course for reconciliation, healing, and justice.

The courageous resolve of these women moves them to fight and seize their last chance to share first-hand accounts of the truth with their families and the world, and to ensure that this horrific chapter of history is neither repeated nor forgotten.

Be sure to get familiar with the full slate of screenings at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York in June, or at a major city close to you.

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