Wed, May 29, 2013 - Page 12 News List

Cinematic activism

Now in its third year, Film Forward is an initiative of the Sundance Institute that aims to enhance cross-cultural understanding through film

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

Chasing Ice by Jeff Orlowski.

Photo courtesy of CNEX and Sundance Institute

A massive iceberg, about the size of five football fields, quakes and thunders as it collapses into the sea. Glaciers, miles long, which took thousands of years to form, face extinction within a few years. These are the powerful manifestations of climate change captured in Chasing Ice, a feature-length documentary following National Geographic photographer James Balog and his expedition across the Arctic to show how fast the world’s glaciers are melting and their disappearance due to global warming.

Director Jeff Orlowski has lost track of the number of talks, lectures and similar events he has given to discuss related issues since the film’s US premiere last year. Still, a recent effort saw Orlowski taking part in an international tour to show the documentary at a school for migrant workers’ children in Columbia, to hold a workshop in China and to speak in front of a full-house audience in Taipei last Friday.

“We are trying to take the movie to people who need the see it,” Orlowski says, “We have seen the incredible impact [the film makes] on climate change skeptics… and lots of individuals have changed their opinions in terms of how they want to live their lives.”

Orlowski and his multi-award winning documentary were brought to Taiwan as part of the Film Forward program, an initiative of the Sundance Institute that started in 2011 with an aim to promote cross-cultural understanding, dialogue and collaboration. In locations and communities across the US and internationally, the cultural film exchange effort offers screenings, workshops, roundtables and discussions with filmmakers. Orlowski adds that it is an exciting experience to engage with audiences vastly different than those at film festivals.

This year, eight documentary and narrative films were selected to travel to places including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jordan and Puerto Rico. For its leg in Taiwan, which was held in collaboration with the American Institute in Taiwan, CNEX Foundation and Sundance Channel Global, the program featured free screenings, question-and-answer sessions and panel discussions that took place in Taipei, Taoyuan and Hualien during a five-day tour that ended on Sunday.

Reaching out

As idealistic as it may sound, Jill Miller, the lead consultant on the Film Forward program, says Sundance does believe in the power of film to bridge cultures and unite people.

“We talk about the things we all share as human beings, and also things that are very different. Film helps you to understand these things in a non-threatening way. We feel that if people have a better understanding of different cultures, it can bring tolerance,” says Miller, who has worked at Sundance for more than 20 years and just recently stepped down as the institute’s managing director.

According to Miller, works selected for Film Forward don’t have to be shown at the Sundance Film Festival nor do they have to have received support from the institute through its various programs. They are chosen for their unique qualities to build resonance about certain issues. Under the Same Moon, a feature debut by Mexican director Patricia Riggen, for example, “shares the American challenge with the world” as it spins a bittersweet yarn about a Mexican boy’s journey to find his mother, who works as an illegal domestic in Los Angeles. To Miller, the film is a way to engage diverse audiences in dialogue since every community in the world has migrant workers and needs to tackle the issues surrounding immigration.

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