WATCH DOCS. Human Rights in Film is one of the oldest and largest human rights film festivals in the world, which annually gathers over one hundred thousand viewers in the whole country.
Human rights film festivals have become extremely successful over the last two decades on nearly all continents. New human rights film festivals are organized each year, recently even in countries where systematic human rights violations occur.
Central Europe plays a significant role in the global human rights film festival movement. Central European film festivals stand out for their focus on documentary cinema, and for being rooted in the anti-totalitarian tradition, which triumphed spectacularly two decades ago in this region.
Films do not overthrow inhumane regimes. Only rarely do they influence the course of history. Nevertheless, films are one of the most important factors shaping our conceptions, understanding, and views. The concept of human rights also shapes our conception, understanding, and views on how the social world should look like. To some extent (too small, in our opinion) human rights also shape the social world itself. Through films, human rights cease being merely abstract concepts. By portraying people’s actual lives with their struggles to take advantage of rights or confronting violations, films give human rights authentic substance and a human face.
Documentary films are especially well suited in this respect. They have the power of testimonial and unique impact as they are received as candid representation of reality. WATCH DOCS harnesses this strength, exposing viewers to their own immediate and more distant contexts from the angle of human rights. We want viewers to see and feel these rights as something important and common. We want to influence conceptions, knowledge, sensitivity, and, ultimately, attitudes.
Information (and its context) is a powerful force in the contemporary world – and people have the right to know. To further this right, WATCH DOCS constructs contexts which we deem important. For documentary film, debate, meetings, and social activism under the civil society umbrella provide an excellent context - it is enough to read the programming manifestos of documentary classics or statements of the genre’s eminent representatives of today. WATCH DOCS builds this context by combining the most poignant documentaries with discussions involving filmmakers and their subjects, NGO activists, experts, journalists, and politicians.
WATCH DOCS does not stifle controversy. Though we have our opinions, we do not pretend to have answers to all human rights-related issues. Quite the opposite, we expose these controversies because we want WATCH DOCS to be a place of authentic debate. We use film as a means, but do not engage in propaganda. Going further, propagandistic abuse of persuasion is one of our permanent themes. Instead of journalism, we prefer a more cinematic approach, offering more acute perspective, deeper, genuine emotions, and less simplifications. In Poland, the recent films of contemporary masters of documentary cinema (including: Erroll Morris, Raymond Depardon, Kim Longinotto, Thomas Heise, Avi Mograbi, Rithy Panh, Frederick Wiseman) premiered here, at WATCH DOCS.
NGOs, and especially watchdog organizations, play an important role in the development of civil society. The wordplay of ‘watchdog’ and ‘watch docs' (i.e. documentaries) provided the ideal addition to our festival name and, since 2006, the Human Rights in Film festival is known as WATCH DOCS. Human Rights in Film.
In 2001, Polish NGO Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR, www.hfhr.org.pl) founded the Human Rights in Film Festival. Beginning 1982, the Helsinki Committee operated in the Polish underground, to establish HFHR seven years later. Currently, the Helsinki Foundation is one of the most experienced European human rights NGOs. HFHR implements education, intervention, and monitoring programs. A significant portion of its activity concerns human rights in the states of the former Soviet Union.
Since its inception, Warsaw’s Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle has been a co-organizer of the festival. CCA is the first and largest interdisciplinary culture and art center in Poland and Eastern Europe, with National Institute of Culture status.