HRTS 541: Advancing Human Rights through Documentary Media

In a 3-credit course taught by Bev Seckinger students will gain critical thinking skills for models of using documentary media in the service of human rights activism.  Guest speakers will include distinguished documentary filmmakers and media activists. 

Featured Video Guest Speakers in 2018

Pamela Yates and Paco de Onis from Skylight. At Skylight, we use media to inspire, envision and build a better world. Our partners in this work are human rights leaders around the globe who recognize the power of compelling narratives to change how people see themselves and others, moving societies toward greater justice and equality. At Skylight we don’t simply tell stories about human rights – we engage people in activism to promote international human rights.  We create media with people; collaborating with community leaders, grassroots organizations, and NGOs to create media that tells their stories, and strengthens their efforts.  We show with pathways forward by not only documenting the plight, but also the fight. We show the process of incrementally creating change. We make our films widely available to NGO’s and international educators through Academic Screening Packages and Screening Kits. We increase impact and engagement by creating platforms and new media technologies that makes it easy for people to engage with social issues. The Skylight model engages local constituencies from concept through outreach/impact.

Kelly Matheson and Raja Althaibani from WITNESS.   WITNESS makes it possible for anyone, anywhere to use video and technology to protect and defend human rights.  The majority of the world’s population now has a camera in their pocket.  People everywhere are turning to video to document and tell stories of abuse. But all too often, they are not filming safely or effectively, and their videos don’t make a difference.  Witness identifies critical situations and teaches those affected by them the basics of video production, safe and ethical filming techniques, and advocacy strategies.

Michael Premo from Storyline Media.   Storyline is dedicated to building power with story and strategy. We make work that investigates society's biggest challenges. We find the right medium for each story, crafting content in film, photography, audio, theater, installation, and emerging forms. We specialize in creating participatory documentaries; an inclusive and collaborative process that engages communities in designing and carrying out the collection and dissemination of their own story. We collaborate and consult with partners to teach, design, and implement civic engagement strategies that help build a more just, equitable and sustainable future.

Amie Williams from GlobalGirl Media.  GlobalGirl Media (GGM) develops the voice and media literacy of teenage girls and young women, ages 14-22, in under-served communities by teaching them to create and share digital journalism designed to improve scholastic achievement, ignite community activism and spark social change. Through mentoring, training and access to a worldwide network of trans-media distribution partners, GlobalGirl Media harnesses the power of new digital media to empower young women to bring their often-overlooked perspectives onto the global media stage. By turning up the volume of girl’s voices globally, GlobalGirl Media seeks to promote freedom of expression and strengthen substantive journalism that addresses historically marginalized voices, while building self-esteem, leadership capacity, and 21st century skills. Founded in 2010, they have conducted projects in South Africa, Morocco, Kosovo, Chicago, Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

Liz Miller, Professor of Concordia University, Montreal. From Mapping Memories:  Experiences of Refugee Youth Mapping Memories (2007-12) offered over a hundred young individuals the opportunity to recount their stories on their own terms. The photos, exhibits and videos that emerged from this project have been used to build understanding about refugee rights and the diversity of refugee experiences in classrooms, with decision makers and with the larger public.

Ellen Bruno from Bruno Films, Ellen Bruno is an award winning documentary filmmaker based in San Francisco. With a background in international relief work, Ellen’s films have focused on issues at the forefront of human rights.

Featured Assignment

Complete Skylight Master Class on Human Rights MediaThis new online presentation, incorporating text with high quality film clips, explains an innovative method for making and using film to create social change. It is recommended for people interested in filmmaking and documentaries, as well as people interested in human rights and social change. The presentation is self-timed, allowing the participant to move through it at their own pace. The average time to fully participate in this guided learning experience is approximately 6 hrs.  The Master Class platform includes numerous opportunities for online interaction with the Skylight team, as well as with your fellow classmates.

Catalog Description

This course surveys current models for making and using documentary media in the service of human rights practice and activism.  Interrogating concepts such as witness, testimony and evidence, historical memory, transmedia storytelling and convergence, strategic partnerships and impact campaigns, and emergent participatory frameworks, the course explores a variety of approaches to media production, exhibition, distribution and advocacy.  Each course module includes interactions with filmmakers and/or media activists in the field via video conferencing; exploring media products such as films, websites and online tutorials; and critical and practical readings.  Students will develop individual term projects in consultation with the instructor, combining research, production and exhibition.

For more information contact Bev Seckinger or Mette Brogden



File Course Syllabus40.25 KB


Academic Year: 


Course ID and Name: 

Section Number: 

Course Syllabus

Course Policies: 

College of Social and Behavioral Sciences