Film Festivals

Docudays:  UA International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival

The Docudays UA Festival is held annually in Ukraine. The Festival is non-political and non-profit, and aims to raise the level of documentary film in Ukraine and create a democratic future for the country, as well as promote understanding of moral problems in society, human rights and human dignity. Upon completion, the best films are shown in regions across Ukraine at the Docudays Travelling Festival. As well as the main competitive field, which has different categories for submissions prioritising artistic expression and prioritising fundamental human rights issues, the Festival also showcases the best international films that have done well at other film festivals as well as retrospectives and past entries. It offers DOCU/CLASS as a scheme to learn about the processes of making documentary films and new advances in the field, as well as DOC/SADOC for young children to engage with the world of documentaries with the help of professional teachers. The Festival also offers a program of human rights events in conjunction with film screenings, particularly targeted at those professionals who may face trouble with issues of bureaucracy and discrimination in their careers such as lawyers and journalists.


DOCUMENT Film Festival

The DOCUMENT Film Festival is Scotland’s sole dedicated human rights documentary film festival, established in 2003. It has screened over 600 films since then, covering topics ranging from mental health to immigration and asylum, and serving as a platform for both global critical sensations and local filmmakers. It aims to utilise film as an advocacy tool to promote the discussion of human rights and social issues across the globe. Beyond the short 3-4 day festival programme, it also engages audiences with one-off screenings and collaborations with other film festivals. It makes programme selections available for free at community videotheques outside the city. It serves as a hub for local human rights activists and has built partnerships with organisations to contextualise and assist in the impact of films shown.


Festival Cinéma et Droits Humains

This Festival is organised by the Paris branch of Amnesty International, in the belief that film offers the greatest potential for people to feel connections with disadvantaged persons. It showcases submitted short films of up to twenty minutes in length, of any style or genre fitting the theme of human rights, which are all in competition for four awards. It also selects several long-form films to screen.


Festival Internacional de Cine de Derechos Humanos

The International Human Rights Film Festival takes place biannually in Buenos Aires and Santiago del Estero. It is a founding member of the Human Rights Film Network and Red de Cine Social y Derechos Humanos de America Latin y el Caribe. Since its inception in 1997, it has intended to create a space for human rights issues. It features a variety of different formats of film in a range of non-competitive section. Notably, a screening of El Rati Horror Show led to its wrongfully imprisoned main character being released.


Flare: London LGBT Film Festival

BFI Flare is the UK’s longest running and largest LGBT film event, beginning in 1986 as Gay’s Own Pictures and later being known as the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival until 2014. In 2015, it saw admissions of over 23,000. In 2016 it was sponsored by Accenture, Renault and the May Fair Hotel. It is also supported by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport. It delivers a mentorship scheme in collaboration with BAFTA and Creative Skillset to develop the talents of six emerging LGBT filmmakers per year.



Malaysia’s annual FreedomFilmFest was conceived to create a space for social justice and human rights films in a country with controlled mainstream media where commercial backing was not forthcoming. It was set up in 2003 by KOMAS, a pioneering Malaysian NGO which aims to use all forms of creative media to promote human rights causes in Malaysia. It gives the Malaysian people a voice to express their aspirations for justice and equality, and inspires activists to keep fighting for their rights. It seeks to continue to encourage the public to use video for social documentation, and the festival’s tagline ‘Dare to Document’ encourages them to document and share without fear. To further these ends it offers the opportunity to apply for a grant of RM20000 for Malaysian filmmakers and S$5,000 for Singaporean filmmakers to bring their ideas to life, with production guidance from KOMAS.

Three of the FreedomFilmFest Film Grant winning documentaries from 2015 have been uploaded online to watch for free, to encourage people to hold screenings in their communities. It also offers 20 grants of RM100 as part of a scheme called ‘Wayang Piknik’ so that people can hold small private gatherings to watch FreedomFilmFest films and provide food and drink, as long as they utilise the hashtag #wayangpiknik to promote the event. The festival has had themes for curation indicating what it wishes to highlight, with a strong focus on independent narratives that deviate from the national narrative: Dare to Document (2003/4/10/11), Freedom of Information (2005/6), the Untold History of Merdeka (2007), Democratic Space (2008), Real Change? (2009), Democracy: Who’s the Boss? (2012), Switch on People Power (2013), Freedom (2014), Unseen Unheard Untold (2015), What Lies Beneath (2016). As part of FFF’s continued mission to stimulate the Malaysian filmmaking community, it offers many opportunities for workshops and discussions at its festivals, as well as many supportive blog posts with advice on its website throughout the year. On the last day of FFF 2015 there was a ‘Video Activist Forum’ for networking and the exchange of resources and ideas.


Human Rights Arts and Film Festival

The Human Rights Arts and Film Festival is a Melbourne-based non-profit arts organisation that explores human stories via film, art, media and forums. As well as the annual festival, it also engages and inspires audiences all around the year via its School and Community (SAC) program, as well as via online networks and partners. The festival’s website pays respect to the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation, the traditional owners of the land where it is located. It aims to link the Australian public to artists and human rights organisation.


Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival

The Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival’s core mission is to promote human rights awareness in Burma/Myanmar by utilising the power of film and its persuasive strength, to create a space for encouraging human rights discussion among the general public. Its three awards are given for best documentary film, best short film, and best animation film, with two awards being named after the patrons of the festival, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Min Ko Naing. To honour the university students who died during the 1988 uprising for demanding fundamental human rights, one award is named the March13 Award, which also serves as the date widely recognised as Human Rights Day in Burma/Myanmar. In 2013, after the main festival, the event toured through the country and distributed leaflets bearing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to audiences.


Human Rights Watch Film Festival

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival was developed by Human Rights Watch, an independent organisation dedicated to the defence and protection of human rights, to showcase provocative, topical and inspirational documentaries and dramas. It aims to use the medium of film as a means of storytelling to highlight human rights abuses and challenge individuals to empathise and demand change, representing the courage of people on both sides of the lens. The organisation accepts no funding from governments, directly or indirectly, and no private funding which could compromise its independence and objectivity. Each year, from a pool of over 500 films, forty are chosen by its central committee in New York for the individual committees in over twenty participating cities to select from to show, with selection criteria relating to both artistic merit and human rights content. However, in 2016, only nine of these cities were publicised on the official website, of which six are in the United States, with the remaining three being London, Sydney and Amsterdam, making it difficult to determine the overall reach of the festival and indicating that its online presence is largely focused on a Western market of viewers, and its only press contacts are located in London, New York and Toronto.

This festival encourages filmmakers from across the world to submit and shows contributions from both established and new filmmakers. This festival has shown a particular awareness of issues of ethics in the creation of social justice films in 2016, as it has held panels on ‘A Right to the Image’ to discuss the importance of an image in film that protects the dignity of its subjects as well as the integrity of journalists, filmmakers, photographers and researchers working behind the camera, featuring both Human Rights Watch experts and independent human rights advocates working as filmmakers and photographers. It focused particularly on how victims of war and human rights violations are sometimes represented as bodies rather than individuals, catalysed by representations of Syrians. The panel discussed how the decisions made by social justice filmmakers are not solely aesthetic but also hold political and ethical implications, and the relationship between these and the subjects who have given their images and testimony. It also ran workshops on ‘Risk, Security and Storytelling’ relating specifically to conduct in combat zones and how to create material that is ethically sound, whilst reflecting on personal responsibility and the responsibilities of filmmakers to everyone who works with them.

A panel on the film If the Dead Could Speak specifically discussed the investigative techniques that led to its creation. In 2016,the festival showcased films ranging from Hooligan Sparrow, depicting the plight of a Chinese activist, to Sonita demonstrating the struggles of a young woman against Afghan gender norms , with subjects and filmmakers from all over the world. The festival is active on social media with approximately 9000 followers on Twitter, and utilises it to publicise the content it shows, although it receives low amounts of Retweets and Likes and is mainly engaged with by filmmakers themselves. As well as the film festival, Human Rights Watch also has a regularly updated YouTube channel featuring content in multiple languages with recent uploads covering topics from LGBT rights in Japan to deforestation in the Côte d’Ivoire, enabling it to inform a broader range of viewers.


International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights

This  festival and forum is held in Geneva, usually to coincide with the UN Human Rights Council’s main session. Its film selection is adjusted to suit themes that fit the council session, meaning that it is able to push human rights from a political perspective and affect real change. High-level debates are organised after screenings with many international speakers. Panellists first exchange with moderator for twenty minutes to half an hour before audience participation to ensure that there is real discussion and the debate is not immediately hijacked.


Karama Human Rights Film Festival

The Karama Human Rights Film Festival takes place in Amman in Jordan and was established in June 2009 in response to a perceived need for human rights dialogue and advocacy in the Arab region. Karama is Arabic for dignity, reflecting the festival’s central theme. The festival’s founding committee, Ma’mal 612, runs other cultural events in addition to the festival. In 2011, it established the Arab Network for Human Rights Films, and it has also been responsible for the creation of several youth forums in addition to its outreach work in schools and universities.


Marda Loop Justice Film Festival

Canada’s Marda Loop Justice Film Festival was established in 2006. Since then, it has doubled in size from three days in two venues to six days in four, and, with established sponsors, entry is free of charge. In 2015 its submission pool featured more than 900 filmmakers from 91 countries. As well as the annual festival, it also presents justREEL, a year-round film series. All screenings include discussions with filmmakers and experts to provoke thought and create debate. It has associate festivals across Canada.


Nuremberg International Human Rights Film Festival

This is Germany’s biggest and oldest film festival. It features an International Competition (worth 2.500 Euros), as well as an Audience Award and Open Eyes Youth Jury Award (both worth 1.000 Euros). Its extensive youth program is called Open Eyes, holding an event for one week each year, combining innovative methods of cultural and political education. As well as film screenings with full accompanying discussions, it also offers training for teachers to help them to critically analyse films.


One World Film Festival

One World is an annual documentary film festival taking place in Prague, Brussels and 32 cities in the Czech Republic. In 2016 it had 119,387 attendees total (49624 Prague, 65868 regions, 1934 Brussels). It also holds the East Doc Platform, the largest meeting of film professionals from Eastern Europe, which attracted more than 400 participants in 2016. The Festival’s associated mobile app was downloaded by 2333 people. It is a member of the Green Film Network of ecological festivals. The festival is primarily discourse-steered, as the highly educated audience leads to it often functioning as a debate forum. It wishes to inform, encourage and motivate people to engage in social justice issues and take steps to make change.


Sheffield Doc\Fest (Sheffield International Documentary Festival)

Sheffield Doc\Fest celebrates the art and business of documentary and serves as a hub for documentary content on multiple formats, aiming to bring different creative professionals together to continue to stimulate the growth of the field. Close to 50% of its screenings in 2015 were produced and/or directed by women, in sharp contrast to the 7% that make up the number of female directors making feature films in Hollywood. It looks to respond to hot topics, set trends and start debates, with a programme of Talks and Sessions scheduled in conjunction with film screenings.

The Festival greatly benefits the people of Sheffield, not only in terms of opportunities available within the industry but also because of the amount spent by delegates and public audiences. In 2015, people from outside of Sheffield spent £5,773,621. It provides a crèche service so that people with children can fully enjoy the opportunities the festival has to offer. Its Alternate Realities project seeks to explore new types of technologies as a means of storytelling, particularly focusing on interactive media and virtual reality. Its online Market Player is a digitised library featuring over 200 films seeking sales, distribution and screening opportunities, with a selection of films from both the film programme and around the world, albeit only available to delegates and pass holders from the main festival for three months. Similarly, the Festival’s Marketplace offers one of the world’s largest documentary pitching forums, with over 300 international funders, broadcasters, distributors and exhibitors in attendance, as well as offering the opportunity for filmmakers to network with new on-screen talent.


Side by Side

Side by Side LGBT Film Festival seeks to explore issues of sexuality through cinema, taking place every autumn in St Petersburg. It aims to open a cultural space for the exchange of ideas between the wider Russian community and the LGBT community to fight discrimination, and somewhere where minorities can feel comfortable and explore their sexual identities. Events are held nearly every month and screenings are held in other parts of Russia. It fundraises for the LGBT community on its website. Side to Side’s organisers remain committed in face of the sustained oppression and deteriorating climate in Russia.

The Festival’s first year in 2008 was obstructed by fire inspectors closing down venues on the eve of the event, and as it continues to move further afield it faces the same problems in new series even as it begins to strengthen its foothold in St Petersburg. The actively antagonistic and homophobic policies of the government, law enforcement and media discourse further push LGBT advocates into a position of secrecy, silence and invisibility. Side to Side continues to publish flyers and campaign for social awareness.


Social Justice Film Festival

Seattle’s Social Justice Film Festival screens a range of films related to issues of social justice, with a particular focus on prisoner justice in the US. It has formed partnerships with Pacific Northwest organisations working in activism. They believe that social justice is designed to promote a global culture where equality is achieved on all levels, and intend to challenge social structures worldwide on a micro and macro scale. They aim to forge alliances with diverse communities, bring filmmaking to new audiences and make the art of film an integral part of social change.


this human world

This festival was founded in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 2008, making it the first film festival in its kind in Austria. It aims to raise awareness of socio-political issues and strengthen and promote education on the subject to mediate the differences between people and encourage empathy. It has a close relationship with the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights. It aims to feature both national and international films to highlight issues present in both Vienna and the wider world, with discussions before and after screenings to encourage intellectual debate. The majority of films shown at the festival are making their Austrian debut, as the festival aims to bring films that may not otherwise have been seen by local people, making it viable for independent filmmakers for socially critical themes and messages. The winner of the festival’s grand jury prize is secured a theatrical release by an Austrian cinema, allowing it to promote an active film culture.


Tri-Continental Film Festival

Incepted in 2002, The Tri-Continental Film Festival is the largest festival dedicated primarily to social, political and human rights on the African continent. It shows films from the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australasia, highlighting democratisation and human rights with a focus on gender equality, socioeconomic justice, racism and reconciliation. The organisers wish to specifically highlight controversial issues to encourage deeper critical discussion and raise social awareness, and has outreach programmes for regional centres such as universities and community organisations to further this goal . It works closely with organisations such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace and Human Rights Watch in order to stay informed on issues that are currently of interest. A large number of films at the Festival come through its associations with the Human Rights Film Network. 2015’s festival, which began in Johannesburg, went on to travel to seven more cities in South Africa. It has created the People to People International Documentary Conference for practical discussions, masterclasses and seminars concerning making documentaries due to the belief that the area is underutilised and underfunded as a means of achieving social change.



The International Film Festival WATCH DOCS Human Rights in Film has taken place annually in Warsaw, Poland since 2001. It is the result of collaborations between the Polish NGO, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, the largest culture and art centre in Eastern Europe, Warsaw’s Centre for Contemporary Art, and the Social Institute of Film, which is focused on supporting socially engaged film from Central and Eastern Europe. It is rooted in the anti-totalitarian tradition of the region following the breakdown of the USSR and wishes to stimulate discussion of human rights by making them more relatable and easily understood, and less abstracted and conceptual. It is a competition festival with an international jury, but also has retrospectives, tributes, and a permanent repertoire section. The permanent sections are ‘I Want to See’, relating to topical human rights issues, ‘Close-Ups’ which are dedicated to different parts of the world on a yearly basis, ‘Discreet Charm of Propaganda’ which deals with how film is utilised for propaganda purposes, and ‘New Polish films’ showcasing the best national documentaries.

Its online festival makes selected films free to those within Poland with the ‘Do It Yourself’ scheme, making films available for private screenings to those who pass an online screening process provided they supply an evaluation afterwards. It has also made 41 films available for screening within Polish universities free of charge. As well as film screenings, WATCH DOCS has also provided the FUTUREDOCS scheme bringing activists into contact with filmmakers to make proposals and shed light on issues which are being neglected.


The Western Sahara International Film Festival

FiSahara, celebrated in the Dakhla refugee camp, aims at ‘Cinema for the Sahrawi People’. Its primary objective is to serve as a tool for the Sahrawi people to express their cultural identity, demonstrating film’s value as means of cultural survival and social change. Refugees from the Western Sahara have lived in exile in remote camps in Southwestern Algeria since 1975. By bringing media and high-profile guests from film, culture and human rights backgrounds, it hopes to raise awareness internationally about the plight of the refugees and ensure that they are remembered and campaigned for. As well as showing films, it also aims to empower the Sahrawi people by training them as filmmakers so they can tell their own stories. It runs a year-round film school, The Abidin Kaid Saleh Audiovisual School, for up to 20 Sahrawi students based in the Bojador refugee camp, taught by experienced filmmakers in addition to the annual human rights film festival. Moreover, when the festival is going on, it also features a Sahrawi traditional cultural fair and parade known as LeFrig.