As the United States Supreme Court leans increasingly to the right, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s vigorous dissenting opinions and ferocious 20-push-up workouts have earned this tiny, soft-spoken intellectual giant the status of rock star and the title “Notorious RBG.” What many don’t know is Ginsburg’s strategic, trailblazing role in defining gender-discrimination law. Intent on systematically releasing women from second-class status, she argued six pivotal gender-bias cases in the 1970s before an all-male Supreme Court blind to sexism.
Now 85, and still inspired by the lawyers who defended free speech during the Red Scare, Ginsburg refuses to relinquish her passionate duty, steadily fighting for equal rights for all citizens under the law. Through intimate interviews and unprecedented access to Ginsburg’s life outside the court, RBG tells the electric story of Ginsburg’s consuming love affairs with both the Constitution and her beloved husband Marty—and of a life’s work that led her to become an icon of justice in the highest U.S. court.
Mobbed by iPhone cameras and pushy reporters, 23-year-old Nadia Murad leads a harrowing but vital crusade: to find the most influential platforms in the world and speak out on behalf of the embattled Yazidi community who face mass extermination by ISIS militants. Having narrowly escaped with her own life, Nadia must now relentlessly recount on radio shows, at rallies, and even on the floor of the United Nation's General Assembly her ordeal as a Yazidi sex slave and witness to her family's brutal killings. Though excruciating, she forces herself to revisit these realities again and again. For without her testimony, the genocide happening right in front of the world's eyes might go completely unnoticed.
With a formal precision and elegance that matches Nadia's calm and steely demeanor, filmmaker Alexandria Bombach brings us inside an exhausting, destabilizing journey fraught with personal pain and profound ethical urgency. From the refugee camps in Greece to the gilded halls of power, we observe a woman repurpose unimaginable trauma into a powerful rallying cry for justice.
Directing Award: U.S. Documentary
It's 2018, the necessity of discussions surrounding women filmmakers and Hollywood's gender bias should have diminished by now. But within the first few moments of Half the Picture, it is abundantly clear that discrimination against women filmmakers remains a highly relevant story. This is a fundamental civil rights issue: women in the industry are not offered equal opportunities as compared to their male counterparts.
Gender-parity experts and academics discuss Hollywood's dismal employment practices, and these conversations are woven between interviews with a wealth of prominent women directors (including Kasi Lemmons, Catherine Hardwicke, Penelope Spheeris, Ava DuVernay, and many others), telling their stories of breaking into a male-centered business. They confirm the double standards that still exist while eloquently outlining their career paths, their struggles, and their hopes for the future. First-time director Amy Adrion smartly deals with the inherent sexism in the industry and considers many of the stereotypes and biases that have prevented women from rising through the ranks. Amid the current political climate and recent cascade of sexual harassment allegations, the time to listen and act is now.
Drawing from hundreds of hours of footage, filmmaker Rudy Valdez shows the aftermath of his sister Cindy's incarceration for conspiracy charges related to crimes committed by her deceased ex-boyfriend—something known, in legal terms, as “the girlfriend problem.” Cindy's 15-year mandatory sentence is hard on everyone, but for her husband and children, Cindy's sudden banishment feels like a kind of death that becomes increasingly difficult to grapple with.
Valdez's method of coping with this tragedy is to film his sister's family for her, both the everyday details and the milestones—moments Cindy herself can no longer share in. But in the midst of this nightmare, Valdez finds his voice as both a filmmaker and activist, and he and his family begin to fight for Cindy's release during the last months of the Obama administration's clemency initiative. Whether their attempts will allow Cindy to break free of her draconian sentence becomes the aching question at the core of this riveting and deeply personal portrait of a family in crisis.
Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, Presented by Acura