Seattle’s Social Justice Film Festival and Institute and Northwest Film Forum are presenting Best of the Fest 2021, showcasing the award-winners from the 2020 Social Justice Film Festival that took place this past fall. The mini-fest will run the weekend of Jan. 22-24, entirely online — just like the first time around.
“The year 2020 saw a massive shift in the way we consume film,” SJFFI Managing Director Aurora Martin said. For the first time, the festival pivoted to a virtual format for its 10th iteration in October.
“One of the downsides of it, of course, was losing the sense of community of being in person and the fact that there is something still pretty magical when the in-person, post-film discussions happen right after a powerful set of films where people are moved in a variety of different ways. Some people get really moved into wanting to engage in action because they were enlightened by ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t know this was happening’ or others who were just struck and emotional and sad about it and real reflective. And so that dynamic, in-person, real-time experience and relationships that form between strangers was what was missing.
“But at the same time, I think by going online, we were able to go a bit further to extend our reach beyond the Puget Sound area, beyond the Seattle area in particular, ’cause we’re located here and we’re still a very grassroots, seasonal team of people who are juggling a number of things. So, the lead up to the online festival was really wanting to see, since about March or April, what we could do to do some online community film engagements. .... We reached out to Northwest Film Forum and started to think about different events.
“We then had more opportunity for people, both filmmakers and community leaders who were interested and able to be available virtually, because the cost of flying people in and the logistics of scheduling actually became less of a barrier.
“For example, we were able to do a prerecorded statement from Maatalii Okalik, who is one of the featured Inuit youth women leaders in ‘The Last Ice.’ That was produced by National Geographic, and about the fact that it was produced by National Geographic — we really thought a million times over whether it was a film that really fit our festival.”
They decided to include the film after talking with Maatalii and hearing the story she rather than National Geographic was able to tell was so powerful. And, this virtual year of the festival was ideal.
“She was in Greenland on a totally different time zone and she was able to share her perspective of what it was like to participate in the storytelling of it in the framing of the documentary, as well as the larger issues of climate change and her community’s political rise and power.” Martin said. “So there we were, from all over the world, being able to have a conversation that was intended to be a post-film discussion, that was a social justice commentary to the films that we saw.
“Another incredibly, incredibly powerful post-film discussion that we had was related to ‘Since I Been Down,’ our award-winning, gold-prize documentary film on prisoner rights and produced by Gilda Sheppard, a local African American filmmaker and professor out of Evergreen State College.”
“Since I Been Down” tells multiple stories, including the story of Kimonti Carter, who is an activist for education from prison. He participated in one of the festival’s post-film discussions.
“It was a transformative conversation,” Martin said, “and it was also a starkly sad, harsh reality whenever his time limit would come up, because the recorded message of ‘you have two minutes until this call is finished’ sort of thing.
“It was a powerful discussion because all the speakers got a chance to speak, but the people who got to speak up most and tell their story and tell their truth were Tonya [Wilson, a reentry coordinator and prison survivor from Tacoma] and Kimonti. And I think that was pretty transformative for the other panelists themselves.”
Titled “TRANSFORM: Another World is Possible,” the festival presented films about a variety of social justice issues: racial equity, prisoner justice, the fight for reproductive rights, LGBTQIA+ visibility and the urgency of environmental reparations.
“Adapting to an online format allowed audiences across the country to engage with documentaries and stories calling for a reckoning of the world that was taking shape before our eyes in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic,” Martin said.
“We had people participating from all over the country. When we look back at it, we had more than what we would normally have show up in person.
“The reach and the ability to actually bring in those different voices and to think about how it is in this moment that virtual reality and online relationships and online community building can actually be done in a positive light for purposes of transcending boundaries and creating bridges — that’s what I saw. That’s what I saw. And that was the hope. That was the hope.”
The mini-festival retrospective is available through purchase of single tickets to a block of films or of passes, both available on sliding scales, at http://socialjusticefilmfestival.org/bestofthefest. The organizers encourage attendees to “pay what you can.”
The free panel discussions are available on SJFFI’s Facebook page.
The mini-fest program is made of six blocks, chosen from the October festival’s 25 blocks, of short and feature-length films centered on themes of reproductive justice, racial parity, Indigenous futures and more. As a disclaimer, which can be taken as a preview, the organizers say their selections “run the continuum of pain, celebration, heartache, injustice and perseverance.”
Read more in the Jan. 13-19, 2021 issue.