FIFDH Impact Day Lab shines spotlight on human rights filmmaking

    The Geneva International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH) Impact Day is the industry-focused aspect of the Swiss film festival’s programme. This year, as part of its third edition, FIFDH kicked its Impact day programme off with a lengthy webinar on the topic of «Filming For Human Rights».

    Taking place on 27 January and featuring a slew of guests and presentations, the «Filming For Human Rights» was a multi-hour deep dive into the question: How non-fiction storytelling can strengthen human rights movements and contribute to making a more just and sustainable world. This question was addressed across seven speakers, as well as FIFDH’s head of Impact Day and Partnerships, Laura Longobardi.

    First up, North Carolina State University professor and Working Films StoryShift Strategist, Natalie Bullock Brown provided the opening keynote: «A Vision for Accountable Storytelling: From Beginning to End». In outlining her six core tenets toward ethical filmmaking, Bullock Brown seeks to answer the self-reflective question of: Am I the right person to make this story? «Bias is something that’s ingrained, that we are often not aware of. We have to be willing to do the work and see ourselves for who we are, and then move past that,» she says. Toward countering this inherent bias, filmmakers should embody the following recommended values:

    • Strive for accuracy
    • Integrate anti-racist practices in their work
    • Being transparent in their relationships
    • Acknowledging their power
    • Respecting the dignity and agency of the people of their film
    • Treating their audience with dignity and respect

    Following the keynote from Bullock Brown, Doc Society’s Director of Development Nicole van Schaik beamed in from Amsterdam with her presentation: «A pathway to impact production: how do you create social or environmental change with your documentary film?» Specifically, van Schaik spoke around the concept of impact production or a film whose purpose is to have a lasting, almost snowball-like impact effect on communities, starting with its target audience and then expanding outward in an organic and strategic way. «What are the key messages that are highlighted in your film? How does your film fit into the context of the current movement? Answering these questions helps develop a strategic plan,» she said Such productions tend to have long lifespans if the thought of correctly, with Doc Society’s Impact Guides providing an accessible blueprint as to how to do so. Amongst her case studies were Thank You for the Rain (dir. Julia Dahr) and Captains of Zaatari (dir. Ali El Arabi)

    Next up saw the presentation «Cinema as Human Rights Practice: The Skylight Model». Don’t believe it when people say you can’t change the world!» which came from upstate New York via Skylight Executive Director/Producer and Co-founder/Creative Director, Paco de Onís and Pamela Yates, respectively. Through a host of case studies from Skylight Media’s extensive 40+ year history, and a breakdown of the «Skylight Model,» de Onís and Yates are able to attain their mission of strengthening social justice movements through cinematic storytelling and catalyze collaborative networks of artists and activists. This is done via the Skylight Model, of which its four tenets are:

    • Engage people into activism to promote international human rights
    • Collaborate with community leaders, grassroots organizations, and NGO’s to create media that tells their stories, and strengthens their efforts
    • Don’t only document the plight, but also the fight to show pathways forward
    • Creating platforms that make it easy for people to engage with social issues

    Finally, FIFDH Impact Day’s Filming For Human Rights webinar brought a panel discussion on «The role of philanthropy in financing film impact production». This panel, moderated by van Schaik, welcomed Cara Mertes (Project Director, Moving Image Strategies, International Programs, Ford Foundation), Willem Lenders (Programme Officer, Democracy and Media Foundation), and Josefine Lindström (Project Manager, Swedish Postcode Foundation) discussing the balance e between necessary funding and its routes, with social impact. «There’s a constant attempt to balance the power of creativity with the search for impact, and not make one in service of the other», said Mertes on the mindset of an impactful project.

    The «Filming For Human Rights» was a public program for observers with the rest of FIDH IMPACT Day reserved for the 16 selected projects. The 19th FIFDH Festival will run 5 – 14 March 2021

    Steve Rickinson
    Communications Manager at Modern Times Review.

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