The Tri Continental Human Rights Film Festival (TCFF) returns to South African cinemas! Now, in its 11th year, TCFF is the largest film festival on the African continent dedicated to films that go to the heart of the big challenges facing humanity today. Over 40 powerful documentaries will be on offer to audiences in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town.

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For the first time this year there will be an award given for the Best Human Rights Film. The award carries a cash prize and is initiated in partnership with Amnesty International SA to develop a culture of human rights-centered cinema in South Africa. The judges of this award are Ferial Haffajee, Mark Heywood, Lebo Mashile, and Scholastica Sylvan Kimaryo - Veteran of the United Nations.

TCFF is a chance to see documentary at its best, but it also so much more. From its inception, the festival has been conceived as a platform for debate, advocacy and activism. The cinema becomes a space that transcends passive consumption, where invited speakers from all walks of life – filmmakers, lawyers, activists, specialists, writers – take to the floor at the end of screenings and begin a discussion with audiences, who can take this where they like – often it goes to straight to the question, “What can we do?” Already a film has revealed its power to get people thinking about active engagement. And this can be empowering.

The idea of a human rights film festival came from the Documentalistas festival in Argentina. Convinced that we needed something like this in South Africa the festival was born in 2003. We added the dimension of using the screenings for debate, partly because at the time, South Africa felt like a very young democracy. Any chance to be inclusive and talk to each other needed to be taken. The festival is run by filmmakers who love film and this combines with a desire to use our skills for positive change.

“There’s so much chaos in the world right now and people need to make sense of it, collectively. This year’s selection takes a good look at the world in recent times and tries to capture some of the big moments. Through the lens of passionate documentary filmmakers, we get to be part of some of those moments and in turn gain a better understanding of ourselves. This is what I love about the big issue films.” (Anita Khanna, Festival Director).

In South Africa, sexual inequality remains virtually unchecked, and therefore with 9 films under the banner of Sex Politics, issues of gender take a prominent place in the festival this year.

Solar Mamas, Miss Nikki and the Tiger Girls, 2 Men and a Wedding, Black Beulahs, Small Small Thing, Gulabi Gang, Guerilla Grannies, Karaoke Girl, Forbidden Voices.

“The rape and murder of Anene Booyson woke this nation up to how rape tolerant we’ve become and this is turn has made us look at how perniciously sexist our society is. We would like the festival to be a space where all those who want to challenge the abuse of women can come together, watch great films on women and use the platform to strengthen campaigns.” (Anita Khanna, Festival Director).

And with Egypt’s revolution in turmoil, assassinations of leaders of the democracy movement in Tunisia, and Obama’s government gearing up for an onslaught on Syria, the Arab Season provides timely focus on recent events across the region.

1/2 Revolution (Egypt), No Harm Done (Tunisia), Bahrain: Forbidden Country, Diary from the Revolution (Libya), Village Under the Forest, Martin Luther King Jr in Palestine, Cinema Jenin (Palestine).

Other highlights include The Act of Killing, a shocker that uncomfortably takes audiences into the minds of those who commit genocide; The Guantanamo Trap, an in-depth and compelling look at those at the centre of the Guantanamo detention centre torture controversy; Fight Like Soldiers, Die like Children, the big film about Child Soldiers and their rehabilitation and Give Us the Money, the fascinating story of Bob Geldoff and Bono’s quest to feed the world that had both critics and supporters of such aid initiatives waxing lyrical.

In conjunction with the festival, the 2013 edition sees the return of the much-anticipated bi-annual People to People International Documentary Conference (P2P), which will run from the 16-18 September. First convened in 2007, P2P is a joint initiative of the TCFF and Encounters Documentary Film Festival, conceived in the shared vision of taking African documentary in to the future. The conference brings documentary filmmakers and industry stakeholders from across the continent together with their international counterparts for an exciting three-day programme dedicated to the art, business and technology of documentary from an African perspective.