For more than 40 years, Human Rights Watch has defended people at risk of abuse by investigating abuses scrupulously, exposing the facts widely, and relentlessly pressing those in power for change that respects rights. Our researchers examine situations in some 90 countries around the world functioning as investigators, journalists, and advocates.

Recently marking our 30th Anniversary and currently screening films in over 20 cities around the world, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival (HRWFF) bears witness to human rights violations in direct storytelling and exposé form, and creates a forum for courageous individuals on both sides of the lens to empower audiences with the knowledge that personal commitment can make a difference. In 30 years we have showcased over 720 films at our global festivals.

HRWFF makes effort to celebrate diversity of content and perspective in the films we select and post-screening conversations we host. From filmmakers to film participants to panelists, we strive to prioritize space for identities, viewpoints, forms of expertise and experiences either silenced or marginalized in the film industry, news and media. Discussions following the screenings with filmmakers, film participants, human rights activists & journalists take place after every screening to provide our audience with the opportunity to dig deeper into the issues they have just seen on screen.

We have a year-round outreach arm that collaborates with filmmakers and distributors to create partnerships with organizations to identify key audiences for our screenings. With a shared goal to raise awareness of the human rights issues profiled in the films, we conduct widescale grassroots outreach to ensure that impacted communities as well as decision-makers and policy makers are made aware of film screenings and invited to engage with the film. After films show in our festival, we often support and help to promote the films to our channels as they go on to have theatrical, digital or community screenings. We also work with filmmakers to optimize media opportunities and we receive major and extensive press every year.


How many cities does the HRWFF operate in?
The HRWFF currently screens films in over 20 cities around the world throughout the year. To find the list on our website click ‘CHOOSE A CITY’ in the top left corner - more are added as dates are set. Although each festival varies in format and size, and programs independently, there is often cross-over with some films playing in multiple cities.

How does the Festival choose which films screen where?
The festival's programming team operates out of the New York office to consider over 500 films a year. We have a screening committee based around the world from diverse film and social justice backgrounds who help us in pre-screening the film. Our uniquely rigorous vetting process also includes review by programmatic experts at Human Rights Watch looking out for incorrect or misleading information and being watchful of the safety and informed consent of the film’s participants. The festival chooses approximately 40 films each year to participate in our worldwide festivals and screenings. It is then up to the particular city and its programming committee to choose films from this final selection for their event.

What is the Festival looking for when selecting films?
In selecting films for the festival, Human Rights Watch concentrates on potential for impact and access to or perspective on a human rights topic. The festival presents films from both new and established international filmmakers and all are considered to be of a certain high-quality for our theatrical screenings. Though the festival rules out films that contain unacceptable inaccuracies of fact, we do not bar any films on the basis of a particular point of view. Distinctions of “quality” and “artistic merit” are particularly complex and we continue to attempt to address inherent biases throughout our programming process, with the intention to further develop our practices on this.

Why can’t I submit my film to the HRWFF?
Due to the specific nature of our programming goals, we do not accept films via open submissions and instead have developed a process which is a mix of scouting at film festivals and film events, via grant making foundations and our network of film professionals who assist us in finding both works-in-progress and completed films that we watch and consider upon recommendation. If you have any questions, please email festivalinfo@hrw.org


Festival staff:

John Biaggi, Director

Jennifer Nedbalsky, Deputy Director

Leah Sapin, Associate Director, Programming and Production

Frances Underhill, Manager, Programming, Production and Outreach