There’s an obvious danger to a human rights festival: how do you ensure it’s not a well-meaning Preaching to the Choir festival instead? “That’s the beauty of art and film,” says HRAFF Director Matthew Benetti. “The mediums are very accessible. People can come along and be entertained and, as a by-product of that, awareness is raised about important human rights issues.”
The festival only began in Melbourne back in 2007 and now, having grown steadily each year, the festival shows showcases around 40 different films, art and public forums, and also tours a smaller version of itself around Australia. “First and foremost, it’s a film festival," says Benetti. "We pick films on their cinematic qualities: whether or not it’s a good story, how it’s going to look up on the screen.” And while they consider the films they show fair and balanced, the festival itself tries not to take a position. “We really see ourselves as a platform for artists to voice their views and opinions.”
The opening night film is Joe Berlinger’s documentary Under African Skies. It chronicles Paul Simon reuniting with the musicians from his classic Graceland album, made in South Africa 25 years ago during the cultural boycott over apartheid. It shows Simon and Dali Tambo, the founder of Artists Against Apartheid, trying to come to some agreement on whether recording Graceland was the right thing to do.
“But at the same time,” says Benetti, “it’s also a celebration of two different musical cultures coming together, and the creativity that can come out of that.”