People in Need Starts Debate on Human Rights in the South Caucasus through Documentary Films

Published: Apr 23, 2013 Reading time: 10 minutes
People in Need Starts Debate on Human Rights in the South Caucasus through Documentary Films

Tbilisi, Yerevan, Baku (23rd April 2013) – At the turn of March 2013, People in Need (PIN) in association with local partner organizations helped organize regional documentary film festivals. The events, attended by more than 3,500 people, took place in 14 cities of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Three-day film festivals, held with the support of the EU and the Czech government, offered up to ten films covering a variety of topics while aiming mainly at human rights, conflicts, racism, social issues, drugs, migration, or life with a physical disability.

Each film screening was followed by a debate with special guests. While being inspired by the Czech One World International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, which celebrated its fifteenth year of existence this March, the organizers of the festivals learned above all how to organize a festival, how to choose films for such an event and how to promote it.

“The main purpose of holding small festivals is to show quality documentary films not only in big cities, but also in remote regions, where offering of cultural events and especially latest documentary film-making is very limited,” Pavla Pijanová, PIN Desk Officer for Georgia and Armenia, says. “During discussions following the foreign films screening, people reflect on and talk about similar burning issues concerning, for instance, human rights in their neighbourhood. The festival debates present one of very few opportunities to discuss the problems freely,” says Pavla Pijanová while adding that open debates often make the first step for young people in getting more concerned about the activities of the local authorities, defending their rights, or reconsidering their relationship with an enemy nation, for example.

CAUCADOC Photo Gallery

Award-winning short films made thanks to the CAUCADOC project (on YouTube):

Holy Cow, Pirimze, Biblioteka, The Searchers, Land, and more can be found here

Local festivals in the South Caucasus were held within the CAUCADOC project, whose aim is to support documentary film-making in the South Caucasus through masterclasses, training courses, round table discussions, school screenings, and through educating film-makers.

Festival highlights:

  • The festivals held in 14 towns were attended by more than 3,500 viewers.
  • In Terjola, a town of 5,000 people in Georgia, 600 of them attended the festival including the members of the town council.
  • The festival took place in Calca, Georgia, with a population of 2,000 as well as in Baku, Azerbaijan, inhabited by more than 2 million.
  • It took place at the four-star Palm Beach Hotel as well as in shabby community centres.
  • In Lankaran, Azerbaijan, the majority of the audience members were the Second World War veterans.
  • In Mingachevir, Azerbaijan, the electricity mysteriously stopped working right before the start of the first screening, so the organizers had to use the generator.

The organizers from Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan could file their application to host the festival from June last year. The CAUCADOC project manager Šárka Zahradníková says: “We received about 60 applications from nearly every corner of the South Caucasus. The majority of the applicants were the organizers from Georgia. Those interested most in holding the festival were the media, human rights, or youth non-profit organizations.” After that, a selected group of applicants took a training course in how to run such a film festival. “During two 3-day sessions they learned how to target the festival at a specific audience, how to plan a budget or create a programme, how to promote the festival or to lead follow-up debates,” Šárka Zahradníková concludes.

Afterwards, the future festival organizers prepared projects giving details of their funding, programme, etc. and subsequently were provided with a grant of up to 850 EUR. Besides, CAUCODOC gave them access to the recent documentary films from the One World IFF archive (with subtitles in national languages). Then, the organizers themselves could choose which, out of these ten films, they wished to be screened for their audience.

Finally, 14 candidates underwent the selection process, so the festivals could be held in five places in Armenia, three in Azerbaijan and six places in Georgia. The festival itself could then be attended in such places like the metropolis of Baku with its more than 2 million people as well as in the town of Calka in the south of Georgia with only about 2,000 people. The festival was held not only in shabby community centres, or the seat of the Civil Solidarity Party in Baku, but also in the new Palm Beach Hotel in Anaklia, Georgia. For example, in Terjola, a city with 5,000 people situated in the west of Georgia, the whole town was just living and breathing the festival as Šárka Zahradníková describes: “The popularity of the festival was enormous here. Students and teachers were volunteering, the whole city and regional councils attended the event and 600 viewers arrived in the end.”

Thanks to numerous film screenings at schools, a lot of young people found their way to festivals, but the seniors came too. In Lankaran, for instance, the majority of the audience consisted of the Second World War veterans. There were lots of famous people attending the festivals too as Šárka Zahradníková points out: “For example, writer Seymur Baijan, journalist Shahveled Chobanoglu or female activist Mirvari Gahramanli came – they are widely respected for their courage and involvement in the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict resolution or during the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline construction campaign.” Thanks to the videotheque, the festival films are at the disposal for anyone intending to screen a documentary in their community.

600 people came – there was a lack of chairs

In the Azerbaijani city of Mingachevir, the organizers of the festivals picked up nine films. “I think that the more films are screened, the better because each film can find its own audience. Eventually, there are not just three cultural events in three days but nine events,” says Farman Nabiyev, who organized the festival in Mingachevir. “The screenings have attracted 600 people altogether. Me, personally, I didn´t expect that it could have aroused such a great interest among the visitors. We didn´t even have so many chairs,” says Farman Nabiyev and adds: “The festival is especially valuable because it gives people an opportunity to freely discuss different problematic issues, which is still quite rare here in Azerbaijan.”

Most of the films were about human rights and were set in places thousand kilometres far away, still very close to what people in the South Caucasus experience every day. “Let´s take the film ‘Drona and me’, for example. We all know such stories. Our neighbours have disabled children and we are trying to ignore it. To see such films and to talk about similar problems is very important, it can happen to anyone of us,” Farman is explaining the benefit of the recently-finished festival, and is planning its extension to the neighbouring regions of Ujar and Agdash, and also at least one open-air screening, which is to be held on the Kura River promenade.

Festival newcomers were also well received by the audience in five Armenian cities. For 19-year-old Armenian student Rebecca Howhannisyan, it was the first time she had visited a documentary film festival and she managed to see six film shows. “I am really satisfied because the films were interesting and followed by discussions where we could exchange our opinions with experts,” praises Rebecca Howhannisyan and she adds: “The main benefit to me is that I have learnt new things. I felt that it was about time I started to change the mentality of people around me and encourage them in solving social issues and in organizing similar activities.”

Film-makers given prestigious awards

Besides novice organizers of documentary film festivals, CAUCADOC gave a chance to film-makers from Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Out of 24 submitted applications, the jury of experts had chosen nine documentary film projects in production which were given a chance to participate in a six-month training course for directors and producers. The first, one week long, workshop took place in Sighnaghi, Georgia. “The participants worked for a week with six respected documentary film-makers from Europe. They were given feedback on their own screen adaptation of the film projects as well as on fundraising and promotion,” Šárka Zahradníková explains.

In December, another training course was held within the framework of the Tbilisi International Film Festival and was primarily focused on production strategy, funding opportunities or the possibilities of access to the international film market. “In between both courses, the teams were working on revising their projects according to the feedback given. The teams were on location, some of them were shooting, editing trailers, therefore they could attend the second session with better materials than they had had at the first one,” explained Šárka Zahradníková while adding that all you had to do to submit an application for the course was to develop a concept of a documentary film and prepare visual materials, so that you were able to present your idea.

During the Tbilisi International Film Festival, a pitching forum within ‘Pitch.Doc’ is held on an annual basis. There, film-makers are given an opportunity to present their film projects to international and local distributors, TV stations and film funds representatives who are able to provide funding to films still in production. ‘Pirimze’ and ‘Holy Cow’, two films made within the CAUCADOC project, were selected as the Best Pitch and awarded a money prize from the Georgian National Film Centre. The awards were handed out at the closing ceremony of the International Film Festival in Tbilisi.

“The ‘Holy Cow team used the money for shooting in the village where the main character lives. Then, the film material was edited into a fifteen-minute video. Now, they are looking for some financial support to finish the film. The authors of ‘Pirimze film are shooting in Tbilisi at the moment,” Šárka Zahradníková outlined the fate of the projects.

Apart from that, CAUCADOC gave an opportunity to the ‘Holy Cow’ and ‘Biblioteka’ projects to participate in East Doc Platform organized as a part of the One World IFF in Prague, where the film-makers can encounter film producers and other professionals from European festivals. Moreover, the authors of ‘The Searchers’ documentary were awarded one smaller local scholarship. “In addition,  we are trying to help the others in making contacts or to recommend suitable experts and secure support for the remaining projects in local TV stations such as Georgian TV9 station or local public televisions,” Šárka Zahradníková concludes.


CAUCADOC is a project run by the Czech NGO People in Need (PIN) and its partner organizations Sakdoc Film and Internews Media Support NGO and it aims to support documentary film-making in the South Caucasus while making use of PIN´s experience in organizing a human rights documentary film festival, the One World. Within the framework of CAUCADOC, workshops dedicated to documentary film-making and lectures delivered by experienced authors are held. CAUCADOC also supports local initiatives in running documentary film festivals as well as the use of documentaries as an educational tool at schools. The project is funded by the European Union through the Eastern Partnership Culture Programme and the Czech Development Agency. It has been running in Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan since March 2012 and is to be terminated in February 2014. You can find more about this project here.

For more information please contact:

Pavla Pijanová, Desk Officer for Georgia and Armenia, +420 777 457 486  

Šárka Zahradníková, CAUCADOC Project Manager, +995 599 562 063, +374 93 259 459


Author: Petr Štefan, ČvT