• 'Quest' (2017) (Movie still)Source: Movie still
From the Australian street artist transforming Manilla’s slums to the South Sudanese refugee making a difference in Wagga Wagga, HRAFF champions social justice globally.
Stephen A. Russell

8 May 2017 - 11:05 AM  UPDATED 8 May 2017 - 11:05 AM


Returning for its tenth year, the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival (HRAFF) brings with it a wealth of movies alive with passion and power, looking as they do at social justice issues globally. As HRAFF patron Margaret Pomeranz says, “Film and the arts have so much power to influence the way we see the world, to heighten our awareness of the plight of those in our community and in the world community.”

Opening with a two-week run in Melbourne before touring highlights nationally, this year’s line-up includes another chance to see indigenous coming-of-age documentary Zach’s Ceremony and lauded refugee crisis doco Fire At Sea, as well as a brilliant selection of Australian shorts, like Dylan River’s Black Chook and Jessica O’Meara’s Loving My Mum.

While there are several dramatic features, including the Palme d'Or winner Dheepan, Oscar-nominated Tanna and Bangarra Dance Theatre artistic director Stephen Page’s step into the cinematic world Spear, docos form the main thrust of the program.

Here are five to watch out for.

The Opposition

Having kicked off HRAFF's opening night in Melbourne, The Opposition, directed by student-turned-professional filmmaker Hollie Fifer, follows the battle of Joe Moses as he defends his community in the Paga Hill settlement in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea from the advances of Australian luxury hotel developers. A rousing David and Goliath legal battle, it’s ironic that a prominent PNG figure tried to have her changing role redacted through the Australian court, something Fifer addressed creatively with the help of Sarah Snook for its Hot Docs debut last year. HRAFF-goers will see the film uncut at last. As one resident living in in a tent camp says, “We have to fight not with blood, but with our brains.”

Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra.



Also focused on community through the prism of a Philadelphia-based African American family, Jonathan Olshefski’s award-winning debut Quest - Melbourne HRAF’s closing night movie - is an intimate portrayal sketched over a rollercoaster decade in the Rainey’s lives. Revolving round the sanctuary that is their home music studio, it follows the realities of their working-class neighbourhood during the Obama years and the efforts of Christopher ‘Quest’ Rainey and wife Christine ‘Ma Quest’ to steer everyone they meet in the right direction, even as hard times hit home hardest.

Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra.


Australian street artist Kaff-eine and her collective Cheeseagle struck up firm friendships with the residents of Manila’s slum communities of Baseco and Happyland - the latter name is derived from a local word for dumpsite ‘hapilan’ – on a previous visit. Marti Salva’s world premier doco follows their return to the Philippines capital to install Kaff-eine’s brilliantly hued, gigantic portraits of the locals printed on enormous tarps. More than just public art, they also serve as  a place to shelter and as currency to barter with. Kaff-eine’s work will also be on display in Melbourne’s Fed Square and in No Vacancy gallery.


Check It

Sick of being subjected to physical and psychological abuse because of their race, gender and sexuality, a group of queer African-American queer middle schoolers in Washington DC got together and formed the Check-it gang to fight back in the most fantastic way. Now numbering over 200, you’d have to be pretty damn brave to take on the likes of Tray, Skittles and Day Day, who are just as at home in fabulous fashion camps as fighting furiously in the boxing ring or on the streets where some of the young adults hustle. Dana Flor and Toby Oppenhiemer’s empowering Check It is a tribute to people power. 

Melbourne, Sydney

Constance on the Edge

Another ten-year opus, Australian filmmaker Belinda Mason follows the tower of strength that is Constance Okot as she and her children try to settle in Wagga Wagga after fleeing civil war in South Sudan. It’s not an easy adjustment, with language barriers, physical abuse and the mental scars of unimaginable horror to overcome. The war-torn past is depicted in both animated sequences and archival footage, but it’s the here and now of the last decade, as Constance steps back from the edge and becomes a community leader in the regional NSW town, that really soars. There’s even a dramatic nod to extremely topical, unbending Centrelink travails.

Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart

HRAFF is now underway in Melbourne until 18, before highlights tour to Sydney - May 23-27, Canberra - May 29-31, Perth - June 1, Brisbane - June 1-3, Hobart - June 2. Buy tickets here.

Zach's Ceremony: How a young indigenous man bridged worlds
Too black at school in Sydney, too white in his father’s Queensland community, Zach Doomadgee’s journey to adulthood is fraught with contradictions.
Dheepan review
Palme d'Or winner offers a fresh gaze to familiar tale

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