Film Forward made its second international trip in early March with filmmakers Cherien Dabis, (Ameerka), and Havana Marking (Afghan Star) conducting a series of conversations and screenings with audiences in Istanbul, Eskisehir and Ankara Turkey. To comprehend the power of Film Forward’s cultural engagement, one needs to understand the current place of film in the country. The !F Istanbul AFM International Film Festival, which included a special section on Film Forward films, is the country's largest independent film festival, and it coincides with the reemergence of Turkish film and its role in offering diverse perspectives on cultural and social issues in this conservative country. As a result all the screenings and conversations in Turkey were rich and probing, touching on politics, culture and experiences evoked by the films.
Cherien Dabis whose film Amreeka, is a semi-autobiographical story of her family’s experience as Palestinians living in America during the start of the first Gulf War was asked this question about stereotypes and racism in one of her screenings, which she touches on in her blog.
“The funniest question had to do with representation. It went something like this: "Minorities aren’t really represented in the U.S. and when they are, they’re not well represented. Take the Chinese Americans, for example. They’re terribly misrepresented. Do you ever see yourself trying to represent them?" At that point, I think I may have laughed. The question caught me off guard. I don’t feel qualified to represent the Chinese American experience, I replied, flattered that someone thought I could even begin to do another people justice. I think I’ll probably continue to represent Arabs and Arab Americans to the best of my limited ability. But I do hope that one day, we’ll be able to see all colors and ethnicities of people on all size screens in stories that aren’t necessarily about their “otherness of the audience and the filmmaker’s alike.”
Havana Marking’s documentary Afghan Star tells the story of a music contest where women and men compete sometimes at the risk of death and people vote with their cell phones. Audiences drew connections to the very democratic struggle for civil and human rights as Havana relates in the following excerpt.
“People saw similarities between Setara – the star of Afghan Star – and Rosa Parks – the heroic African American woman who refused to sit in a black section of the bus in the ‘50s. We discussed ideas of society change and what Turkey is going through right now. We agreed that for other reasons too Afghan Star reminded the audience of the U.S. in the 1950s and 60s. That was the first time that black and white musicians performed on stage together as equals. Likewise black and white young people watched from the audience on the same dance floor. In this Afghan setting it was the first time in a very long time that all the ethnic groups had been equals – both on stage and in the audience and in the value of their vote.”
Both filmmakers commented on the audiences and how they were such a cross-section of the population—young and old, trendy and traditional, students and filmgoers. One of the surprises of the trip was the participation of US Ambassador to Turkey Francis J. Ricciardone and Afghanistan Ambassador Rabbani, who attended Afghan Star and as Marking related later:
“It is exciting, but always a little nerve wracking when real “experts” on an issue that you cover in the film are watching. The U.S. Ambassador was last posted in Kabul, and he and his wife had loved their time there. The Afghan ambassador was born to the world of politics – his father was a very influential politician and Mujahedeen leader. They explained that Turkey was a key player in the Afghan situation, playing the role of diplomatic mediator.”
More about Film Forward can be found at the Sundance Institute.