Image for HRW Film Festival, Nairobi 2019’s Opening Night Film Everything Must Fall by Rehad Desai © Daylin Paul

For the first time, people who are deaf or hard of hearing will be able to enjoy the Nairobi leg of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, opening on October 15.

Rehad Desai’s documentary Everything Must Fall, a deep-dive into South Africa’s student activist movement, will open the festival. The film will have open captions, meaning written dialog and descriptions of sound effects will appear onscreen. The screening venue, Alliance Française de Nairobi, is wheelchair accessible, and there will be a sign language interpreter for the panel discussion following the screening.

The four additional films screening at the film festival, which ends October 18, are also fully subtitled.

Additionally, all screenings and panels are free to everyone.

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival currently screens in approximately 20 cities worldwide and features important films that discuss a range of human rights issues. The goal is always to reach as wide an audience as possible; however, making a film accessible for people with disabilities requires a commitment from the film industry. Costs can add up for independent filmmakers and production companies to budget for subtitles, open captions, or closed captions, which appear on personal devices instead of onscreen. Audio description, which describes what is onscreen via personal headset for people who are blind or visually impaired, is particularly costly. To use many of these features, the screening venues must provide closed-captioning glasses or personal screens, and audio-description headsets or assisted-listening devices.

We are exploring additional accessibility options in our other cities too. For example, Barbican Cinema, our partner venue for the London Human Rights Watch Film Festival, is offering ‘relaxed screenings’ for their films, where making noise or moving about during the movie is the norm. This can work well for people who have autism or who experience anxiety.

Outreach to people with disabilities is essential, both to raise awareness about accessibility at the festival and to encourage the film industry to invest in accessibility features. As our experience with Nairobi’s Opening Night film, Everything Must Fall, demonstrates, real change requires taking a wide variety of perspectives into account. For the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, increased accessibility efforts will help to ensure that even more people can engage with human rights conversations through film.