The upcoming Global Cinema Film Festival will highlight some pressing human rights issues to Boston-area filmgoers. Boston-based filmmaker and documentarian Raouf J. Jacob is the executive director of the Global Cinema Film Festival as well as the founder of the production company Worldwide Cinema Frames studio/films that is sponsoring this film festival, which will feature 36 different films from over 30 countries.

For Jacob, showcasing human rights issues through film is far more than just his career — it’s his life’s mission. Born in Sierra Leone, he grew up with his country engulfed in a brutal civil conflict that lasted from 1992 to 2002. Amidst the violence, Jacob was able to find some refuge at his local movie theaters. 

“For over ten years, my family and the people of my beloved country had to endure tragedies that were simply inexplicable,” he said. “My escape from the world was the movies. My two local cinemas became my sacred places where I could be transported into a dream-like world and simply be in awe of the creation in front me. I even watched foreign films that I did not understand the simple fact that there was a silver screen in front of me. This awe has always kept me sane.”

His family emigrated to Boston as refugees in 2000 and Jacob turned his passion into his livelihood. He founded the WCF studio/films in 2006 and had written, produced and directed several documentary films that spotlight human rights abuses all over the world. One film particularly close to his heart is Sierra Leone: A Culture of Silence. Shooting this film was his first journey back to his native country. The film, which is distributed worldwide and is available on all major platforms, spotlights the aftermath of the vicious conflict that his family had fled.  It sheds light on current issues plaguing modern-day Sierra Leone such as the controversial mining industry, the re-integration of child soldiers back into society and the sensitive issue of FGM (female genital mutilation). 

“I was proud to explore these issues in my latest documentary and bring them to light,” he said.

Given the current political climate, Jacob feels an even greater sense of urgency to broadcast these stories that may not otherwise get airtime. “The current climate should motivate us all,” Jacob said. “All of us in the media have an obligation to share these stories and be as objective and neutral as possible and make sure folks have access to information.” 

After all, many of the filmmakers whose works are featured at the upcoming festival were unable to obtain visas to come to the United States because of their country of origin.

Through his work, Jacob hopes to make people aware that many human rights cases of abuse occur in proximity to all of us, not in far-off developing countries. “Human trafficking is an issue right here in Boston,” he said. “In Chinatown, there have been reports of people being held against their will.” 

One of his upcoming projects will be a documentary spotlighting the issue of FGM here in the United States. “This is an issue that is sensitive to my heart because of where I come from,” he said. “I hope to bring it to light in Boston. Many Americans feel that this is not happening close to us. This is happening right here. There are 500,000 women at risk according to the CDC, which is likely an underreported number. There are probably many more women living with this but don’t want to come forward because of the stigma.” 

Jacob is hoping to push for legislative action to further protect girls and women at risk for FGM and hoping that whatever documentary he creates can bring greater awareness and sense of urgency to this issue.

The Global Cinema Film Festival, which will run from March 8 to March 11, will feature documentary feature films, documentary shorts, and narrative shorts. “These filmmakers are pushing us closer to what lies beneath,” he said. Some notable films include Woman Captured, the opening night film. This documentary is an observational film of a woman trapped in modern-day slavery in Hungary. Another film that particularly resonated with Jacob is Those From The Shore, which documents Armenian asylum seekers in France, waiting in limbo, while they withstand the grueling application wait that will determine whether they can stay in France. “It resonated with me personally, and I think it will resonate with every immigrant who knows what it feels like to wait — wait between two different countries, two different worlds, two different lives,” he said. 

Jacob is eager to share these impactful films and the pressing issues they spotlight with his community. “We’re so privileged to have these films with us and to share these films with our community here in Boston,” he said, who hopes to address issues both as a filmmaker and as an activist. “This festival is a logical extension of my film company. Our goal is to produce, film and distribute films that make us care. That is my life mission.”

The Global Cinema Film Festival will run from March 8 to March 11. Tickets can be purchased here.

By Alicia Landsberg