Human Rights Watch Film Festival: More Than "Watching"

Robert Avila March 2, 2006

The Human Rights Watch International Film Festival began life as a one-off series at Manhattan’s Public Theater in 1988, thrown together to celebrate and publicly highlight two milestones that year: the christening of Human Rights Watch itself, newly organized out of various regional divisions into a single international entity devoted to disseminating information about, as well as bringing legal and political pressure to bear on, human rights abuses worldwide. And then there was the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights formed in the wake of World War II’s unprecedented carnage – the founding document of modern-day international human rights law. A series of feature and documentary films chosen for both aesthetic value and human rights content turned out to be so successful a formula, however, that the organizers quickly inaugurated it an annual event (housed, since 1994, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center), bringing on Bruni Burres as its by now long-serving director.

And it didn’t take much more for the idea of a traveling version of the festival to arise: an annual selection culled from the flagship fests in New York and (beginning in 1996) London, which would be available to venues throughout the US and Canada.

HRW’s traveling festival – which completed the first half of its 2006 Bay Area engagement at UC Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive in February, and continues at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts over four evenings this month