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

Miller’s viewpoint finds articulation in director Riggen’s experience with the film. “The movie was not intended to make an impact. But Hispanic communities in the US embrace it because for the first time, they see themselves in a movie,” Riggen says, adding that the governments in the US and Mexico have used the film in schools to teach students about immigration related issues.

Meanwhile, Chasing Ice takes a close look inside photographer Balog’s ambitious quest to capture a visual representation of climate change by installing cameras around the Arctic from Greenland to Montana to take time-lapse photographs of receding glaciers. The end result is a stunning testimony to the gravity of human impacts on the planet.

To further understanding and generate communications, Orlowski and other team members have sought to build partnerships with different organizations and tour with the film in the US and around the world. It has been shown at the White House and US Congress; a large number of screenings have been done in universities and colleges as “scientific communities realize that they need to learn how to communicate climate change with the public,” Orlowski says.

The biggest conversion the director has seen takes place among those who “are trained to believe global warming is a hoax.”

“People are in shock and have a hard time understanding what they are seeing [on screen],” the 29-year-old director says.

Another primary goal of the Film Forward initiative is to reach out to communities that may not otherwise have access to independent cinema. Over the past three years, the touring program has brought films to places like the Kakuma Refugee camp in the northwest of Kenya near Sudan, the Saginaw Chippewa Reservation in Michigan and a gay and lesbian youth shelter in Nashville.

At an event this year, Film Forward showed The Light in Her Eyes, a documentary shot in Syria that examines the role of women in Islam to a group of girls in ninth and tenth grades at a refugee camp in Jordan.

“It is fantastic for the girls, who are struggling with the Qur’an and what it tells them they should and should not do, to watch a film and see girls in another country struggling with the same thing,” Miller says.

Sundance spirit

Established in 1981 by Robert Redford, the Sundance Institute set its core mission to support independent filmmaking, discover new talents and create an environment where artists can work outside the Hollywood system. The goal has stayed the same over the years, while people at the institute look for different ways to fulfill it.

“We started out to support the inception of filmmaking. Now we support it all the way through distribution,” Miller points out.

As for the Film Forward program, the Sundance veteran admits that it has become increasingly challenging for the nonprofit arts organization to expand while keeping its focus on and siding with filmmakers.

“As a nonprofit organization, we need money to keep us running. But if the dollar doesn’t come with commitment, it makes no sense to us,” she says.

One way to mitigate the problem is to reduce the corporate presence and work with sponsors who share the same values as Sundance and can help to further its mission.

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