When Festival curator Brent Kliewer and Festival director Diane Schneier Perrin were selecting films for the 2012 Santa Fe Film Festival, they noticed a theme emerging in many of the productions that reflected a certain “zeitgeist” going on around the globe. Whether narrative or documentary, feature or short, it seemed that the films all had a passion and commitment to finding meaning in the world. “What we noticed were films made with a real intent to say something, that was in some way a call to enable action,” Schneier Perrin said when explaining how the idea for the “Changing the World Through Films” panel discussion came about.
Whether fighting to protect a Central American indigenous culture as in “Garifuna in Peril”, or preserve a language in “The Young Ancestors”, or save a life and restore human dignity in “Little Dancer”, the ultimate goal was the same: to facilitate action.
Whereas narrative filmmakers often want more control over a story’s direction, with a documentary format the story often reveals itself as the project moves forward.
For example, “Dave” director Eric Geadelmann said when they were nearing completion of the film, they discovered that both mentor and teen really had the same goal: for each to find and reconcile with their estranged fathers.
When Schneier Perrin asked each panelist why they chose a narrative format over documentary style, a “Garifuna in Peril” filmmaker replied: “We scripted the film so that we could teach what we wanted to teach and show how indigenous language is involved in everyday life.”
Schneier Perrin went on to ask the panel what inspired them to make their films. “The Young Ancestors” director, Aimee Broustra, replied that although she wanted to reach native Tewa speakers, her greatest hopes were for her film to be shown in classrooms across America, and for it to reach the iPod generation. “From Zimbabwe to Santa Fe” director Cristina McCandless said that she wanted to show the world that three non-victimized women could make an incredible journey to connect with a global marketplace.
Speaking on the topic of expanding out of festival audiences and into wider distribution, George Jecel (“Little Dancer”) cautioned the audience about becoming too attached to a film’s issue: “A film is only as powerful as it’s being seen by an audience. If you become [too] involved in a social issue, how do you become able to make your film?”
Films like “The Young Ancestors” have found distribution with educational audiences, and Bernadine Santistevan’s animated film “Wolf Dog Tales” has garnered interest from the Smithsonian Institution.
At the end of the panel discussion, an audience member asked how communities—such as those depicted in “Rooted Lands” about natural gas fracking in New Mexico—could survive against the well-financed oil and gas industry. Director Renea Roberts replied that community involvement was key throughout the process. Oil and gas officials told the community they had no chance. Citizens from the predominantly Hispanic rural villages of Mora and San Miguel Counties (labeled among the poorest communities in the United States) “stood up to defend their heritage and it has made a difference,” Roberts said. She feels that one of the most gratifying aspects of making the film has been that some of its largest audience has been high school and college students who have added their voices to the outcry against fracking.
Hosted by Evoke Gallery with a lunch and dessert sponsored by Il Piatto, Saturday’s panel “Changing the World Through Films” emphasized the important points of activist filmmaking: enabling action, revealing story, and distributing beyond the festival market.
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