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The University of Southampton

In Defense of Human Rights Filmmaking: A Response to the Sceptics, Based on Kenyan Examples Seminar

16:00 - 17:45
25 April 2017
Lecture Theatre B Avenue Campus Faculty of Humanities University of Southampton SO17 1BF

For more information regarding this seminar, please email Dr Ruby Cheung at .

Event details

Part of the Film Research Seminar Series 2016 - 2017. All welcome.


The concept of human rights filmmaking is divisive when evoked with reference to the African continent, or the Global South more generally. Advocates see the relevant activity as serving worthwhile goals. Sceptics see human rights filmmaking as reflecting, among other things, an unequal relationship between donors and supplicants, and as perversely playing a role in repositioning “the privileged within their privilege” (Tascón 2015, 4). Focusing on the specific context of contemporary postcolonial Kenya, in East Africa, I argue that such sceptical arguments rest on ill-founded generalizations. I attempt to offer a more nuanced account, based on analysis of the work of Judy Kibinge (Founding Director of Docubox), collaboration between the artists’ collective The Nest and UHAI-EASHRI (The East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative), and between the Endorois tribe, WITNESS—an organization founded by Peter Gabriel in the wake of the Rodney King beating—and CEMIRIDE (Centre for Minority Rights Development). The Danish government’s rights-based approach to development, including through film, will also be evoked. The point will be to show that insofar as the sceptics’ arguments have validity, it is with reference to approaches focusing on the physical integrity rights that social justice films typically defend. When it comes to policies emphasizing economic and cultural rights the arguments, as we shall see, are simply wrongheaded.

Speaker information

Professor Mette Hjort, University of Copenhagen. Professor Mette Hjort is Professor of Film Studies at the University of Copenhagen, Affiliate Professor of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle, and Honorary Professor of Visual Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. Recent publications include A Companion to Nordic Cinema (Wiley-Blackwell, co-edited with Ursula Lindqvist) and the two-volume project, The Education of the Filmmaker in Africa, the Middle East and the Americas and The Education of the Filmmaker in Europe, Australia and Asia (edited, Palgrave Macmillan). Current research projects focus on film in the context of human rights, public values, environmental aesthetics, and health and well-being, and on transnational talent development initiatives linking the Nordic region to West Africa, East Africa and the Middle East.

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