These are the must-see films screening at London’s human rights film festival


At the Oscars last week, Mustang, a coming-of-age tale about five Turkish sisters, was on everyone's lips.

It didn’t end up winning Best Foreign Language Film – perhaps because it was one of the few films that hadn’t been released in time ­– but it should have. Since the red carpet’s been rolled up, the film’s popularity continues to grow on the festival circuit and through word of mouth. Its next stop? London.   

You can catch Mustang this month at London’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival. From documentaries about Iranian rappers to films about the plight of Syrian refugees, this year’s programme zeroes in on some of the most urgent political and social issues facing the world today. And there are heaps of post-screening Q&A’s if you’re keen to be a part of that discussion. Here are some films to look out for.   

The Hard Stop

It’s taken five years for a filmmaker to produce a considered reflection on the London riots. George Amponsah revisits the days surrounding the murder of Mark Duggan by London’s Metropolitan police in Tottenham with two of Duggan’s friends, who responded furiously to the court’s “lawful killing” verdict. You can get a sense of the film above, which ends with Martin Luther King’s aphorism: “A riot is the language of the unheard.”


Could Mustang be Turkey’s answer to The Virgin Suicides? The Oscar-nominated debut from Deniz Gamze Ergüven is a blistering coming-of-age tale of five sisters who’ve been imprisoned in their family home, their windows literally barred up. Why? As punishment for their ‘obscene behaviour’: they splashed about in the sea, fully clothed, with some boys from their school. And that’s not the worst of it. One by one they’re being married off to men they’ve never met, as is the custom in conservative enclaves of Turkey. Are they gonna take it? Would you take it? This is one hell of a closing-night film. Get your tickets early.

The Idol

The Idol is based on the remarkable true story of Mohammad Assaf, a wedding singer from a refugee camp in Gaza who, in 2013, won Arab Idol and became a certified Palestinian pop singer. (He was the only one from Gaza to audition on the show.) Hany Abu-Assad’s biopic, with its “you can do whatever the hell you want, no matter where you live on this planet” message, is a tale of steely determination, giving hope to millions of others for whom dreams like these seem so far out of reach.

The Crossing

“When we go to the jungle, what will happen there?” a character asks in The Crossing, a first-hand account of a perilous journey made by a group of Syrian refugees. Sadly we now know the answer: French officials, as I type, are preparing to forcibly move refugees on from the so-called jungle in Calais and their future remains even more uncertain. George Kurian’s film tackles it head-on from the refugees’ perspective.


This Sundance-winning documentary zooms in on a teenage refugee living in Iran and her hopes of being a famous rapper. She has two big problems. First, female singers are banned from singing solo in Iran. Second, her parents plan to sell her for $9,000 as a teenage bride to an unknown husband. “To feed the family,” they say. Iranian filmmaker Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami weaves multiple strands – women’s rights, homelessness, teenage ambition – into a remarkable tapestry. You might need to grab the Kleenex for this one.

The London Human Rights Watch Film Festival runs from 9 - 18 March 2016 at Barbican, British Museum, Curzon Soho, Picturehouse Central and Ritzy Picturehouse. For the full programme head over here.