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Sundance Institute's Film Forward initiative kicks off

The Sundance Institute’s Film Forward: Advancing Cultural Dialogue programme recently kicked off the first leg of its eight-city tour in Imperial Valley/Mexicali with the intention of promoting cross-cultural dialogue through film.

Over the course of four days Film Forward, in partnership with the Imperial County Film Commission and media arts centre Mexicali Rose, presented a series of film screenings, discussions and workshops in venues ranging from cultural centres to a skate shop, from a high school to libraries and from museums to a university.

Elle Toussi followed director Stacy Peralta with Bones Brigade: An Autobiography and director Jerry Rothwell with Town Of Runners for Screendaily as they presented their documentaries to students from all fields of studies at the UABC University, Centro de Estudios y Producción Audiovisual Sala de Cine covering film, communications and media arts.

“I have no idea what we are about to enter,” said Peralta as we crossed the border into Mexicali, Mexico, to his first screening for the day.

What sets this experience apart from all other screenings? The opportunity for the local community and these students to view a film they would not have access to view, meet with the film-makers and get to ask questions with the possibility of an intimate one-on-one session following the film.

“There is the Q&A you do with the audience and there’s the Q&A you do in the lobby,” says Peralta. “One thing we were getting from everybody here is ‘Thank you so much for coming here. Thank you for taking the time to be here. We don’t get the chance to do this often. Nobody comes down here.’”

Considered one of the founding fathers of modern-day skateboarding, Peralta discovered his love for producing, editing and directing back in 1984 when he introduced the world to the Bones Brigade Video Show.

He went on to write and direct the critically acclaimed films Dogtown And Z-Boys in 2001. His most recent documentary, Bones Brigade: An Autobiography, chronicles the development of modern-day skateboarding by delving into the lives of six teenagers from the 1980s who would become one of the most popular skateboarding teams in history.

Peralta’s presence at the university did not go unnoticed. He was quickly spotted and approached by his young fans for autographs and photos. Twenty-year-old communications student Didilia Longoria held her Bones Brigade poster from more than seven years ago, excited just for the opportunity to meet Peralta and see his film.

Screening to a full room of students, Peralta connected with the students during his Q&A. The students expressed their excitement and gratitude. “It’s not just about skateboarding and filming,” said one, “it’s also about giving motivation to us young people. You come here, talk and connect with everyone here without knowing us. That’s a really amazing thing.”

“There are three core audiences for Film Forward,” said Meredith Lavitt, the Institute’s director of Film Forward and Educational Initiatives. “You have the underserved that do not get access to this type of cultural programming; the students; and the film-makers and artists in each community [and] we are trying to create that exchange between artist-to-artist and have the inspiration go both ways.”

“Those conditions to me are what they explained to me what Film Forward is,” said Peralta. “It was like hopping into a backyard pool when I was a kid and skateboarding, except now instead of jumping over the fence to take something… I’m jumping over to give something. It felt real.”

The day was not over for the students at UABC as director Jerry Rothwell headed across the border to screen his latest film Town Of Runners, a documentary about young runners from Bekoji in Ethiopia.

“This kind of visit is very useful for our students,” said UABC coordinator Cristina Conde. “Sometimes all the students make all the same mistakes when we work together. When people like Jerry or Stacy come here, it helps the students and us. The joint venture is great because it changes the point of view of the students.”

Rothwell spent the day screening his film and gave quality time answering questions from the students about their own projects. The students took advantage of getting quality one-on-one time with the director after the screening.

“Films have a unique way of experiencing a culture that is different to your own, from the inside,” said Rothwell. “You can really get into someone’s shoes emotionally and identify with them.”

When asked about the Film Forward programme and his experience, Rothwell continued: “Its a fantastic medium for that sort of dialogue between people from different cultures and recognising the things that we could have in common and the things that we do not. Film Forward is about using films as a way of starting conversations and dialogue from people that come from very different cultures.”

This year the programme will visit eight locations around the world. The remaining seven locations include Bosnia & Herzegovina, China and Taiwan, Colombia, Jordan, the US state of Maine, Puerto Rico and Washington state.

Film-makers are chosen by the Sundance Institute and their partners to participate and travel with the programme. This gives the people in each location a unique opportunity to interact and get feedback from the film-makers at the event.

The next stop is Colombia starting on Mar 18. For a complete list of the films, visit the Film Forward website at www.sundance.org/filmforward/films.

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