«Human Rights also means creating a safe space where people can feel supported.»

MOVIES THAT MATTER: Exploring the role of artistic director, the advantages of being based in the city of peace, and how to present a well-balanced human rights-focused programme with Margje de Koning.

Movies that Matter seeks to broaden views of human rights across a festival and various annual activities at home in the Netherlands and abroad. Its core tasks are the screening of human rights-related films and the stimulation of screenings of human-rights films through the annual Movies that Matter festival, our educational work, the organisation of events, with advice inland and abroad and the support of festivals worldwide.

With Movies that Matter scheduled to run from 24th March to 2nd April, we had the opportunity to speak with its Artistic Director, Margje de Koning. In our conversation, we explore the role of the artistic director in such an event and provide insights on what the 2023 festival has to offer. Additionally, we look at the advantages of being based in the city of peace and how to present a well-balanced human rights-focused programme.

I am deeply committed to creating a safe space where people can come together to engage with one another, seek comfort and assistance, and contribute to causes.

As the Artistic Director of the Movies that Matter Festival, what motivated you to become part of such an expansive organisation centred around human rights?

As a filmmaker and former media director of a public broadcaster in the Netherlands, my focus on human rights and social issues has been longstanding. Although this is only my fourth festival, with the first being cancelled, the second being entirely online, and the third being a hybrid event, I am deeply committed to creating a safe space where people can come together to engage with one another, seek comfort and assistance, and contribute to causes.

As human beings, it is essential that we connect, talk to each other, and reach out, and movies are a powerful tool to make this happen. Films can change people’s minds and engage them in worlds they have never seen or known about before, which is why the Movies that Matter Festival is crucial. Our festival brings together a diverse group of people, and by doing so, we can raise awareness of human rights issues and hopefully connect people to have discussions.

Can you elaborate on the advantages of being based in The Hague?

The Hague is an excellent location for us because of our national government, the International Criminal Court and the many NGOs. We work closely with them to show them the impact that films can have on their causes. Independent journalism is an essential aspect of our filmmaking philosophy. Being surrounded by NGOs, lawyers, and members of the international community who work with the International Criminal Court is also very beneficial for us. In addition, we collaborate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and have the support of the local government, which is very passionate about human rights issues.

Moreover, we work closely with the University of Leiden and several art academies in the area. For example, we give one film to the art academy in The Hague, and they create posters and teasers for it. We are thrilled to see the younger generation’s enthusiasm for activism and willingness to participate in our projects.

Can you explain your approach to curating a centrepiece film like Waves of War as the opening?

The opening and closing films are precious to me as they set the tone of our political agenda and reflect my tastes. It’s like a complicated chess game in my head where I consider if the film resonates with society and if it’s a cinematic film with good dramaturgy that can set up a debate or discussion.

With the whole team, we watched about 1200 films this year and choosing one is not easy. Waves of War was chosen as it dealt with a topic that was on the nerve of society at the time, especially the issues seen around the ‘Revolusi!’ Exhibition in Rijksmuseum and around the festivities around 70 years Moluccans in the Netherlands in 2021. It’s a complex and uncomfortable topic for all, but the way the film was structured and the vulnerability of the two actors made it a strong and resonant film. I showed it to a few people to gauge their reactions without giving any explanation, and then I decided if it was the proper film to open the festival.

Our goal is to showcase impactful films highlighting these issues, particularly those often overlooked in the Global South.

How do you manage such an extensive programme and ensure it is balanced in terms of representing human rights topics worldwide?

It’s a very emotional and challenging process for me. I am familiar with the film community in Ukraine and feel for them. Still, this year we are focusing mainly on Iran, as the situation is resonating with many countries globally.

We also have four additional themes: love, power, future, and mental health. I discussed this with my Ukrainian friends, and they understand that many global issues affect everyone, including MeToo and environmental concerns. Our goal is to showcase impactful films highlighting these issues, particularly those often overlooked in the Global South. It’s important to bring attention to these issues, even if they are not immediately felt in our local community.

Mental health is an important issue not given enough attention in activist spaces and broader social conversations. Although there are some movements within that space, such as the Berinale-winning film from 2023, it still needs to be at the level of importance it deserves.

Human rights are at the core of our festival, focusing on issues in Iran and Ukraine. However, Movies That Matter is also a festival that addresses human rights in a broader sense, including social and taboo matters. For me, human rights also mean creating a safe space where people can feel supported. This year, we received many films that tackle mental health, suicide, and related topics. As a festival, we have a responsibility to address these issues. Human rights also mean taking care of each other and creating connections. That’s why mental health is an essential issue for us. When young people feel isolated or cannot access proper education or finances, leading them to take their own lives, we must address these issues.

As human beings, it is essential that we connect, talk to each other, and reach out, and movies are a powerful tool to make this happen.

It’s interesting to see the growth of human rights and peripheral film festivals and the migration of other festivals towards human rights focus. How does Movies That Matter fit within this ecosystem?

There’s been an increase in interest in human rights film festivals, which is great for raising awareness about the cause. However, our commitment to facilitating meaningful discussions after every film screening sets Movies That Matter apart. Unlike other festivals that may only have one section dedicated to human rights, we have a clear focus on the film and its content. We also have a tailor-made program for activists where they can meet with ministers, ambassadors and NGOs from around the world.

Our festival is about showing films and supporting other human rights film festivals through our annual workshop, Cinema Without Borders. We have expertise in safety and practicalities for human rights activists attending festivals worldwide, which is why these kinds of workshops are important. For example, we recently helped the Red Carpet Film Festival in Gaza by providing financial support to purchase folding chairs and a big projector screen and choose and organise films.

What makes Movies That Matter unique is our position within the world as part of a network of human rights film festivals. We work together to support each other, keep each other updated, and offer solidarity under challenging situations. For example, when a filmmaker in Belarus was imprisoned, the entire network rallied to help. This sense of community and support sets us apart and makes us a powerful force in the world of human rights film festivals.

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(Modern Times Review is a non-profit organisation, and really appreciate such support from our readers.) 

Steve Rickinson
Steve Rickinson
Communications Manager and Industry Editor at Modern Times Review.

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