The 20th Annual Human Rights Watch Canada Film Festival (HRWFF) in partnership with Hot Docs Cinema will be held from March 8 to 19, 2023; March 8-12 in-person at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, and March 13-19 on Hot Docs digital platform. Following the tradition of past festivals, all tickets for both in-person and digital screenings are free and accessible to everyone in Canada with internet.

The 20th anniversary festival program consists of five films covering a wide variety of human rights topics, including the powerful Freedom on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, which opens the festival on March 8, International Women’s Day. This is the Canadian premiere of this new version of the film that has been updated with recent events. The screening will be followed by a special discussion with the Canadian journalist Lisa Laflamme, focused on the experiences of women in the Ukraine conflict, and the particular vulnerabilities of women and children in wartime. Discussions with filmmakers, film participants, human rights activists and journalists take place after every screening.

The five films selected for the festival program include (listed in order of in-person screening date):

FREEDOM ON FIRE: UKRAINE’S FIGHT FOR FREEDOM Canadian Premiere of 2023 version Directed by: Evgeny Afineevsky

Wednesday, March 8 (International Women’s Day) | 7:30 p.m. screening

Freedom on Fire is a behind the scenes and beyond the headlines view of the war in Ukraine from the Academy Award® nominated filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky (Winter on Fire). This is filmmaking from the heart, beautifully capturing the resilience of the Ukrainian people in their fight against the Russian invasion. A logistical tour de force, with 43 cinematographers (including the filmmaker) filming in over 20 Ukrainian cities, Freedom on Fire captures the stories of children, mothers, soldiers, doctors, artists, volunteers, clergymen, and journalists as viewers witness the transformation of a country fighting for its very survival.

A post-screening discussion with Evgeny Afineevsky, the filmmaker; Lisa LaFlamme, a Canadian journalist; Valentina Kuryliw, education director at the Holodomor Research and Education Consortium; and HRW’s Crisis and Conflict Director Ida Sawyer, moderated by Canadian journalist Lisa LaFlamme, who will unpack how this conflict disproportionately affects women and girls. Sign language available.

KOROMOUSSO, BIG SISTER World Premiere Directed by: Habibata Ouarme and Jim Donovan
Thursday, March 9 | 7:00 p.m. screening

Canada-based co-directors 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 co-director Jim Donovan and combining her own journey with personal accounts from some of her friends, co-director 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.

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. Sign language available.

Directed by: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Friday, March 10 | 7:00 p.m. screening

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.

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

Saturday, March 11 | 7:00 p.m. screening

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.

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


Directed by: Ike Nnaebue

Sunday, March 12 | 1:00 p.m. screening

As a young man, the celebrated Nigerian director Ike Nnaebue left Nigeria taking the route via Benin, Mali, and Mauritania to Morocco where he was forced to turn back, unable to reach Europe. In his first documentary, No U-Turn, he retraces the life-changing journey he made over 20 years ago.

Along the way, he meets those who are taking the same trip and, through conversations with them, tries to understand what motivates young people today to expose themselves to the dangers of a passage into an uncertain future. Most are aware of the dangers of traveling undocumented by road, yet more and more are joining the ranks of those who take this risk, despite widely circulated images and terrifying testimony found online of people who have been lured into slavery and bondage. Overlaid with a powerful poetic commentary, this self-reflective travelogue hints at the deep longing of an entire generation for a better life.

Panel discussion on Zoom with filmmaker, Ike Nnaebue and Michel Chikwanine, former child soldier and public speaker. Moderated by host of CBC Podcasts’ new weekly world news podcast, Nothing is Foreign, Tamara Khandaker. Keynote speaker to be determined. Sign language available.

Human Rights Watch Canada was established in 2002 to advance education on human rights issues, both in Canada and around the world, and to increase support for the work of Human Rights Watch worldwide. The Canadian office organizes several larger public and smaller private events throughout the year. This includes the annual Human Rights Watch Canada Film Festival. Toronto is one of our longest running festivals, now in its 20th season. In 20 years, we have showcased over 200 films at our Toronto Festival, and over 700 as a global initiative.

Twitter   Facebook   Instagram

About the Author

Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.