The Seattle art scene is vibrant, and there’s no shortage of cinematic celebrations for enthusiasts to attend throughout the year. From the Children’s Film Festival to Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) to Dan Savage’s HUMP!, each covers a range of topics and interests.
Beginning Thursday audiences will head to various venues for the Social Justice Film Festival (SJFF), an annual series of screenings of documentaries and narrative films.
“Right now more than ever — given what’s going on in our country and just in our world in general — it’s easy to feel hopeless, it’s easy to not know how to get involved or how to make a difference,” said SJFF Assistant Director Laura Brady. “Our festival is a place where people can come, they can learn about issues, they can connect to people who are change makers in our world. They can be inspired about how they can actually get involved and then work for a more just world.”
Among the 50 films being shown is “Whose Streets,” which documents the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, after the deadly shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, by Darren Wilson, a White police officer, in 2014. It’s told from the perspective of the people who lived it.
The film includes images of protesters in the streets who are met with a heavy presence of law enforcement wearing riot gear. The film also shows burning buildings and Brown’s mother talking about her son lying in the street for hours after he was shot. Chants and signs with the phrase “hands up, don’t shoot” are woven throughout the documentary. At its Sundance screening earlier this year, the film received a standing ovation.
Director Sabaah Folayan made the documentary to combat the two dimensional portrayal of Brown and other people of color by news outlets. It’s an opportunity for the people to share their own narrative, not from a White lens. Folayan hopes people who watch the film feel empowered and ready to act. “Whose Streets” fits within SJFF’s theme of resistance.
In addition to Black Lives Matter, film topics include immigration, Indigenous voices and prison reform.
“Our Children’s Trust: An introduction” tells the story of 21 youth plaintiffs who are suing the federal government in a landmark climate lawsuit.
In “Sunrise Storyteller” then-16-year-old Director Kasha Sequoia Slavner spends six months abroad to document people creating change in their communities in spite of adversity.
SJFF stands out because it’s solely focused on social justice. Brady said to her knowledge there are no other film festivals like theirs in the United States. Because of its uniqueness, the festival also attracts international filmmakers. The films will be screened at four venues during a six-day period. The festival is in its sixth year.
One film that might raise a few eyebrows is “American Circumcision.” The documentary explores the modern circumcision debate. It shows interviews from those who support the Jewish-ritual-turned-American-custom to those questioning the validity of circumcising male babies.
In the trailer, “intactivists” (intact + activists) are shown carrying signs that read “circumcision is torture,” “circumcision is harmful and unnecessary” and “occupy foreskin.” The nearly two-hour-long film touches on sex, politics and religion.
“I like that film because it’s a topic that most people don’t think of as a social justice issue,” Brady said. “I think that line will be eye-opening, perhaps, or I think at the very least it will make people think and stimulate conversation.”
To help process the films, SJFF producers have set up a number of discussion panels. Before you write off the festival as doom and gloom, Brady said that while the films tackle serious topics, they also chose features that give a glimpse of hope and push innovative solutions.
“Our festival is a way to connect with actual human stories, human stories from all over the world of people that we might never otherwise get to meet in person,” Brady said. “It’s really brought these issues to life for me in an entirely new way, and that changes how I live my life on a day-to-day basis. It changes my perspective of what’s possible as well.”
WHAT: Social Justice Film Festival
WHEN: Nov. 16 – 21
WHERE: Northwest African American Museum, Rainier Arts Center, University of Washington, University Christian Church
COST: Tickets $7 - $15, festival pass $75
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge
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