07 Aug, 2020 Last updated: 07 Aug, 2020

How the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival pivoted in coronavirus

There’s something special about being part of a film festival, especially when you’re passionate about the cause.

For the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival, which has been in the Melbourne arts calendar for over a decade, the challenge of 2020 was to create something special.


In three weeks.

Exploring the themes of social justice and human rights through film, art, music and forums, the not-for-profit event usually attracts large audiences over two weeks.

When the event streamed in May this year it was a big hit and several films sold out. So, what was the secret to their success?


Turning lemons into lemonade

Leslie Gurusinghe, Partnerships and Development Manager, got a crash course in going digital during the first coronavirus lockdown.

“We were only a few weeks out from the start of the film festival, when restrictions were imposed.”

The program was ready, venues and films booked, but luckily no money had been spent.

“Presenting a film festival online needed tricky decisions to be made on how to redraw agreements and manage the needs of film distributors,” he explains.

Making it relevant

Long days followed for staff as they developed a new, week-long festival called Humankind.

“We incorporated some new films and a retrospective element, showing one film each night that people could watch for free,” says Leslie.

The curated mix of international and local films were chosen to speak to the qualities needed during a pandemic, showcasing that humans are resilient, complex and extraordinary, and strongest when united.


Adding food to the mix

“We also made the conscious decision that we wanted everyone to be able to grab something to eat and watch a film together so they could feel part of something bigger than themselves,” says Leslie.

People could order food through a range of social enterprises like the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre Catering, Charcoal Lane or Lentil as Anything, to name a few.

Leslie says they were happy to see the social enterprises benefiting, while the addition of take away options helped to make watching a film while staying at home an event.

“Social media and tracking data showed that, despite having access to several films for a day or two, most people watched the films at the advertised time, which was a great result.”


Tips for digitising health promotion activities in the arts and culture sector

Arts activities like Humankind promote wellbeing, and are an important part of the health promotion ecosystem.

While delivering an arts and culture or health promotion program online takes some preparation, you don’t have to do it alone.

VicHealth has put together a series of fact sheets on digitisation, providing tips and information to help you adapt your programs.


Tips for streaming a film festival online

  1. Maintain a sense of community, even while online, by giving the films set viewing times and by partnering with social enterprises or local restaurants to offer food delivery services.
  2. Use social media to help people to connect with each other.
  3. Partner with organisations that share your ideals and goals.

The Human Rights Arts and Film Festival is a not-for-profit arts organisation that explores diverse and inspiring human stories through the mediums of film, art, music and forums. They do this through their annual festival, CineSeeds program for young people, and via online networks and partners.