In 2001, the Polish NGO, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR, founded the Human Rights in Film Festival. Beginning 1982, the Helsinki Committee operated in the Polish underground, to establish HFHR seven years later.

Currently, the Helsinki Foundation is one of the most experienced European human rights NGOs. HFHR implements education, intervention, and monitoring programs. A significant portion of its activity concerns human rights in the states of the former Soviet Union.

Since its inception, Warsaw’s Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle (, has been a co-organizer of the festival. CCA is the first and largest interdisciplinary culture and art center in Poland and Eastern Europe, with National Institute of Culture status.

Established in 2005 to support documentary film, WATCH DOCS' third organizer, the Social Institute of Film, endeavors to support socially engaged documentary film from Central and Eastern Europe.