Films and Documentaries

Using films to encourage reflection and critical thinking in your teaching

Survivors Fund (SURF) friend, and human rights lecturer, Noam Schimmel shares advice on how to leverage the pedagogical and emotive power of films to support your teaching

In teaching about the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, I often screen three full-length films:

Beyond the Gates tells the story of one Tutsi girl and her community at a school in Kigali before and during the genocide. It makes the enormity of the genocide clear while providing a focused and relatable reflection specific to one community. Based on historical fact, it avoids the Hollywood misrepresentations of the film Hotel Rwanda.

Frontline: Ghosts of Rwanda is a PBS documentary featuring interviews and personal reflections, which provides students with extensive political, historical, legal and ethical commentary on the genocide and the complicity of so many world governments in it.

Finally, The Uncondemned illustrates the role of international criminal and human rights laws in advancing justice in Rwanda and prosecuting the crimes of genocide, sexual violence and rape by profiling lawyers, social activists and genocide survivors. This powerful film is a testimony to the power of survivors to seek and achieve a measure of justice and accountability.

My purpose as a teacher is not to provide a particular theoretical template for human rights and ultimate answers to students’ questions. It is to teach a plurality of perspectives in discussion and empower students to form their own opinions from the knowledge they acquire in class and beyond.

The films and other sources they are exposed to help provide them with a foundation for further study and reflection and may enable them to integrate human rights concerns into their lives as students, individuals and citizens. This same approach could be used across dozens of disciplines to encourage further analysis and engagement with the topics being studied.

Extracted from The Campus, Part of Time Higher Education (October 2021)


Survivors Fund (SURF) has a collection of video documentaries that are available for viewing and listening. These are all accessible through the SURF youtube channel, and a selection of films are available in HD through our vimeo channel.

Particular videos of note are:

25 Years of SURF Film – an overview of SURF’s work.

Liliane Umubyeyi – An interview with a SURF Trustee