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It’s time to change the narrative

9 April 2019 at 7:15 am
The Human Rights Arts and Film Festival (HRAFF) has announced its 2019 program of over 50 films and events.

Contributor | 9 April 2019 at 7:15 am


It’s time to change the narrative
9 April 2019 at 7:15 am

The Human Rights Arts and Film Festival (HRAFF) has announced its 2019 program of over 50 films and events.

The festival will create a public counterbalance of positivity, empathy and humanity to change the human rights narrative during the upcoming federal election. 

Now in its 12th year, the festival will shine a light on six pressing human rights issues; Indigenous affairs, gender equality, conflict and global people movement, economic justice, LGBTIQ+ rights, and the environment.  

Opening night is headlined by innovative climate change documentary 2040 on 9 May at ACMI. 2040 is a revolutionary exploration of the positive future we can build by adopting current technologies now.

This follows the tens of thousands of Australian students who staged classroom walkouts to demand action on climate change. Among them was Gemma Borgo-Caratti, national director of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, who will be speaking at the festival.

“This is only the beginning of a huge social movement led by young people demanding that our world leaders step up to protect our future, or get out of the way for others who will,” Borgo-Caratti says.

The Climate Council has reported that Australia has sweltered through its hottest summer on record, with more than 200 extreme weather records broken around the country. Yet Australia it is not on track to meet its 2030 emissions reduction targets.

“We are in a dire situation” 2040 director Damon Gameau says.

“Filmmakers have a large role to play in shining a light on these topics and portraying a different world which we could move into.”

Image from 2040


Other leading picks of this year’s festival include Stop the Boats screening on 18 May. Stop the Boats analyses how Australia used a three-word slogan to demonise people seeking asylum fleeing war and persecution.

The story is told by those condemned to indefinite offshore detention and torture, secretly filmed and smuggled out of Manus Island and Nauru.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with director Simon Kurian, Julian Burnside QC and Behrouz Boochani live from Manus.

Operation Sovereign Borders was introduced by the coalition government in 2013. Since then, 3,127 people have been sent to Nauru or PNG. As of February 2019, 497 have been resettled in the US, including the last four children, 1015 remain. 12 have died.

“HRAFF brings awareness on diverse human rights issues with this festival of arts and film,” director Simon Kurian says.

“More than any other film festival I am honoured that Stop the Boats is a part of HRAFF because this film is about the most basic of human rights; about the inalienable right of all displaced peoples to seek asylum and find refuge.”

The film features among others Manus Island detainee Behrouz Boochani, Dr Munjed al Muderis, Julian Burnside QC, Ben Doherty, Phil Glendenning, Dr Ai-Lene Chan, Dr Peter Young, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Andrew Willkie MP and the late prime minister Malcolm Fraser.

“For over a decade we have had a constant drum beat of hate and fear in the public domain,”  HRAFF CEO Aleta Moriarty says.

“It’s time to change the narrative. Just as hateful stories create hateful actions, positive stories create positive actions.”

The festival lands in a tumultuous time for human rights in Australia.

The medevac bill, which was passed in late February, prompted a divisive fear campaign from the government. Propositions included that asylum seekers are paedophiles, murderers, rapists and will “displace” Australians from medical services.  

But the recent events of the Christchurch mosque attack change the dynamics of political discourse during the federal election. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s compassionate and empathetic leadership has been heralded as an example of what world leaders should be. Already, thousands of signatures have been collected to nominate Ardern for the Nobel peace prize.

The Christchurch massacre demands a level of empathy from our leaders. It renders divisive fear campaigns on issues such as the medevac bill useless.

“We want to continue creating this positive change,” Moriarty says.

“It’s time to change the narrative.

“We know election-time is often a time of peak fear-mongering and division. This election we want to create a public counterbalance of positivity, love, empathy and humanity.”

The onus is on all of us to change the narrative.

The Human Rights Arts and Film Festival opens in Melbourne on 9 May 2019. View the full program and purchase tickets at


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