Human Rights Film Festival Shines Light on the Oppressed

Brigid Behrens and Amelia Browder

Staff Writer and Contributing Writer


A gleaming treasure in USF’s large collection of social justice focused events, the Human Rights Film Festival began last Thursday. The festival was a three-day event held in Presentation Theater that featured films covering a wide assortment of human rights matters, Q-and-A’s with experts and professors and student-made short films. The Human Rights Film Festival annually presents groundbreaking documentaries and films free of charge for all of San Francisco. Cine Acción and the College of Arts and Sciences have brought together a colorful collection of shorts, documentaries and films since 2003, and even USF student productions since 2016.


The fest kicked off with films made by students and a short conversation between the filmmakers and audience after each students’ short film. Each student film was personal with a palpable message. The student shorts covered topics like being Muslim in the world of beauty (“Hijab Stigma” by Sara Alghesheyan), eating disorders (“Expansion On Eating” by Sarah Frei), limited access to higher education and financial aid (“The College Fund”) and what pursuing higher education is like as a first generation college student (“Roots #1 and Roots #2” by Kiko Valle). Each student displayed deep passion for the issues covered in their films by making themselves vulnerable and showing their struggles to the school and community through film. The two filmmakers of “The College Fund” shared that they feel “education is the gateway to the rest of our lives.” Frei shared very intimate poetry and experiences with her eating disorder.


Throughout the three days of the festival, students were ushered into the intimate theater with a detailed program briefing viewers on each film. Three of the Saturday films, “What Doesn’t Kill Me,” “Bones of Contention” and “Dolores,” pulled the curtain back on injustices and overlooked heroes of history. The crowds were steady all day on Saturday – there was an even mixture of students, professors, professionals and many non-USF persons there.


The first movie, “What Doesn’t Kill Me,” followed the stories of many women, primarily in Oklahoma, who have grappled with the terrors of abusive partners and been cheated out of security and custody of their children by the U.S. justice system. The cinematography and music in the film was superb, and the creative shots of the different women interviewed was very well done. “What Doesn’t Kill Me” covered a widespread issue within the U.S. legal system while simultaneously touching on important, internalized consequences of our country’s patriarchy.


Shifting the focus onto a different part of the world, the film “Bones of Contention” was about the history of the LGBTQ community in Spain. The film showed their suppression and condemnation under the reign of Francisco Franco’s fascist regime in the early 1900s and focused on the disappearance of a Spanish LGBTQ hero, Federico Garcia Lorca. Lorca was a symbol of LGBTQ struggles throughout Spain. He traveled through Spain, putting on fantastic plays all over the country, and represented a cultural movement of the 1930s.


Another overlooked hero in the 20th century was Dolores Huerta. “Dolores” focused on Huerta, who served alongside Cesar Chavez in fighting and advocating for workers’ rights in the ’50s and ’60s. Dolores was a skilled and often overlooked civil rights activist and lobbyist. She formed the United Farm Workers union and provided services for undocumented and mistreated workers, changing legislation for workers rights.


Through and through, the festival was a success and a pleasure. We applaud USF for its dedication to social justice, art and human rights. Each film featured explored a complex and fascinating issue and inspired all to learn more and give more. They brought awareness to issues many viewers didn’t even know existed, but have discovered a concern for and a connection to.

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