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Freedom on Fire in Toronto


Freedom on Fire in Toronto
by Staff Editors

(February 13, 2023 – Toronto, ON) Next Month brings the 20th anniversary of the small but highly important Human Rights Watch Canada Film Festival (HRWFF). Running from March 8 to 19, the festival starts on International Women’s Day and the focus turns immediately to Ukraine with director Evgeny Afineevsky’s Freedom on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom (pictured above).

Evgeny Afineevsky, film director, Freedom on Fire in Toronto.
Evgeny Afineevsky
Directed by Academy Award® nominated filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky, the 118-minute feature documentary depicts the horrible realities of an unprovoked war instigated by Vladimir Putin. It is an exploration of the courage of the Ukrainian people, fiercely determined to stand their ground until ‘the last drop of blood’. Demonstrating an astounding ability to unite as a people and defend the sovereignty of their country, Ukrainians show compassion and resilience even when surrounded by death, destruction, and unfathomable war crimes. This version of the film has just been updated with recent events.

There will be a post-screening discussion with Evgeny Afineevsky, the filmmaker; Valentina Kuryliw, education director at the Holodomor Research and Education Consortium; and HRW’s Crisis and Conflict Director Ida Sawyer. Canadian journalist Lisa LaFlamme will moderate a special discussion for International Women’s Day, focused on the experiences of women in the Ukraine conflict, and the particular vulnerabilities of women and children in wartime.

“The HRWFF makes an effort to celebrate diversity of content and perspective in both the films we select and the post-screening conversations we host,” explained festival programmers Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier. “We strive to prioritize space for identities, viewpoints, forms of expertise and experiences either silenced or marginalized in the mainstream film industry, news, and media.”

All films will screen at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. “Discussions with filmmakers, film participants, human rights activists and journalists take place after every screening to provide our audience with the opportunity to dig deeper into the issues they have just seen on screen,” said Hot Docs director of programming, Shane Smith.

“The wide range of documentaries chosen for this year’s special 20th Anniversary program is a testament to the breadth of HRW’s focus, and the excellence of independent film,” added John Biaggi, director of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

Freedom on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom screens on March 8 at 7:30 p.m. Following are details of the other films at the 20th anniversary edition of the Human Rights Watch Canada Film Festival:

Directed by: Habibata Ouarme and Jim Donovan
Presented on: Thursday, March 9 | 7:00 p.m. screening
Synopsis: Canada-based codirectors Habibata Ouarme and Jim Donovan capture personal stories and deep moments of support in a small community of women from West Africa, who are confronting social norms and embracing the inherent power in pleasure and love for their own bodies. With candor, humour and courage, a group of African-Canadian women challenge cultural taboos surrounding female sexuality and fight to take back ownership of their bodies.

Working with codirector Jim Donovan and combining her own journey with personal accounts from some of her friends, codirector Habibata Ouarme explores the lifelong effects of female genital mutilation and the road to individual and collective healing, both in Africa and in Canada. These women begin a journey of personal discovery, with discussions on the importance of female pleasure and the complexity of the female anatomy, while working to shed long-held feelings of shame and loneliness. While finding strength and joy in their own frank and intimate conversations together, Habibata and her friends continue to advocate for wider access to restorative surgery and community conversations in Canada and worldwide.

“This film brings more than an education on a harmful traditional practice that’s still practiced in parts of West Africa – it captures the stories of solidarity among these irrepressible, strong African women,” said Mausi Segun, Africa division director at Human Rights Watch.

Programming: A post-screening discussion with Regina Tamés, deputy women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. Panelists include Habibata Ouarme, a FGM survivor and filmmaker; Jim Donovan, filmmaker, and Doctor Angela Deane, OBGYN and advocate for those affected by FGM/C.

Accessibility: The film is captioned and audio-described; the discussion panel following the film will be interpreted live in sign language.

Freedom on Fire, image, The Grab,
Promotional still for The Grab.

Directed by: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Presented on: Friday, March 10 | 7:00 p.m. screening
Synopsis: The Grab reveals a new world order in which global power will be held by those who control not oil, but food. The new global thriller from the renowned director of Blackfish combines hard-hitting journalism with compelling, character-driven storytelling, taking viewers around the globe from Arizona to Zambia, China to Saudi Arabia, to reveal one of the world’s biggest and least exposed threats.

Quietly and seemingly out of sight, governments, financial investors, and private security forces are dividing up the world’s last remaining food and water resources. Communities are forced to stand by as their aquifers are sucked dry, and land they have owned for generations is grabbed from under their feet. As the scale of the run on natural resources is uncovered by a team of investigative reporters, issues bubble to the surface in real time. Russia’s attack on Ukraine uses food access as a geopolitical tool, and global food prices hit an all-time high.

Programming: Introductory remarks by Farida Deif, Canada director at Human Rights Watch, followed by a conversation with filmmakers Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Nick de Pencier, and Jennifer Baichwal.

Directed by: Juliana Curi
Presented on: Saturday, March 11 | 7:00 p.m. screening
Synopsis: Uýra, a trans Indigenous artist, travels through the Amazon on a journey of self-discovery using performance art to teach Indigenous youth that they are the guardians of ancestral messages of the Amazon Forest. In a country that kills the highest number of trans, Indigenous, and environmentalist youth worldwide, Uýra leads a rising movement through arts and education while fostering unity and providing inspiration for the LGBT and environmental movements in the heart of the Amazon Forest. Uýra’s performances are a metaphor inspired by the ecological cycle that mirrors social struggles: the destruction of the soil and violence against life, followed by the re-emergence of young plants that germinate quickly and make way for a renewed, stronger ecosystem.

Programming: Post-screening discussion moderated by Rasha Younes, senior LGBT researcher at Human Rights Watch. Other panelists to be determined.

Accessibility: The film is captioned; the discussion panel following the film will be interpreted live in sign language.

Also see: Find a link to the Human Rights Watch Canada Film Festival and other March 2023 film festivals.

SOURCE: Human Rights Watch Canada Film Festival.