In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Human Rights Films

  • Introduction
  • Human Rights Film Websites
  • Human Rights Film Distributors
  • Publications on Human Rights Films

Anthropology Human Rights Films
Nancy Lipkin Stein
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0220


What defines a human rights film, and how does one go about setting the criteria? Here, the selected websites, festival listings, and films comprise short lists that represent very broad categories. The examples included speak to the ways our dignity, respect for ourselves and one another, and accessibility to resources to look after ourselves and our communities connect through the basic rights of health care, housing, education, and clean natural resources—rights as defined by many of the legal doctrines in circulation. The films listed contribute to building an awareness of how people’s rights come under attack. Such work can also provide a way to respond. While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was established in 1948 to address some form of normalization by law to safeguard individuals and communities, these protections were not recognized or accepted universally. We now have a wide array of instruments that are both international and national, as well as both local and global, to address individuals’ as well as specific communities’ rights. Films use moving images to select and construct very specific representations. Such devices become a powerful tool to communicate and educate the public. Today’s reality provides fertile ground for communities to share films focusing on human rights issues. With the global reach of the Internet, individuals as well as groups can find outlets as well as shared access through websites, film festivals, human rights groups, and individuals. This bibliography provides a small sampling of the available films, and of course new films are released all the time, so it cannot be completely up to date. In addition, this is one person’s selection; certainly another writer would have their own. For that reason, colleagues from India, France, Germany, Korea, the United States, and other countries have made useful suggestions to help represent a broad spectrum of academic disciplines and interests. The reader will also find several feature films mixed in within these categories. Several publications cover these more extensively (see Mark Gibney’s 2016 book, Watching human rights: The 101 best films, cited under Publications on Human Rights Films). This compilation also makes a point to include entries made by individuals who are experiencing some violation of their rights.

Human Rights Film Festivals

The rise in popularity of human rights film festivals corresponds to the changing attitudes toward violence and war. The gathering together of like-minded participants is reflected by diverse audiences as well as diverse film subjects and entries from around the world. Festivals have grown from showcasing nonfiction documentaries to include a broader range that includes traditional fiction feature-length films, shorts, and digital media. They often reach beyond film to include photographic exhibitions, arts, and local cultural organizations. In short, the human rights film festival has become a site to network on a local, regional, and global scale. These kinds of human rights–centered gatherings provide a way to trace a rise in growing awareness of how issues from gendered perspectives, human trafficking, and domestic violence may be found worldwide, as well as the varied responses through resistance, attitudes, cultural responses, and enforcement of laws. With growing access to technology and communication, each festival’s criteria and site has an opportunity to identify themes, facilitate circulation, and promote awareness over a broad range of issues.

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