Film Festivals That Are Making A Difference

July 14, 2014

Top U.S. film festivals that explore human rights or environmental conservation issues.

A good film pulls at our heartstrings and plays with our minds and emotions.  Now imagine the impact of a good film festival.  It will take us off our comfortable couches and allow us to experience new realities.  When these realities encompass critical issues, we may be inspired to help change things for the better.  People are passionate about films, as well as the social and global issues that they address.  Many film festivals include discussions and educational resources along with their insightful films to further engage the audience.  The following list of film festivals from around the U.S. shed light on environmental conservation and/or human rights issues.  I encourage you to check out one of these festivals to learn more about challenges faced by humans, animals and our planet’s environment.

International Wildlife Film Festival

pride, iwff, international wildlife film festival, the roxy theater, griz vs. cat competition

Image from Pride, photo courtesy of the Missoulian.

Missoula, Montana is the place I lovingly call home.  It is the residence of avid outdoorsmen, outdoorswomen and people who are engaged with the nature that surrounds them.  For a week every April at our locally owned theater The Roxy, the International Wildlife Film Festival is featured.  It began in 1977 at The University of Montana and for 37 years it has been promoting, “awareness, knowledge and understanding of wildlife, habitat, people and nature through excellence in film, television and other media.”  The winner of this year’s festival was Pride, a film about a pride of lions and animals living together harmoniously in western India.  It was created by Montana State University filmmaker Roshan Patel and competed in The Audience Award’s Cat vs. Griz competition last month.   

Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival

jackson hole wildlife film festival, important film festivals, conservation, wildlife

Photo courtesy of Jackson Hole Center for the Arts.

Every odd-numbered year in downtown Jackson Hole, Wyoming, The Center for the Arts hosts the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, a festival and conservation summit of wildlife and natural history films that promote “public awareness and stewardship of wildlife and wildlife habitat through the innovative use of media.”  The festival takes part in a science media awards and symposium on even-numbered years, but every year the festival presents screenings and educational outreach programs that bring together the human community and the natural world.  

The American Conservation Film Festival

American Conservation Film Festival, Important film festivals, conservation

Photo courtesy of Fredrick’s News Post.

“Engage. Inform. Inspire.”  In 2003 in Shepherdstown, West Virginia (70 miles west of D.C.) the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Conservation Training Center and Shepherd University teamed together to create The American Conservation Film Festival.  The festival has films that address a broad scope of issues, including  waterenergy, wildlifefood and agricultureconsumption and waste and health and wellbeing.  Every fall in the artistic community of Shepherdstown, filmmakers and those interested in the environment come together to celebrate educational conservation films. 

Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital

Environmental DC Film Fest, deforestation, Sustainable DC, Amazing Grace

Image from Amazing Grace, courtesy of Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital.

In Washington, D.C. this year’s Environmental Film Festival focused on the development of sustainable cities.  It highlighted the Sustainable DC program, the city’s Capital Bikeshare program and the Clean Rivers project.  The festival occurs every March, andincludes a range of documentariesgreen short films and animated films that address water issuesenvironmental advocacypeople and culture, and wildlife.  Since its start in 1993 the festival, “has become one of the most influential showcases of environmental film and major collaborative films” from around the world.  You can watch winner of this year’s Eric Moe Sustainability Film AwardAmazing Grace, a film about the deforestation of Zambia, by clicking here

Environmental Film Festival at Yale

yale, environmental film festival, damnation

Image from Damnation, photo courtesy of Environmental Film Festival at Yale.

Run by a group of Yale Forestry and Environmental Studies Master’s students, the Environmental Film Festival at Yale combines panel discussions comprised of filmmakers, experts and Yale Faculty with interactive events and powerful films that “raise awareness of current environmental issues and social issues.” nThe festival is in its sixth year and has been sharing cinematic stories of the environment every spring at the Yale campus.  All the films are free and are followed by a Q&A session with the panelists.  Awards are given to the films with the Best Cinematography, this year’s winner was The Expedition to the End of the World, a film about the melting ice-caps in northern Greenland. The Best Film and Audience Award winner was Damnation, a story of the removal of damns across the U.S.  The Best Environmental Storytellers was awarded to Marmato, covers a Colombian mountain community that is threatened by a Canadian gold mining company.  

Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Human rights watch, film festivals

Photo courtesy of Council of Foreign Relations.

This festival may call New York City its home, but it not only brings awareness of human suffering to its audience it also travels to its audience.  The festival visits 13 American cities and eight other cities around the world. Human Rights Watch Film Festival “brings to life human rights abuses through storytelling in a way that challenges each individual to empathize and demand justice for all people.”  This year the film festival celebrates its 25th anniversary, but its active forerunner Human Rights Watch has been researching and advocating human rights since 1978.  

Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

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Image from Salmon Confidential, courtesy of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Confronting critical issues for 14 years now, the Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival in Bellingham, Washington hosts films that explore not just the human population, but all animals and habitats of the world.  The festival is free and open to the public and this year covered themes of “environmental justice, issues of gender equity and cultural rights, peaceful resolution of conflict, and sensible alternatives to corporatism.”  The festival’s audience awarded films, Hot Water, a documentary about uranium contamination in South Dakota and, Salmon Confidential, a documentary involving a government cover-up and salmon from British Columbia. 

Human Rights Film Festival University of San Francisco

the right to kill, human rights film festival university of san francisco, important film festivals

Photo courtesy of Venture Beat.

The free Human Rights Festival at The University of San Francisco, opens up every April with shorts from University of San Francisco students, includes shorts from USF Alumni along with international and award-winning documentaries.  In its twelfth year, the festival highlights issues of, “political repression, torture, killings and disappearances, the effects of war on children, immigration, the failures of humanitarian aid, environmental destruction by mining companies and its consequences for indigenous peoples, LGBT rights and the marriage equality movement, media censorship, poverty and HIV.”  The closing film of this year’s festival, The Act of Killing, won the Guardian Film Award – Best Picture, BAFTA – Best Documentary, European Film Award – Best Documentary, Asia Pacific Screen Award – Best Documentary, 2012. It is an innovative and impactful documentary that focuses on the Indonesian death squad killings from 1965-1966.

United Nations Association Film Festival

<i>Bystander,</i> a film by John Reilly

Still from Bystander, courtesy of United Nations Association Film Festival.

Featuring the theme “Bridging the Gap” this October 16-26, Palo Alto, Stanford University, East Palo Alto and San Francisco are hosting the 17th annual United Nations Association Film Festival.  The festival gives out five awards – UNAFF Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary, UNAFF Grand Jury Award for Best Short Documentary, UNAFF Youth Vision Award, UNAFF/Stanford Video Award for Cinematography and UNAFF/Stanford Video Award for Editing.  The festival was “originally conceived to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” 

Inspired to watch a few films that make a difference?

Below are films from The Audience Awards’ library that focus on the environment or human rights issues:

Pride Judy’s Rock Silencing the Thunder Good Soil Shell Game The Tower Habitat Beyond the Bars Saved by Grace Beautiful Possessions Not So Namaste


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