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Films for Justice

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Behind the Screens

How filmmakers address social issues

By Savit Verma


Whether it’s through marches, strikes, boycotts, or petitions, protesters find ways to speak out about important social issues, including film. Not only does film entertain, but it also portrays a message. Some are hidden while others are the main element of the film. Throughout the film history, there have been many movies made to spread awareness and let people know about the many problems we face in this world. Short films are a popular category in the industry of film for their short length, as it takes up less time to see, which is a helpful characteristic for conveying certain messages on screen . In a full length film, filmmakers have to fill in the time gaps with character development and other details. With a shorter time, there are less gaps which forces the message to be more obvious and direct.

According to Smith, director of I’m New, this is a useful method for spreading awareness and providing information on a social or political issue.

“I would just watch movies to entertain myself, but also to escape the real world,” Smith said. Smith said how movies in general help people find entertainment and fuel their imagination. Besides the coping factor that film brings to the community, it also helps with spreading awareness about certain topics or issues.

“It evolved into my way of honoring the immigrant in English as a second language student

- Marlon Smith, filmmaker

experience,” Smith said, “and also highlighting, you know, some of the challenges that we face that are not often seen,” In order to have a short film address a social issue and have it relate to the people who have experienced it, hearing their perspective and point of view is vital. A method for this is actually to interview them and listen to their experiences from their words. This is used by many documentary filmmakers such as Roopa Gogeni, director of Suddenly Tv.

“I found these kids at this protest, who had made a cardboard camera and started filming with them and filming what they were kind of pretending to tell them themselves” said Gogineni “and they were running around protests, meeting different revolutionaries and protesters and interviewing them. And so I filmed what they were pretending to film in their performance.” said Gogineni. Roopa Gogineni had directed a film called “Suddenly Tv”, which was a documentary about the revolution that is occurring in Sudan.

“I mean, there was a couple times with the protests with attacks when I was there. Yeah, that was pretty scary.”

Gogineni said.

Gogineni had decided to attend to some protests in sudan so that she could see the experience through her own eyes. Sometimes when it comes to understanding people’s view , it may not be possible to get the first hand experience of what they have witnessed.

Smith wanted to make a film to highlight the experience of a ESL student and how they have to face problems that others don’t, and then chose to make his film I’m New for a college project. Smith’s film I’m New, was previewed at three festivals and received multiple awards.

“It won the Western short film at the Hispanic Film Festival.” Smith said.

The film is still going through the process of entering other film festivals, and has gained many compliments and comments.

“I was very surprised to see the number of people who relate it to,” Smith said.

Something that makes film a popular interest and a popular entertainment is when it relates to the audience. It connects both the film and people in that way.

“I really wanted to include very specific moments, you know, that either I experienced or some friends experiences, because I also interviewed my ex classmates, you know, from that time. Smith said. And I asked them, you know,what were some of your experiences? And when you’re talking about with your surroundings with the environment. So the film that I was doing was heavily inspired by like, Latin American Mexican background, because that’s what I know. And, you know, it was kind of like a hard balance of like, how much of your experience do you want to portray versus how do you also portray ESL students in general, accurately, so it was kind of like a tough balance, but then some of my friends encouraged me to be authentic, to be specific. And I just embraced that.”

ESL students, your background, your nationality, what are going to influence the way that you interact

Ella Fields looks through her camera for an outdoors shot during her short film.

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