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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 more than 100 countries around the world functioning as investigators, journalists, and advocates.

Recently marking our 30th Anniversary and currently screening films in over 15 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.


The films we show may represent points of view different to those of Human Rights Watch.



How many cities does the HRWFF operate in?

The HRWFF currently screens films in over 15 cities around the world throughout the year. To find the list on our website click ‘Festival Schedule’ in the navigation bar- 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


Coming soon

Jennifer Nedbalsky-Neal

Deputy Director

As Deputy Director, Jen Nedbalsky-Neal oversees strategic campaigns, experiential event production, brand identity, audience engagement and strategic partnerships for the Human Rights Watch Film Festival worldwide. With the goal of raising visibility of human rights in the cultural/entertainment landscape and engaging the public in campaigns for justice, Jen is working to build upon the festival's existing strategic partnerships with NGO partners, funders, streaming platforms, broadcasters and press outlets. Jen has worked with the festival since 2003 and loves the challenge of constantly evolving the festival's communications strategies to help documentary films find their audience, support justice movements and change policy. Jen lead work at HRW to run their "High School Program" initiative, bringing activists and filmmakers into NYC public schools, and spearheaded their "Youth Producing Change" youth media program - curating programs of short films made by young human rights advocates around the world + aiding in their distribution, in partnership with Adobe Youth Voices. Prior to joining Human Rights Watch,  Jen held positions at activist video collective Paper Tiger Television, Rooftop Films, POV/American Documentary, was a grant writer at the NYCLU, co-founded the NYC Grassroots Media Coalition, worked at P.P.O.W. Gallery and Lightwork, a photo non-profit and worked as an artist assistant to feminist artists Carrie Mae Weems and Carolee Schneeman. She graduated from Syracuse University with a BA in Fine Arts with a specialization in Video Art. Outside of HRW, Jen tries to keep up her passion projects as a textile artist while parenting her two kids.

Leah Sapin

Associate Director, Programming and Production

Coming soon

Frances Underhill

Senior Manager

As senior manager for programming and production, Frances works with the programming team to identify and review films for Film Festival consideration, and handles various aspects of production of the London and NY festivals. Frances also consults with Human Rights Watch development teams in Beirut, Chicago, Berlin, Zurich, Oslo and Geneva on their film festival events. Before Frances joined HRW, she worked for various independent documentary production companies, film festivals and community arts organizations in production, event organizing, programming, outreach and marketing, with a focus on social justice and activism.

Ariel Ottey


Coming soon