Movies that Matter: powerful films that illuminate foreign policy themes

The 2023 edition of the Movies that Matter festival took place in The Hague from 24 March to 1 April. Each year during the festival, a film focusing on human rights is presented with the Activist Documentary Award. The Netherlands’ Ambassador for International Cultural Affairs, Dewi van de Weerd, is on the jury that selects the recipient. Today, she talks about why the Movies that Matter festival is so important and how the award relates to her work.

Enlarge image Dewi van de Weerd is jurylid van de Activist Award
The Activist Award jury. Dewi van de Weerd is seen second from the left.

Culture is Dewi van de Weerd’s day-to-day focus at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Previously, though, she was also involved in human rights. These two areas come together in Movies that Matter. Dewi explains: ‘Through art and culture, this festival brings complex human rights issues out into the open. Topics include gender, racism, slavery and its legacy, media freedom and more: all areas that are central to the foreign ministry’s work.’

And the winner is …

It’s no surprise that Dewi feels at home on the jury for the Activist Documentary Award. ‘We considered eight films for this year’s award, and what impressed me most was the quality of each one. Without exception, each film told an important story that was also a call to action on a particular theme.’

After long deliberation, the jury selected the film that stood out from the rest. ‘Our winner was Seven Winters in Tehran,’ says Dewi. ‘It’s a beautifully made film that tells the story of an enormous injustice inflicted on a young woman in Iran. And given the difficulties that women in Iran face today, it is extremely topical.’

The jury gave a special mention to A Story of Bones, a film on the subject of the transatlantic slave trade. It is about the island of St Helena, and the activist there who is ensuring that the remains of formerly enslaved people are reburied with all the respect they deserve. ‘We felt we had to highlight this film, since in the coming year the Netherlands will be marking the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery,’ says Dewi.

Bahia Tahzib-Lie, human rights ambassador at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, agrees. On Activist Night, before the screening of A Story of Bones, she spoke on the topics of racism and slavery and how they relate to the themes of the festival. ‘Movies that Matter is a platform for stories that often don’t get the public attention they should,’ she says. ‘I talk to human rights activists around the world during my working visits, and each and every one of them has inspiring stories to tell. Awareness is growing, and that’s good. For example, awareness of how we think about things, judge them, discuss them and respond to them. The films screened during Movies that Matter have the power to inspire and challenge us.’

Embassies take action

With its focus on social issues, Movies that Matter is an annual event at many Dutch embassies. Dewi explains: ‘Each year the organisation provides six films to our embassies. A lot of them organise screenings in the hope that the films will have as great an impact as possible across their networks.’

Mini film festival

Dewi has first-hand experience of what these screenings can bring about. ‘For example, the embassy in Tirana has come up with a very clever formula: they ask all the organisations that they work with during the year to organise their own screenings. This enables them to reach out to people in their own target groups. The format has proved so popular that it’s grown into a mini film festival.’

Dewi encourages everyone to see as many of the films as they can, but especially this year’s winner. ‘Movies that Matter is so important. Through their remarkable imagery, the films provide people in the Netherlands with a tangible introduction to a range of global issues, and the activists behind the stories.’