As the world continues to careen between crises that increasingly make less sense, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival offers a small oasis of compassion and consideration. The 22nd edition of this essential event seeks to counter the injustice, prejudice, ignorance and folly that blight humanity in every corner of the globe. In all, 14 features are showing at BFI Southbank, the Barbican, the Regent Cinema and the Royal Institute of British Architecture between 7-16 March, with the majority of screenings being followed by what are likely to be lively discussion sessions.

Among the titles on show are Sadaf Foroughi's Ava (a debut drama about a 16 year-old Iranian girl's bid to resist her mother's efforts to make her take a virginity test and to rebel against the forces that stifle female creativity and self-expression); Stefanie Brockhaus and Andreas Wolff's The Poetess (a profile of Hissa Hilal, who became the first woman to reach the final of Saudi Arabia's biggest televised poetry competition); Margarita Cadenas's Women of the Venezuelan Chaos (a tribute to five women from diverse backgrounds who have endured the shortages, injustices and unrest caused by their government's refusal to accept it has lost control of the country); Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis's Whose Streets? (a personal reflection on the riots that followed the police killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on 9 August 2014); Anjali Nayar and Hawa Essuman's Silas (which follows activist Silas Siakor in his bid to stem the government-approved pillaging of Liberia's natural resources); Daniel McCabe's This Is Congo (an account of the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo told by a a patriotic military commander, a mineral dealer, a whistleblower and a displaced tailor); Rina Castelnuovo-Hollander and Tamir Elterman's Muhi - Generally Temporary (an examination of the nightmare facing a boy and his grandfather from Gaza who have been stuck in an Israeli hospital for eight years because of immigration restrictions); Mohammed Naqvi's Insha'Allah Democracy (an assessment of the options Pakistani voters face when choosing between religious hardliners and former military dictator Pervez Musharraf); and Adam Sobel's The Workers Cup (an exposé of the conditions being endured by the 1.6 million migrant workers building the venues for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar).

Three decades after capturing life on a psychiatric ward in Urgencies (1988), French documentarist Raymond Depardon returns to the world of mental healthcare in 12 Days. Apparently, 92,000 people are placed under involuntary psychiatric care in France each year. But, since September 2013, judges have to decide within 12 days whether a confinement order should be upheld and Depardon visits the Centre Hospitalier Le Vinatier in Lyon to see how four judges deal with a dozen patients who wish to be released.

One has to question whether the troubled souls deemed unfit to look after themselves are sufficiently aware to allow themselves to be exposed to the camera's gaze. But, in order to protect the participants, names have been changed or withheld.

Depardon and producer-cum-sound recordist Claudine Nougaret sat in on 72 hearings in order to make the film. Keeping one camera on the judge, one on the patient and another on the room as a whole, Depardon was able to cut between close-ups in order to give proceedings an intimacy and immediacy that avoids feeling intrusive or insensitive. Indeed, an air of compassion pervades the cases in the spotlight, as the judges keep explaining to the appellants that they are not medical experts and are only there to ensure that procedures lawful and that recommendations have been made in the best interests of the patient and the wider community.

The first man up for appraisal denies that his hetero-aggressive act of punching a stranger in the head was prompted by persecutory delusions and is eager to be allowed to return to his family. But his request is denied, while a middle-aged woman who regards herself as an `open wound' because of the pressure she feels under while working in the billing department at the Orange telecommunications company is happy to remain in care and work on her issues.

A second man accuses the judge of denying him liberty in `the land of human rights' for decreeing that he would be better off under round-the-clock supervision rather than in outpatient care, while a middle-aged fellow who keeps hearing voices and can't recall having furloughs with his family accepts the decision to remain at the hospital rather than live with his elderly mother because his medication reduces his need to scream.

A 20 year-old who claims to have been wrongly incarcerated after reporting Muslim extremists holding sect meetings in the next-door apartment seems torn between pleading for his release and acknowledging that he needs treatment for paranoid schizophrenia. A 36 year-old woman who wants to be left alone to kill herself similarly concurs that she would benefit from continued treatment, in the hope that she can be reunited with her cat in a group care home. An Angolan man has also been making plans for his release and feels ready to repay France for giving him a home. But the judge is concerned that the thickness of his file and his lack of understanding of his `izophrenia' suggests that he is still some way from being a suitable candidate for release.

A twentysomething of North African origin protests at being remanded because she only cut her wrists to relieve the pain of being repeatedly raped and not because she wanted to kill herself. Her frustration at not being trusted is shared by an inmate of the Difficult Patient Unit, who insists on being released so he can set up his own political party (under the sponsorship of Bernie Sanders) and pass legislation to ban psychiatrists. The judge smiles, as she allows the man to fulminate about the injustices he endures and the fact that his father is too afraid of the law to visit him. However, she confides to his lawyer that he killed his father a decade ago and remains dangerously delusional.

Between hearings, Depardon shows patients wandering the corridors and grounds in state of bewilderment. At times, they resemble zombies and one is left to question to use of Alexandre Desplat's accompanying score for mournful piano and strings. Yet Depardon remains resolutely objective during the sessions, which come to an end with the sad case of a single mother scarred by childhood trauma who is reluctant to accept that she would be better able to raise her two year-old daughter if she was healthy.

It all sounds so civilised and there isn't a single raised voice, even though several of the patients object vehemently to being detained against their will. As in Delits flagrants (1994) and The 10th Judicial Court: Moments of Trial (2004), which respectively focused on suspects being interviewed by deputy prosecutors and the cases being heard in a Parisian courtroom, Depardon leaves the droller side of the situations intact. But he doesn't shirk from recording the darker realities facing the patients and the difficulty that the four judges have in adjudicating on their immediate future on the basis of medical notes and their own common sense experience.

A disconcerting aspect of the proceedings lies in the presence of lawyers who don't always seem to know a lot about the people they are representing. However, Depardon leaves the viewer to reach their own conclusions about the efficacy and equitability of the law and process as they currently stand.

The pioneer of Single Shot Cinema, Leonard Retel Helmrich is best known for the trilogy comprising Eye of the Day (2001), Shape of the Moon (2004) and Position Among the Stars (2010), which charted the precarious progress of the Sjamsuddin family from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. He returns to HRWFF with The Long Season, which almost cost him his life, as he lapsed into a coma after going nine minutes without oxygen after suffering a severe heart attack. While he recovered in the Netherlands, producer Pieter van Huystee and camera woman Ramia Suleiman completed this 18-month study of daily life in a Lebanese refugee camp in accordance with Helmrich's intentions.

Situated across the Syrian border with Lebanon in the Bekaa Valley, Camp Khiara lies close to the town of Majdal Anjar and offers sanctuary to 1.2 million refugees. The majority fled the city of Raqqa after it was captured by Isis and the prospect of their return seems slight. Consequently, they have attempted to resume what passes for normal activity amidst the tents and shacks they now call home.

Helmrich and Suleiman (who is a Syrian artist and sculptor) focus their attention on the family of the ageing Abu Hussein, who has enough to worry about on the domestic front without dwelling on religion or politics. While his pregnant first wife, Yisra, resents the arrival of his new spouse, Zahra, his son Maher is keen to find a bride and fly the nest. However, he is considered immature and is kept short of funds to prevent him from doing anything foolish. Paternal pressure is also being applied to Maria, a teacher who has found a niche in the camp and is reluctant to comply with her father's demand to return to Raqqa to marry, especially as she feels as though traumatised children like the unpredictable Wahid need her more.

While these dramas play out, Helmrich and Suleiman capture the sights and sounds of everyday existence. Meals are cooked by the womenfolk, while men scramble for the wood, bricks and plastic sheets that could make their dwellings a bit more bearable. When not in class, children play with balls and tyres, while the more ingenious attempt to build a toy truck out of scrap. Chickens peck in the dust, oblivious to the desperate news filtering across the frontier.

The discreet watchfulness of the camerawork allows the film-makers to pick up the tiny, but telling details that reveal the strain of living in rented tents and on meagre food rations. On occasion, the relentlessness of the gaze can feel intrusive and there is something disconcerting about the sequence in which a tearful girl is pursued, even though she clearly wants a little privacy. But there is something ghoulishly compelling about Zahra's struggle to come to terms with what she has witnessed (such as women being beheaded because of their hairstyles) and what she has to endure after Abu Hussein opts to sneak back into Syria rather than adjudicate the squabbles between his wives.

Having recalled the quiet dignity of Palestinian villager Ayed Morrar's resistance in Budrus (2009), Julia Bacha returns with the even more potent story of Naila Ayesh in Naila and the Uprising. Making imaginative use of animation, archive footage and interviews, Bacha explores the role that women played in the First Intifada in 1987 and questions whether things might have been very different for the beleaguered peoples of Gaza and the West Bank if Ayesh, fellow activist Sama Aweidah, peace delegation spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi, Fatah's Raheba Diab and Zahira Kamal from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine had been allowed a greater say in the shaping of events.

Shortly after the Six Day War in 1967, eight year-old Naila Ayesh had her home in Ramallah demolished by the occupying Israeli forces and the remainder of her childhood was blighted by shortages, restrictions, curfews and censorship. She managed to escape, however, having earned a scholarship to Bulgaria, where she met and married Jamal Zakout, with whom she formed the Democratic Front to fight for self-determination. As a result of her campaigning, she was arrested and detained in Maskubiye Prison in Jerusalem, where her sadistic treatment caused her to suffer a miscarriage and she was only released after Zakout enlisted the support of the international media.

He had also been imprisoned and was forced into exile when the Israelis cracked down on opposition inside the Occupied Territories. But, rather than accompany her husband, Ayesh remained in Gaza and encouraged other women to take to the streets during the Intifada and to form farming co-operatives to keep shops stocked in the face of blockades. Despite being detained again, she was released following a second media furore. Never before had women been so prominent within the Palestinian community and they even sat at the top table during the US-brokered peace talks held in Madrid in 1991. However, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation had already started to negotiate what turned out to be a much less beneficial deal in Oslo and women were pushed back to the margins after Yasser Arafat returned from exile in Tunisia in 1994.

Denied the opportunity to rule, Ayesh became a director of the Women's Affairs Centre in Gaza and continues to promote equality and emancipation. Her struggle is recalled with trenchancy and sensitivity in this stirring memoir, which employs animation to recreate episodes from Ayesh's past. The emotively stylised visuals prove something of a distraction during her recollection of the torture she endured in prison. But this is one of the few missteps, as Bacha pays fulsome tribute to the women who answered the call of their homeland and were rewarded with shoddy chauvinist platitudes that reduced them to being second-class citizens within their own communities.

Irish documentarist Chris Kelly spent six years making A Cambodian Spring, which follows the efforts of three activists to prevent a land grab in a bustling area of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. However, those unfamiliar with the events that brought thousands on to the streets in 2013 will need to do a good deal of background reading to appreciate fully what is going on and what is at stake, as Kelly has opted to provide little historico-political context.

Following independence from France in 1953, Cambodia developed a land-owning class that held sway until the Khmer Rouge seized power under Pol Pot in 1975 and instigated a policy of confiscation that fuelled the genocide that saw between 1.5-3 million people perish. In 1997, Prime Minister Hun Sen took power on behalf of the Cambodian People's Party in a coup. A decade later, he forged a deal with the World Bank to begin developing the lakeside Boeung Kak region of Phnom Penh and it quickly became clear that the contracted company, Shukaku Development Corporation, had links with Sen's party.

Determined to defend their homes and businesses, the residents of Boeung Kak began to organise and Kelly views the resistance through the eyes of working-class mothers, Tep Vanny and Toul Srey Pov, whose intelligence, eloquence and commitment enable them to become prominent figures in the protest movement. He also found a valuable ally in the Venerable Luon Sovath, a Buddhist monk who used a camcorder to record the actions of the police and military and to make online bulletins condemning the breach of property rights and calling for justice and compensation after the dispossessed were offered insultingly low sums to buy their compliance.

As Sen wields influence over the Buddhist elite, however, Sovath was expelled from his temple and subjected to censorship and harassment. Having acquired a reputation as a firebrand speaker who attracted the attention of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Tep Vanny was also targeted and remains in prison over 18 months after being arrested on trumped-up charges.

The immediacy of the footage recorded by Kelly and Sovath plunges the audience into the heart of the conflict. But pivotal events such as the return of exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy to fight a general election in 2013 are inadequately explained. Similarly, the reasons behind the feud between Toul Srey Pov and Tep Vanny are sketchily covered and many loose ends are consciously left untied. This is fine, as it prompts viewers into doing their own research and keeps them connected with a story that Kelly plans to revisit during the forthcoming election. But, while the images of the street clashes are often deeply disturbing and Kelly deftly draws parallels with the disdain shown to the marginalised in other areas of the world, the resolute adherence to the tenets of Direct Cinema leaves a few too many questions unanswered.

A wise man once said that life is what happens when you're busy making other plans and Peter Nicks discovers this to his cost in The Force, as events beyond his control upend his up-close profile of the Oakland Police Department and leave him to chronicle the aftermath from a distant remove. This is hardly his fault and he would probably be criticised whatever response he made to the scandal that hit the OPD in 2016. But the change of tone is drastic and deleterious, as Nicks has his unique access withdrawn and is forced to rely on culled news footage to bring his story to an unsatisfactory conclusion.

Having had five chiefs in a decade and spent much of that time under federal supervision, Oakland turned to Sean Whent in 2014 to reform the OPD's operating procedures and improve its public image. Top of mayor Libby Schaaf's agenda is an end to the `toxic macho culture' within the department. But Whent insists that `it's a very difficult time in this country to be a police officer,' in letting his force know that he understands the problems it faces as he seeks to overhaul its approach to both the law and the community it serves.

Attempts are made to teach academy classes about conditions in the city's black neighbourhoods, while a new emphasis is placed on restricting the use of force and firearms. When not being trained in how to use tear-gas, cops are reminded of the need to approach situations with discretion in the likelihood that an onlooker will be filming the incident with their phone. Indeed, Whent introduces body cameras so that the OPD can have its own record of potentially contentious events. Naturally, there are accusations that the force edits footage to suit itself and there are always those moments when the cameras aren't rolling. But, just as model recruits like Joe Cairo discover the harsh realities of being on the beat, so Whent learns that budgets and manpower can only be stretched so far and that he has to prioritise violent crime over more mundane misdemeanours.

As Nicks follows in the proud Direct Cinema tradition of Frederick Wiseman, he offers no background material to set his scene and eschews interviews and archive footage. Thus, he is left high and dry when Whent is forced out of office when he takes insufficient action against the officers who have been exploiting an underage prostitute. Piecing together the breaking story from news clips, Nicks speculates whether Whent was guilty of hushing up the episode in order to protect his reform programme. But the enforced change of approach leaves the film looking a little ragged, as secondhand opinion replaces scrupulous objectivity. However, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that an opportunity has been missed, especially in light of the sequence in which the cops attending a seminar view footage of a colleague gunning down a man armed with a knife and they find various ways to justify his aggression.