2013 Human Rights Arts and Film Festival

STORIES, music and art have the power to move and transform. Be inspired, touched and challenged at this year’s Human Rights & Arts Film Festival, writes Samantha Toh.

While undeniably easier to feign ignorance and brush under the carpet, the issue of human rights will once again be brought to the fore at this year’s Human Rights Arts and Film Festival.

Kicking off  in Melbourne from May 9 to 23, the national festival will also be held in Sydney (May 28-30), Alice Springs (May 31-June 2), Canberra (June 3-5), Perth and Brisbane (June 4-6).

Founded in Melbourne and now entering its sixth year, the HRAFF seeks to educate audiences by highlighting a range of pressing human rights issues through the powerful and relatable mediums of film, art and music.

Festival director Ella McNeill says the annual event plays a big part in raising awareness and educating the public on issues around human rights.

“Since we started in 2007, HRAFF has played such an important role in making human rights accessible and has been crucial to this education process,” she says.

“We have introduced our audiences to remarkable situations, people and places around the world, engaging them with the faces and stories of global human rights issues.”

Through the festival, audiences have learnt about the elections in Ghana, cared about the impact on climate change in the Maldives, and met asylum seekers detained in Switzerland – and these experiences form the beginning of that journey to learn more, Ms McNeill says.

This year, Ms McNeill’s team has put together a program set to further enrich the experience of festival-goers.

In addition to a showcase of award-winning premieres, art exhibitions and attendances by international filmmakers, the team has sought to explore human rights in “adventurous and creative ways to intrigue and surprise”, from animations to mash-ups of home videos, to even a “radical filipino comedy-of-sorts”, Ms McNeill says.


For those wondering where to start, there are three films which stand out in their outstanding explorations of the multi-faceted nature of the human rights question.

Walk Away Renee

First in the lineup, filmmaker Jonathan Caouette takes us on a compassionate journey and study of mental illness in Walk Away Renee.

The final instalment of his personal autobiography series, the film comes almost a decade after its prequel Tarnation, 2003’s critically acclaimed micro-budget montage of Caouette’s relationship with his mentally ill mother Renee, who suffers from acute bipolar and schizoaffective disorder.

Walk Away Renee documents the director’s interstate travels with Renee, whilst kindling interest and discussion in the representations of mental illness and ethical principles of documentary filmmaking.


Informant, a stirring documentary by Jamie Meltzer investigates Brandon Darby, a radical leftist turned informant for the FBI. Considered by many to be a hero, yet equally vilified by others, the documentary sheds light on a man whose life is enveloped in mystery, leaving people to question just who Brandon Darby really is.

An outstanding work of documentary-making, Informant is not only a Grand Jury Winner at New York’s Documentary Festival, but will undoubtedly serve as a sure-fire probe into the psychological aspects of fundamentalism.

Eddie Adams: Saigon ’68

Eddie Adams: Saigon ’68. Photo: Human Rights Arts and Film Festival via HRAFF.org.au

Last but definitely not least, Eddie Adams: Saigon ’68 is an intensely powerful short film that looks at the back story of one of history’s most iconic photographs. Taken in 1968 by photojournalist Eddie Adams, the photograph shows an officer shooting a handcuffed prisoner at point-blank range.

The image has survived as one of the most arresting snapshots of the Vietnam War, epitomising and bringing to global attention its sheer brutality and savagery, as well as giving momentum to the growing anti-war movement in the United States at the time.

While the image earned Adams a Pulitzer Prize in 1969, what the photograph and its photographer failed to convey was its complicated backstory. Fortunately, Eddie Adams: Saigon ’68 does the story justice, with director Douglas Sloan investigating the idea that while the powerful image ended a war, it also ruined a life, that of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan – as admitted by Adams himself when he later apologised and said that while “the general killed the Vietcong; I killed the general with my camera”.

Though seemingly black and white, the film reveals that things are not always what they seem to be, raising significant questions about media ethics and the influence and impact of photojournalism in swaying human rights agendas.

More information

These three titles are just a taste of what to expect from this year’s Human Rights Arts and Film Festival, and the full program promises to be a visual and audio explosion of creativity and thought.

So get excited and ready to be inspired, touched and challenged!

For more information about the festival and ticket purchases, visit the HRAFF website.

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