New film festivals are reason for cautious optimism, at least for cinephiles. They often bring new films and perspectives to audiences and in the best of cases, broaden one's horizons. The 2014 inaugural Rated SR -- Socially Relevant Film Festival at the Quad certainly accomplished both these things. Organized by genre, theme and country of origin, the different sessions brought a diverse and eye-opening group of over fifty films from eighteen countries to downtown Manhattan audiences, each one presumably carrying with it a "social relevant message" of some importance.
The films presented dealt with everything from the little-known Hamshen Armenian Community in Turkey which was forcibly converted to Islam over the centuries (Hamshen Community at a Crossroads), to a beauty academy in Tel Aviv that brings together Palestinian and Israeli women in uncommon friendship (From The Black You Make Color). These are the types of movies that rarely receive theatrical releases in the United states, but that deliver important messages. Jessica Vale's heart rending Small Small Things about the brutal rape of a 6 -year-old girl in Liberia won the Grand Prize feature Competition and a few smaller awards, while Carol Mansour's Not Who We Are, about recent Syrian women refugees in Lebanon, won the documentary feature competition.
I also attended a series of powerful and informative short environmental documentaries -- the impact of these films came home as filmmaker after filmmaker reminded viewers that they are all stewards of planet Earth. Corny to say, but true nonetheless. The most compelling of these shorts was without a doubt Gwendolen Cates' Guswenta (Two Row Wumpum) which covered the "Two Row Treaty" signed by the Dutch and the Mohawks (or Haudenosaunee) in 1613. The rows were meant to symbolize the paths of these two people people who agreed to advance and trade side-by-side and in peace. Needless to say, the treaty wasn't enforced for very long. Yet some four hundred years later, its spirit was born again as one row of Mohawks and another of white "allies" canoed from Upstate down to the United Nations in Manhattan to remind the world and the United States government in particular of its obligations to indigenous people. The film also recalls the strong but little-known influence of the Mohawk beliefs on our own American constitution.
Amy Goodman provided a rousing key note address to a festival that will hopefully last well into the future.
(All of the films presented at the festival will be streamed by IndiePix in the coming year.)