“We want to provide starting points on how to get active”

interview | Human Rights Film Festival

“Red lines were crossed everywhere at the same time”

humanrightsfilmfestivalberlin.de/Dovile Sermokas

Audio: rbb24 Inforadio | 13.10.2022 | Jacob Power | picture: humanrightsfilmfestivalberlin.de/Dovile Sermokas

The Human Rights Film Festival kicks off Thursday with a relentless programme. The focus is on human rights violations. The festival director explains in an interview that this festival should not be limited to research Jacob Power.

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Anna Ramskogler-Witt, HRFFB Festival Director.  (Source: humanrightsfilmfestivalberlin.de)


Anna Ramskogler-Witt studied art history. Since 2008 she has been working professionally with the tension between culture and human rights. In 2019, she took over the management of the Human Rights Film Festival in Berlin.

From October 13 to 23, the “Human Rights Film Festival” will be held in Berlin for the fifth time. The center of the festival will be Villa Elizabeth in Mitte. 43 films can be seen in eight cinemas and are broadcast digitally, and they are all documentaries with a few exceptions. There will also be workshops and discussion tours in the Human Speaking Series and Human Rights Forum, as well as a photo and virtual reality exhibition at the Villa Elizabeth Festival Centre. Anna Ramskogler-Witt has been in charge of the festival since 2019.

rbb | 24: Beyond Red Lines – Beyond Red Lines is the theme for this year’s festival. What is behind it?

Anna Ramskogler Witt: The idea came to us shortly after the festival last year. The situation has worsened all over the world. The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, and it was clear in Ukraine that something was going on. Crises have erupted in many places around the world. Red lines were crossed everywhere at the same time with regard to human rights. And at some point we were about to go into a winter depression and we thought: Wow, what’s going on now? Then we said: Well, at the next festival we will look at how you can become active once you cross these red lines. We show people who still don’t give up.

Do you have examples of the program?

A good example of this is “bigger than us”. The film tells the story of young activists around the world who start projects to bring about smaller or larger changes to their environment. A young Syrian refugee is starting a school project in his area. Another heroine of the film managed to ban plastic bags in her homeland.

A sad example is our inaugural film “Ithaca”. It is about Julian Assange’s family fighting for his release. Opinions can vary on the Julian Assange case, but the way this person is handled, and what they are going through, there is definitely a red line that has been crossed. Also with regard to freedom of the press and freedom of expression. According to this precedent, almost any newspaper editor who publishes leaked stuff can be handed over. I find it stark how the Assange family is fighting against this red line that is constantly being crossed. On opening day, Julian Assange’s father, fiancée and half-brother, who also produced the film, will also be present.

What can films achieve in the struggle for human rights?

I spoke with a young Afghan activist that day, the day a bomb exploded in an Afghan school. “Anna,” she said, “I can’t hear it anymore, everybody just talks all the time and nobody does anything.” Movies at first can only start a conversation, draw attention to something, but they can also have such a powerful effect that you realize: it’s not enough just to look. We want to provide starting points on how you can become active on your own.

Movies can be so powerful that you realize that just looking isn’t enough. We want to provide starting points on how you can become active on your own.

Why do you focus on documentaries at the festival?

A documentary can evoke emotions in us through personal stories and thus create a strong connection to the topic. When I say that thousands of people drowned in the Mediterranean last year, it arouses some dismay, but not with crude emotion. It’s different when I tell the true story of a mother who capsized a boat in the Mediterranean – and this mother had only one life jacket for her two children and had to decide which child to rescue because not everyone wearing a life jacket could. Then you better understand the harshness of the situation.

What role do current conflicts – Iran, Ukraine and Afghanistan – play in the festival?

We have a series about Ukraine. “Generation Euromaidan” directed by Christophe Geriga will have a world premiere. The film follows three activists in Ukraine who first become members of parliament and then face the war in Ukraine. There are many films about Afghanistan and the Iranian regime is the theme of the winner of the Berlinale 2020 “There is no evil”. There is also the talk series Talking About Humanity, in which we deal with current topics and put them in the context of films.

The subject of human rights is also currently brought up in political discussions. They no longer want gas from Russia, and instead Germany is knocking on the door in Qatar. And although the human rights situation in countries like China or Iran is also catastrophic, both countries remain important trading partners of Germany. How is this contradictory contemporary debate conducted at the festival?

We have always had contributions to the festival that have addressed responsibility in the area of ​​tension between business and human rights. This year we have a film by Academy Award winner Dennis Tanovic on a show called “Tigers”. It’s about Nestlé’s aggressive advertising campaign in Pakistan for a breast-milk substitute that has led to the death of many babies because the product was prepared with unclean water. There is a lot that we need to discuss in this area of ​​tension.

Of course I would say: boycott everything! But does this really make the Iranian people better off if there are harsh economic sanctions? Or can’t people defend themselves better if they are better off economically? I don’t know. And I have such amazing respect, especially for the women who are taking to the streets in Iran right now. They know they are facing violence and, in the worst case, death. This is real civil courage. We are afraid it will be cold here in the winter.

At the festival, she places special emphasis on the topic of human rights. What about mainstream cinema? Does the subject have enough insight there?

partially. Soon there will be a film by director Lars Kraume dealing with the genocide in Namibia. And there are always such successful films also in the mainstream, a notable example is the movie “Blood Diamond” with Leonardo DiCaprio. But it could be more than that, especially in German cinema. And it would be a good starting point if films question their stereotypes, there is still a lot of play with racism and sexism.

Another example is torture. Torture in movies is often underestimated. I love watching action movies by myself. I like when the hero wins and I hate when the villain comes close to winning. But always be aware: by presenting it in the movie in such a way that it’s a good and totally necessary thing for the hero to hit him, or put the gun in his temple and torture him, we’re creating a story that’s going mainstream: torture might be okay after all.

Thank you for this interview!

The interview was conducted by Jacob Bauer for rbb24 Inforadio. This version is a shortened and modified version.

Broadcast: rbb24 Inforadio, October 13, 2022, 7:55 a.m.

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