Andrea Holley talks about the Human Rights Watch Film Festival


The 23rd annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival  returns to New York from June 14 to 28 with a program of powerful human stories of oppression, injustice, and resilience from across the globe. To learn more about the 2012 festival we had an interview with Andrea Holley, Deputy Director of the Human Rights Watch film festival.

Bijan Tehrani: Can you please tell me how you first got involved with the festival?
Andrea Holley: I help select the films for the festival as well as produce the festival in a number of different cities with New York being our flagship festival.

BT: What is the impact of the festival as far as passing its message of bringing human rights issues to the forefront for the audiences? What has been the reaction and impact of the festival over the years?
AH: I think over the years, what we have seen with the film festivals in almost all of the cities we work in is that the films always have an emotional impact on people and in many cases they are moved in one way or another to try and take action. I think for some people what is most helpful is that in almost all cases we have the filmmaker come and participate in discussions after the film or we have someone who has been involved with the film or the topic in some way to help facilitate discussions. I think for a lot of people they are very emotional and it helps them to process the impact of the film itself intellectually by getting more information and hearing more about the story that surrounds the film. Last but not least, with regards to impact, many people are moved to take action so whether that be simply going to a website to learn more or getting involved locally with a group in your area who does work on a particular issue, people do take different actions. I think one of the things that is particularly interesting about our film festival is that in many of the films themselves there are people who, based on their own skills or their own experience, are able to take action in the face of very serious human rights issues and I think that inspires people to see that no matter who you are, regardless of your skills or resources you can make a difference; so I think  that is the impact that we see on an individual level.

BT: The interesting thing for us and our audience is that this is an international film festival so you see things from all over the world. Could you tell us about the program this year?
AH: This year in New York, there are 16 films from twelve different countries and we actually have five themes this year that the films are grouped under. The first theme is health/development and the environment, we have LGBT rights coupled with migrant’s rights, we then have a category called personal testimony and witnessing, we also have recording in crisis, which is very specific to journalism and last but not least we have women’s rights.

BT: How can audiences attend the festival and what are the venues that the festival will play at?
AH: In New York, the festival screens at one cinema: the Film Society at Lincoln Center at the Walter Reed Theatre. It is on the upper west side of New York on West 65th Street and you can find more details on our website which is or you can visit the film society at Lincoln center which is So we just have that one cinema and the screenings run from June 14th through Thursday June 28th.

BT: I understand that this is a traveling festival so what are the other destinations of the festival?
AH: The traveling festival is made up of selections from our New York and London Festivals and there are ten films that travel to a number of cities. The traveling festival only exists in North America at the moment and each year it goes to a certain set of cities. It generally goes to Chicago, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Toronto… As the season goes along we post the cities on our website so people can always check that out on In addition to that, Human Rights Watch has a different sort of collaboration that involves festivals in cities outside of North America. So we have a full-fledged film festival in London every year but in addition to that, I can just give you a couple of examples right now: we are doing a section of films in the Beirut International Film Festival and there will also be a festival in Nairobi in November.

BT: Going back to the guests, could you name a few of the guests who are coming to this year’s festival, or who would be present in New York for the festival this year?
AH: At the New York Festival this year we have a number of filmmakers attending. For example we can start with our Opening and Closing night films. Our Opening night films is Ai Wei Wei Never Sorry, and we are having an extended study with the filmmaker Alison Klaymen. This will be New York based. She will be joined by two colleagues from Human Rights Watch, one of whom is our China director and the other colleague who used to be in our communications department but who lived in China and then we have a former activist Tong Li who is now living in the United States who will be participating in that discussion; so that is an example of how a filmmaker will be attending as well as a topical expert and activist related to the issue. Both of the filmmakers of our closing film, Call me Kuchu, will be attending; one is from Los Angeles, one is from New York. The subject of the film will also be attending from Uganda and the discussion there will be moderated by a person from Human Rights Watch. This offers the audience a different set of perspective, which I think people will enjoy.

BT: Are there any other events besides screenings that will be happening at the festival?
AH: This year the focus is on the screenings and the extended discussions. We do have an opening night and a closing night reception. The other thing we have which you might have seen in our brochure is a photo gala: there is a gallery across from the cinema so people can see a set of photos that were produced by photographer Brent Sturgen who worked for the Human Rights Watch.

BT: I know with the mission and the goal of your festival, it is hard to access some films because a lot of filmmakers around the world that deal with human rights issues have a lot of problems with the government. How do you manage to get the films that you need for a screening?
AH: There are definitely countries and regions where we don’t get as many film submissions as we would like and I think some of that has to do with government restrictions and some of it has to do with financial resources. So we are a little bit at the mercy of the films available. People can submit their films through our website: we have an open submission, but in many cases we have been lucky in that we are seeing that there are co-productions. So there are parts of the world that are difficult to obtain films from but due to the fact that they have collaborations with various European countries and other countries in Latin America, this has allowed us to access films from countries that have been difficult in the past.

BT: How do you see the future of the festival and do you have any plans in motion for next year?
AH: In terms of the future of the festival, I think what we will see increasingly are a number of cities, where we have more elaborate discussions around the films. I think we are sort of working on elaborating both a model, a screening and discussion, which is extremely important and is allocated quite a bit of time because people enjoy that and they learn quite a lot from that. We are also focusing on widening the spectrum of films that we can program, so when we go to different cities, each city will have a different artistic taste and different interest.


About Author

Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

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