Spreading Knowledge About Human Rights Through Films

From articles to a film festival

Initiated by Mark Gibney and Gabriel Stein seven years ago, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute established its own Human Rights Film Festival in Lund, together with the local quality cinema, Kino.

What films helps us to do, better than any other medium, is to see and understand this. Film puts a human face on terms such as persecution, inequality, and oppression, and in doing so it provides outsiders with vital information and meaning about the lives of ‘others’.

Mark Gibney, RWI Affiliated Professor, and his colleague Ken Betsalel started bringing human rights and film together in the Human Rights Quarterly[i]. They published a number of reviews, limited to newly released films, with the purpose of establishing a relationship between film and human rights. During this time, Gibney and Betsalel got many film tips from Human Rights Watch.

The swedish human rights film festivalOut of this work, grew the idea of writing a book, collecting the best Human Rights films to see. Gibney got a green light from his publisher and started watching and evaluating a large number of films that could qualify. He ended up with what he thought was a good number, 101 – and picked 50 feature films and 51 documentaries for the book ‘Watching Human Rights: The 101 Best Films’.

One of his goals with the book project, was to bring forward the human rights themes in these movies to help people better understand the meaning and value of human rights.

“At its core”, Gibney says,

“human rights is about how human beings treat one another, yet, the study of human rights has often had the unfortunate tendency of removing this essential human element, replacing it with such abstract things as statistical analysis or the provisions for various international human rights law treaties. When a human rights violation occurs, that person’s humanity has been denied in some way.”

This is why Gibney believes that film is a useful way of shedding light on human rights, adding the human element, which statistics or treaties do not:

Today, usually during a few days in spring, RWI and Kino present a number of contemporary films on burning human rights issues. Every film is followed by a panel discussion on the topic conveyed in the film. Specialists from various countries and areas participate, and so does the audience.

Film plus discussion is an appreciated concept that attracts students, human rights devotees, activists, local business representatives and the general public in Lund and Malmö.

In 2020, the Film Festival’s overall frame was gender quality, one of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute’s cross-cutting themes permeating everything, whereas themes presented during the were disability rights, the right to adequate housing, climate, labor rights and female perspective on war.

[i] The Human Rights Quarterly is an academic journal founded by Richard Pierre Claude in 1982 covering human rights. The journal is intended for scholars and policymakers and follows recent developments from both governments and non-governmental organizations (Wikipedia).