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Human Rights Watch to End Its Celebrated Film Festival

Showcased Nearly 1,000 Independent Films Over More Than 3 Decades

Opening night of the 2018 London Human Rights Watch Film Festival at the Barbican. © 2018 Laura Palmer

(New York) –Human Rights Watch announced today that it would be closing its long-running film festival. Founded in 1988, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival showcased nearly 1,000 independent films, was presented in over 30 cities across the globe, and is the world’s longest running human rights film festival.

“It’s with sadness and deep regret that we have made the difficult decision to close the Human Rights Watch Film Festival,” said Tirana Hassan, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The film festival is a celebrated cultural institution that educated and inspired hundreds of thousands of filmgoers and filmmakers around the world over three decades, providing a critical space for connection, conversation, and action on human rights issues.”

The decision to close the festival was part of a wider restructuring due to financial constraints, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch Film Festivals will take place as planned across the United Kingdom and Ireland, opening on March 14, 2024, and across Canada starting on March 21.

Human Rights Watch is immensely proud of the talented film festival leadership and staff, who built partnerships across the human rights community and film industry. The festival established a mainstream platform for impactful films and in-depth conversations about human rights issues, with a priority focus on underrepresented perspectives from around the world.

The festival staff have been instrumental in pushing for increased accessibility standards in the film industry, resulting in three fully inclusive film festivals in the last two years. During the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that shuttered cinemas, the film festival team created a digital streaming site that tripled attendance figures, encouraged festival members to tune in for live conversations, and ensured that the public would not be isolated at home. The innovative site continued the festival’s work of creating spaces for dialogue, connection, and action on human rights issues.

“We owe the Human Rights Watch Film Festival’s success and impact to the longstanding commitment of our festival staff and consultants, volunteers, partners, the filmmakers, and of course our audiences,” Hassan said. “They helped to nurture the human rights storytelling movement that we see thriving today.” 

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