The 2016 Global Health Film Festival took place on Friday 11 and Saturday 12 November at the Barbican, Europe's largest arts venue. We were honoured to host an excellent range of films, including many premieres, as well as some internationally-renowned keynote speakers. Here are some highlights:

We were privileged to have film distribution strategist Peter Broderick deliver an Opening Address on lessons for maximising the impact of global health film:

BAFTA Deputy Chair Anne Morrison interviewed award-winning documentary film-maker Brian Woods to explore the question 'Can TV change the world?' curated with excerpts from Brian’s immense body of documentary film work:

Dr Johanna Blakley, director of the Norman Lear Center, delivered a thought-provoking and most inspiring keynote lecture on studying and shaping the impact of media:

Take a look at the final programme here.

This year's films include:

A Plastic Ocean 

Directed by Craig Leeson

A feature-length adventure documentary that brings to light the consequences of our global disposable lifestyle. We thought we could use plastic once and throw it away with negligible impact to humans and animals. That turns out to be untrue.

In A Plastic Ocean an international team of adventurers, researchers and ocean ambassadors embark on an expedition around the globe that delves into the unknown lurking beneath our seemingly pristine and remote waters, capturing never-before-seen images of marine life, plastic pollution and its ultimate consequences for human health. During its four-year production period, this adventure documentary was filmed in 20 locations around the world in beautiful and chilling detail to document the global effects of plastic pollution - and introduce workable technology and policy solutions that can, if implemented in time, change things for the better.

 

The Punk Syndrome

Directed by Jukka Kärkkäinen and J-P Passi

An award-winning film about Finland's most kick-ass punk rock band, Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät. The band's intellectually disabled members, Pertti, Kari, Toni and Sami, play their music with a lot of attitude and pride. We follow these professional musicians on their journey from obscurity to popularity. We watch them fight, fall in love and witness long days in the recording studio and on tour. It's a film about the essence of punk - and it's a film about people with disabilities rebelling against the mainstream.

 

Footprint

Directed by Valentina Canavesio

By globetrotting through multiple countries and experts taken from every corner of the world, Footprint provides a unique window into the real effects of population growth and consumption inequality on the world we live in and the environment.

The film also offers unprecedented access to the people on the ground- activists, health workers, a single mom at the head of an 8-children-family- who are all in their unique way challenging the status quo and making us rethink what’s really at stake.

There are surprising revelations on who are the players standing in the way of solutions and those pushing for it, without losing sight of the array of possible solutions that open up when we take the time to ask this critical question of how many of us there are in the world and what the Earth can sustain if we are to all live a dignified life.

 

Transit Zone

Directed by Frederik Subei

Transit Zone is an authentic insight into the life of refugees in the Calais 'Jungle'

We enter the perspective of Teefa who has fled the regime in Sudan. His dream is to make it one day onto one of the lorries leading to the UK - and hopefully a better life.

Despite a remarkable sense of community, conditions in the jungle are harsh and taking their toll. Teefa has spent almost half a year in the camp and is tired of trying to cross, as only a few are lucky enough to succeed.

The filmmaker spent three months in the camp living with the refugees during the winter. The result is a intimate and atmospheric creative documentary which goes far beyond the ordinary news report.

 

The Black Zone

Directed by Grace Baek

The Black Zone is a decade long journey following workers in a covert and daring medical relief program as they struggle to provide aid amidst war atrocities inside the jungles of Burma.

Located along the Thai-Burma border, a free clinic helped train hundreds of lay medics to perform lifesaving medical procedures. Many of the medics trekked into some of the most remote and isolated war torn regions of Eastern Burma. Armed with stethoscopes, pocket knifes and what medical supplies they could carry in by foot, the backpack medics risked everything to be the lifeline to thousands of ethnic minority people persecuted by the Burmese military government.

Recent democratic reforms loosened the grip of military rule but the medics continue their work as justice eludes many ethnic minority regions. Human rights abuses perpetrated by all sides of the conflict have yet to be addressed including Burmese military operations that actively targeted medics and community workers — a horrific trend in conflicts worldwide including Syria.

As health workers, the medics desperately tried to procure medication and further their training all while being hunted by the Burmese military. Many medics were arrested and some were even killed.

The Black Zone is a story about refugees and stateless individuals choosing to return to their war torn regions to provide desperately needed medical care even when overwhelmed by isolation and very little outside assistance.

Their story of ingenuity, courage, and sacrifice is especially relevant today as we struggle with the logistics and compassion to assist the growing number of refugees worldwide.

 

Jackson

Directed by Maisie Crow

What does life look like in a place where the anti-abortion movement has made access to legal abortion nearly impossible? Since the passing of Roe v. Wade over four decades ago, the self-labeled “pro-life” movement has won significant legal, cultural and political battles. Now, the stigma of abortion is prolific in the American South and women in poverty and women of color are particularly vulnerable. These women find it difficult to access reproductive healthcare, especially in places like Mississippi where the anti-abortion faction is strongest. 

Shannon Brewer is the director of Jackson Women's Health Organization, the only remaining abortion clinic in the state. Barbara Beavers runs the Center for Pregnancy Choices and is a leader of the anti-abortion movement in Mississippi. April Jackson is a young mother of four children faced with another unplanned pregnancy. 

Set against the backdrop of the fight over the last abortion clinic in Mississippi, Jackson is an intimate, first-of-its-kind look inside the issues surrounding abortion through three women who stand on all sides of this debate and live at a turning point for reproductive healthcare in America.

See the trailer here:

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Novemba

Directed by Dominic Dunn and David McPhee

This film documents a week spent in one of Tanzania's busiest hospitals, accompanying a group of 10 volunteers representing the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

It highlights the importance of the 17-year relationship between Northumbria and Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre, and concentrates on a project to introduce Laparoscopic surgery now in its 11th year and a more recent burns project. We follow Irish Surgeon Mr Liam Horgan , who now in his 11th year working with KCMC, manages to make medical history in Africa during the week.

Uk-born but now practising in Australia, plastic surgeon Mr Jeremy Rawlins is introducing modern burns procedures to a country where burns cases are prolific in number but largely untreated. The film explores the dire need for improved conditions, equipment and knowledge of burns treatment as we concentrate on five patients. 

 

Striking a Chord: Instruments of Healing

Directed by Susan Rockefeller

This 30-minute documentary offers civilians insight into the trauma of war and the challenges of returning home and re-entering “reality.” It shows how veterans with PTSD are finding their way back to themselves through music and art. Soldiers learn that, for those who can find the courage to speak their truths, there are unexpected paths to healing.

 

Hanging

Directed by Nick LeDonne

An abstracted animated documentary based on a personal struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts.

 

Positively Beautiful

Directed by Diveena Cooppan

Positively Beautiful tells the story of five strangers facing death from AIDS form an unlikely friendship that transforms them into extraordinary activists. They struggle against shame, suicide and isolation. Fifteen years later, against all odds, they are still alive. Their friendship becomes a remarkable story: a quiet victory of meaningful, beautiful lives in an evolving South Africa.

The True Cost

Directed by Andrew Morgan

The True Cost is a story about clothing. It’s about the clothes we wear, the people who make them, and the impact the industry is having on our world. The price of clothing has been decreasing for decades, while the human and environmental costs have grown dramatically. The True Cost is a groundbreaking documentary film that pulls back the curtain on the untold story and asks us to consider, who really pays the price for our clothing?

Filmed in countries all over the world, from the brightest runways to the darkest slums, and featuring interviews with the world’s leading influencers including Stella McCartney, Livia Firth and Vandana Shiva, The True Cost is an unprecedented project that invites us on an eye opening journey around the world and into the lives of the many people and places behind our clothes.

 

Ambulance

Directed by Mohamed Jabaly

Filmmaker Mohamed Jabaly follows a team of paramedics in an ambulance in Gaza, eventually becoming a core member who bears witness to their perilous and heartbreaking rescue work. Ambulance tracks the harrowing chaos amidst a state-run military operation on civilians.

 

Drone

Directed by Tonje Hessen Schei

Drone takes us inside the secret CIA drone war, revealing intimate stories from the war on terror - from people living under drones in Pakistan and drone pilots struggling with killing through joysticks in the US.

The film covers the recruitment of young pilots at gaming conventions and the re-definition of “going to war”, as well as the moral stance of engineers behind the technology, the world leaders giving the secret “green light” to engage in the biggest targeted killing programme in history, and the people willing to stand up against the violations of civil liberties and fight for transparency, accountability and justice. 

 

Seeds of Hope

Directed by Fiona Lloyd-Davies

Masika Katsuva is a Congolese woman who sacrifices her safety everyday to help others deal with the unimaginable horrors they have experienced in their lives. Since the outbreak of the civil war, which has torn the Congo apart, rape has become commonplace and is used as a weapon of war. Seeds of Hope tells the story of Masika’s refuge centre, where a community of rape victims try to rebuild their lives and console each other.

 

The Checklist Effect

Directed by Lauren Anders Brown

Every surgical operation is a scientific process - and the story of a life changed forever. In operating rooms and communities from Moldova to Mongolia, The Checklist Effect explores the challenges of delivering safer surgery on a global scale; and how a simple checklist can mean the difference between life and death behind those swinging doors. 

 

Death By Design

Directed by Sue Williams

What is the cost of our digital dependency? Death by Design, a feature length documentary, explores this question and uncovers a global story of damaged lives, environmental destruction and devices that are designed to die. 

In an investigation that spans the globe, filmmaker Sue Williams investigates the underbelly of the electronics industry and reveals how even the smallest devices have deadly environmental and health costs. From the intensely secretive factories in China, to a ravaged New York community and the high tech corridors of Silicon Valley, the film tells a story of environmental degradation, of health tragedies, and the fast approaching tipping point between consumerism and sustainability.

 

Notes on Blindness

Directed by Peter Middleton and James Spinney

After losing sight, John Hull knew that if he did not try to understand blindness it would destroy him. In 1983 he began keeping an audio diary.

Over three years John recorded over sixteen hours of material, a unique testimony of loss, rebirth and renewal, excavating the interior world of blindness.

Published in 1990, the diaries were described by author and neurologist Oliver Sacks as, ‘A masterpiece… The most precise, deep and beautiful account of blindness I have ever read.’