Important Movies For Troubled Times: Human Rights Film Festival Head Explains How to Program With Purpose

IndieWire | 6/18/2018 | Staff
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For 29 years, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival has singled out films that highlight humanitarian challenges around the world. While much of its lineup often premieres at bigger festivals such as Sundance and Toronto, the Humans Rights Festival — which brings its program to cities around the world — creates a unique context that helps certain message-driven films stand out. For artistic director John Biaggi, programming the festival provides an opportunity to catapult cinematic activism to a world stage.

While the nonfiction festival’s purpose may seem more pressing than ever in the divisive era of the Trump Administration, Biaggi said that the philosophy of the programming has remained the same. “There have been all these different human-rights issues around the globe for decades, but more of them have only been uncovered recently,” he said. “I think people feel like, the world is so full of problems. The world was always full of problems. We just didn’t see them. That’s the shift that you’re seeing.”

Occasion - Festival - Launchpad - Movies - Causes

On occasion, the festival has been a launchpad for movies that appeal to specific causes, such as the documentary “Growing Up Coy” — the story of a transgender six-year-old girl whose parents sue a school after their daughter is banned from the women’s bathroom — which premiered at the 2016 edition before scoring distribution with Kino Lorber. “Complicit,” an exposé of how Chinese tech works have been poised, premiered at the London festival before landing screening dates at the UK Parliament and the UN.

The 2017 New York edition opened with “On Her Shoulders,” Alexandria Bombach’s Sundance-winning portrait of Yazidi massacre survivor Nadia Murad and the impact on her life as a public figure that continues to this day. With the festival continuing through June 21, Biaggi pulled back the veil on its programming approach.

When we’re programming, there’s...
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