Creating Community in Southern Arizona
FILM FORWARD started the year by returning to Tucson, Arizona and joining forces again with The Loft Cinema and the University of Arizona for a host of screenings and workshops. It was a reunion that reinforced community and created new relationships. We were welcomed by many faces from our previous FILM FORWARD trip last June. One repeat young, aspiring filmmaker of mention, was a 17 year old student named Rio. Rio came to almost every FILM FORWARD event in 2010 and again this year, even skipping school to attend Beginners director Mike Mills’ workshop on his creative process – “From Short Films to Features.” Rio has followed FILM FORWARD through our blogs and photos around the world and his enthusiasm for film was infectious. Watching him connect to Mike Mills was truly special. And learning of their continued communication has been even more gratifying.
Tucson was a mix of screenings at The Loft Cinema and additional venues for students and special interest groups and workshops at University of Arizona for students in the Middle Eastern/North African Studies department, Journalism Departments, and the School of Theatre, Film and Television. Ali Samadi Ahadi, (who travelled from Jordan where he was shooting his latest film) discussed the significance of social media and the Arab Spring, and he provided insight into how he structured The Green Wave around blogs and tweets to create a compelling story that lets people in from the outside and moves them. After his screening and workshop, members from the Iranian American community flocked around Ali, inviting him to tea and reveling in the opportunity to discuss with him issues that were so near and dear to their hearts.
At The Loft Cinema Mike Mills addressed an audience of 500 and with great candor answered questions about his film, life and provided an experience that truly connected audience members with the artist. Andrew Okpeaha Maclean screened On the Ice for students and Loft goers as well, but also enjoyed a more intimate screening at Grace St. Paul’s church, which was attended by a mix of refugees and other church goers. All three of his Q&A’s were incredibly engaging as audience members reflected on the moral dilemma presented in his film and connected to situations relevant to their own lives, most notably the community in Sells, Arizona.
FILM FORWARD then traveled to the Tohono O'odham Nation Reservation, in Sells, Arizona. Originally the Community College was set to screen all three films, but a last minute change made by the college due to some technical challenges moved the screenings to the recreation center. With this new venue and an unknown audience we had to ask ourselves, “In the middle of the day, on a reservation that spanned 2.9 million acres and with gas prices soaring, would Tohono O’odham community members be drawn to three screenings in three days during work hours?“ Most indie filmgoers do not even have this cinematic endurance!
We were certain On the Ice would draw an audience and be met with great interest, but we were more apprehensive about the other two films. As predicted, On the Ice was well attended and received. Andrew Okpeaha Maclean had a meaningful conversation with the audience on the parallels between Sells, AZ and Barrow, AK and his path to becoming a filmmaker, which allows him to share stories that are important to him. We were then encouraged by the warm reception The Green Wave and Beginners received -- several audience members attended all three films. Those in attendance from the community of Sells were so thankful to experience a larger, global world through these films. After The Green Wave, two audience members expressed their gratitude for being introduced to the events in Iran, and remarked, “Where was I two years ago, how did I not know this was happening, thank you for opening my eyes!” After the screening of Beginners, two mothers stood up and separately noted that their sons were gay, and that they appreciated a film which was so open and honest. One of the women works at an intervention center on the reservation, and is troubled by the strain homosexuals experience. They all wished films could be made about their people and their stories. Joeagle may be just that storyteller. A young Tohono O’dham tribe member, he spoke for some time with Mike Mills and shared the stories he wants to create.
Sells expanded the FILM FORWARD community, and became a reaffirming experience, reminding us that people everywhere living in all kinds of conditions or circumstances have a natural curiosity and that universal themes do translate between cultures despite privilege, poverty, color, religion and geography. Thank you to Mike, Andrew and Ali for your generosity with your audiences, for your honesty in your discussions and for continuing the conversation over tea, and through emails and photos with new friends in Arizona!