HIFF 2016: Compassion, Justice & Animal Rights

Virunga, winner of the 2014 Zelda Penzel Award (and Academy Award nominee).

Still from VIRUNGA, winner of the 2014 Zelda Penzel “Giving Voice to the Voiceless” Prize (and Academy Award nominee).

In the 21st century, billions of animals continue to be exploited for our food, clothing, labor, research and entertainment. They are denied their basic right to life and fundamental protections against violence and cruelty.

Compassion, Justice & Animal Rights is a HIFF Signature Program that explores this important movement on film. Bringing together animal advocacy, environmental and social justice issues, our Animal Rights program provides a platform for filmmakers to share meaningful information, stories of inspiration, and tools for creating a safe and humane world for animals.

These films seek to arouse in the consciousness of our audiences respect for the dignity and rights of all living beings and to encourage dialogue about how we treat and view animals as a community.

big-life-foundation-115In 2016, the HIFF Animal Rights program included two feature documentary films within the theme screened at the Festival. Presented by Big Life Foundation.

In addition, the Zelda Penzel “Giving Voice to the Voiceless” Award was presented at the HIFF Awards Ceremony in October. Past winners of this award, which has been part of our awards ceremony for the past four years, include THE CHAMPIONSVIRUNGA (Oscar® Nominee), EMPTYING THE SKIES, and HBO’s ONE NATION, UNDER DOG.



Directors: Chris Hegedus, D.A. Pennebaker | USA
In UNLOCKING THE CAGE, acclaimed filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus follow animal rights lawyer Steven Wise in his unprecedented attempt to break down the legal wall that separates animals from humans by filing the first lawsuits seeking to transform a chimpanzee from a “thing” with no rights to a “person” with legal protections. With Tommy and Kiko, former showbiz chimps now living in neglected cages, at the center of the debate, Wise makes a compelling argument that thrusts the case into the media spotlight. UNLOCKING THE CAGE is a riveting courtroom drama filled with heart and compassion in the face of overwhelming opposition.


Following the screening, directors Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker, the subject of the film Steven Wise and other special guests convened for a post-screening panel discussion on the legal issues raised in the film, which are still being debated. Moderated by Katie Cleary.


Directors: Kief Davidson, Richard Ladkani | Austria / USA
Bringing to light the dramatic and dire fate of the African elephant, THE IVORY GAME documents the efforts to stop the systematic slaughter that is driving the African elephant to extinction. Poachers sow destruction in pursuit of the “white gold” of ivory, considered by many cultures a luxury item and status symbol. For more than a year, award-winning director Richard Ladkani and Academy Award®-nominated director Kief Davidson filmed in Africa and Asia with the help of conservationists, intelligence organizations, frontline rangers, and undercover activists trying to expose the institutionalized corruption that supports the illegal ivory trade.

How can you help? HIFF welcomes donors at various levels to support this film movement and continue to shed light on and showcase stories that embody this crucial issue of our time. Learn more!