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TIFF 2019: Human rights watch at the Toronto International Film Festival

The Toronto International Film Festival has, in recent years especially, taken pride in bringing attention to human rights issues, and this year is no different. TIFF 2019 led into festival season with a series of themed presentations.

In April, the annual event hosted the Human Rights Watch mini-film festival, showcasing films, mainly documentaries, from international sources which “celebrate the power individuals can hold in complex social and political situations.” Most screenings were accompanied by discussions with filmmakers, human rights researchers, or experts on subject matter explored in the films. 

This year’s selection of seven films included…

• The Silence of Others, filmed over six years, is a study of the victims of Spain’s dictatorship under General Franco. Directed by Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar

• Ghost Fleet, a documentary by Shannon Service and  cinematographer Jeffrey Waldron, follows courageous activists who battle contemporary slavery in the fishing industry

• Described as a “true-crime thriller,” Roll Red Roll explores the attitudes and culture at the root of a series of sexual assaults by members of an American school football team, and the attempted cover-up after the fact

• German documentary The Cleaners looks into the little-known world of “digital cleaning,” ie the removal of questionable material from the internet, and the difficult balance between safety and censorship.

During the annual festival in September, the special category Contemporary World Cinema strives to represent diverse voices in its film selection, and to include films that address significant human rights issues, both in dramatic and in documentary form. 

The festival also continues its efforts to encourage women in film. The festival administration offers a ten-week mentorship programme for emerging female screenwriters; and a second programme to mentor and offer networking opportunities and access to female filmmakers. The festival hosts a speaker series on gender equality and gender identity in film, beginning this year with the presentation ‘Diversity in Film Criticism’ given by Dr Stacey L Smith. TIFF also aims at gender parity in the films chosen for screening at the festival.

At last year’s TIFF, 35% of the films shown were directed by women. The effort at parity, dubbed Share Her Journey, is represented by twenty ambassadors, including noteworthy women filmmakers such as Mira Nair (Queen of Katwe, Monsoon Wedding), Shohreh Aghdashloo (Star Trek: Beyond), Deepa Mehta (Water, Earth, Fire), and Jill Soloway (Transparent, Six Feet Under). The Share Her Journey efforts kicked off with a rally on the festival’s opening weekend, featuring speakers including actresses Geena Davis and Mia Kirschner, and director of the Sundance Institute Keri Putnam, followed by a street concert. 

[MORE] – TIFF 2019: It’s September in Toronto and sisterhood is powerful