Compelling Films by Women at 33rd Annual HRW Film Festival

New York’s 33rd annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival continues, with ten sets of screenings — often with post-screening Q&A sessions — spread across auditoria at Lincoln Center (on the Upper West Side) and IFC Center (in Greenwich Village).

But the good news is that if you don’t live in Manhattan — and even if you do — you can stream these invaluable films at your convenience on the Festival’s digital platform through Thursday night (May 26th) when the Festival closes.

Sadly, millions of women and children are seriously impacted by the worldwide abuses that Human Rights Watch investigates and exposes. While this highly-respected NGO has issued detailed reports since 1978, the films in their annual festival excel at personalizing international crises of concern through unforgettable individuals.

And here’s a statistic of particular importance to FF2 readers: Of the 10 films on this year’s NYC schedule, seven of the ten (thus 70%) have been directed by women filmmakers.

While all of these films compel our attention, I know that very few of you will be able to see them all, so I have done so on your behalf. Each one of the women who directed my three top picks committed years of her own life to intimately reflect her female protagonists, women whose voices are rarely heard so authentically and clearly at the center of human rights issues.  And from the technical perspective, each of my picks is beautifully shot and has been well-edited into a suspenseful story.

Click on image to enlarge.

NORA’S GOLD PICK: You Resemble Me (NY Premiere)

Muslim Egyptian-American director Dina Amer was one of those journalists declaring Hasna Aït Boulahcen “Europe’s first female suicide bomber” in the 2015 attacks that killed 130 people in Paris.  But by empathetically embedding with Hasna’s dysfunctional, bereft Moroccan family for 360 hours of interviews, Amer realized a fictionalized docu-drama form was needed to tell the full truth.

As co-writer and actress (as well as director), Amer potently immerses the audience in the family’s dislocated lives in a poor neighborhood in the outskirts of Paris, where Hasna’s childhood separation from her twin-like sister Mariam left her vulnerable in her mid-twenties to online seduction and radicalization by a fanatic cousin.

You Resemble Me’s producers include Spike Lee (who was one of Dina Amer’s NYU professors) along with media activists Abigail Disney and Alma Har’el (who are also both award winning filmmakers in their own right).

NORA’S SILVER PICK: The New Greatness Case (World Premiere)

Russian director Anna Shishova sees ghosts from her own family’s treatment during the Stalin era as she narrates how 17-year-old Anya Pavlikova and her online friends were manipulated by a mysterious man from an online chat room to lengthy imprisonment for attempting to overthrow the Russian Federation through the titular, non-existent conspiracy.

First seen happily caring for Anya’s small niece, her passionate mother Yulia is radicalized by the frightening Kafkesque entrapment. Yulia even films herself when filmmaker Anna Shishova can no longer dare to follow her every attempt to protest for her daughter’s freedom within President Putin’s increasingly authoritarian “justice” system.

And we now know to add an especially frightening postscript: Since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the journalists and legal organizations seen trying to help Anya and Yulia have all recently been banned.

NORA’S BRONZE PICK: Midwives (NY Premiere)

The five years of footage that debut documentary director Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing spent with a midwife and her apprentice in Rakhine State (in the western part of her native Myanmar) viscerally capture the rising ethnic tensions promulgated by the genocidal military that culminated in a coup on February 21, 2021.

The eponymous midwife is Hla, a Buddhist woman operating a bare medical clinic with her husband. To her credit, Hla is willing to treat the local Muslim Rohingya women (despite her own prejudices), and she even takes an ambitious midwife named Nyo Nyo on as her assistant and translator.

Hla’s activities raise village hackles as inflammatory TV speeches lead to ever more virulent demonstrations by Buddhists against Rohingya, even as the booms and smoke from bombs get ever closer. Though Nyo Nyo dreams of living in the capital with her sister and getting more advanced training, life (including husband and children) keeps intervening.  But, of course, amidst political crises, both Muslim and Buddhist women continue to need help birthing babies.

Note that Midwives will also premiere on the PBS series POV beginning on November 21.


I used to despair that HRFF was “The Depressing Festival”, but the spirit of these women — meaning both the filmmakers and their subjects gives us glimmers of hope for humanity against the odds they face. They force us to care. 

© Nora Lee Mandel (5/22/22) Special for FF2 Media®

Click on image to enlarge.


Note that versions of this year’s 2022 Festival have already played in London, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Silicon Valley, and will screen in Toronto next week. For more information, visit Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

Click here for more about information about You Resemble Me.

Click here for more about information about The New Greatness Case.

Click here for more about information about Midwives.

Visit HRFF’s digital platform.

Learn more about the mission of  Human Rights Watch.


Featured Photo from Midwife directed by Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing. Still photo provided by Dogwoof.

Middle Photo from You Resemble Me directed by Dina Amer.

Bottom Photo from The New Greatness Case directed by Anna Shishova. (Yulia is on the left and her teen daughter Anya is on the right.)

All photos courtesy of Human Rights Watch Film Festival. All Rights Reserved.

Tags: Abigail Disney, Alma Har’el, Anna Shishova, Dina Amer, HRFF, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Midwives, Myanmar, Nora Lee Mandel, Rohingya, Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing, The New Greatness Case, You Resemble Me

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Nora Lee Mandel is a member of New York Film Critics Online. After high school weekends spent learning film history at NY’s Museum of Modern Art, she studied film criticism at New York University. In addition to many years of writing for national and New York City organizations in the arts, education, history, and city planning, her reviews of documentaries, independent, and foreign-language films, books, television, exhibitions, and music have also appeared in such outlets as:, FilmFestival Traveler and Lilith Magazine, the independent Jewish feminist quarterly. Her ongoing Critical Guide to Jewish Women in Movies, TV, and Pop Music has been the basis for her talks around the New York region.
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