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Chicago International Social Change Film Festival

Thu, Oct 11, 2012

Oftentimes, after we’ve enjoyed a snarky romantic comedy or a fiery, action-packed thriller at the movies, we chat about the quirks of the film with our friends for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, and then it’s dropped. We go back to our lives and head home without giving the content of that film a second thought.

But after attending even one single screening at the Chicago International Social Change Film Festival (CISCFF) from October 5 -7 at Showplace Icon (150 W. Roosevelt Road), it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll exit the theatre with a desire to enforce change, a thirst to make an impact and a need to go out and take action.

“Every day, you watch the news and read articles about all the serious issues going on in the world… homelessness, the seriousness of disenfranchisement or issues relating to people not having access to good food and water that they need to survive,” said Todd Belcore, vice president of CISCFF. “This [film festival] is an actual vehicle for [the public] to not only hear about those issues, but to learn about them and also be in a position to do something about it… to be inspired to create social change.”

The Chicago International Social Change Film Festival will feature 60 films from 21 different countries that were selected from hundreds of submissions. What’s more, this festival includes even more than film screenings and panel discussions; there’s a fashion show, art show and live music to fortify an exciting basis for concepts of social change to flourish.

Within this wide selection of films, CISCFF hopes to fully encapsulate its mission “to encourage and support the work of independent filmmakers from all around the world. The filmmaker is able to promote their product as a valuable contribution to the understanding of social change. In other words, the independent film is a tool toward better world understanding of the issues facing society today and how to change them.”

The goals CISCFF has expressed in choosing the films that make up this year’s lineup include:

– Give a voice and exposure to issues that are relevant to our communities.
– Foster discourse regarding the social issues.
– Increase the profile of films and filmmakers who produce films that promote social change.
– Provide a unique way for companies to show their support for communities and the arts.
– Create a forum where unconnected networks can be leveraged to increase positive exposure and expand the brand recognition of all parties.

This is actually the debut year for CISCFF and the president, Emile Cambry, Jr., is elated to see his long-planned project finally come to life. As the founder and CEO of the 21st Century Youth Project, his organization teaches advanced technology to kids as a path to opportunity and shows them how they can “become designers of the future” in creating mobile apps and much more. He came up with the idea to create a documentary featuring the progress his students have made, going from “not knowing anything about computers to acquiring advanced computer skills” that most adults don’t even possess. He felt that by capturing the struggles and triumphs of their journey through film, he could inspire the public to pledge their support to these youth.

“As a filmmaker, I’m always trying to think, ‘OK, where can we show this type of film?’ And there were some documentary film festivals, but they were mostly focused on more international issues and few local issues. And it wasn’t a good mix of documentary, animated film or narrative to talk about making the world a better place,” Cambry explained. “[I’d also] been watching a lot of films and always thinking about the way in which they can inspire the viewer to make a difference… so I started thinking about who I could partner with in something like this.”

By pure coincidence, Cambry shared his ideas for a film festival with Belcore, a staff attorney at Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and Equal Justice Works Fellow. It seemed a bit of kismet as they shared an intense passion for film as a medium of social change.

“Todd wasn’t focused on how much work it was going to be. He was focused on [whether or not] it was going to make the community better,” Cambry said.

In order to acquire submissions for their newfound film festival, Cambry and Belcore utilized WithoutABox, an online application submission service for film festivals. “Essentially, it’s a kind of search engine for all different types of festivals where filmmakers connect with film festivals,” Cambry explained.

In narrowing down the films that would be in the actual competition, they gauged each work based on a number of criteria, including a strong message on the issue at hand, the educational impact, the power of the narrative and – most importantly – whether or not it was truly evoking.

“[We asked], ‘Does this inspire you to want to take action? I think that’s the biggest thing that we wanted to represent… not just ideas, but action,” said Cambry. “So is this something that’s going to inspire people to want to do something about it?”

They were extremely thrilled with not only the passionate response from filmmakers throughout the world, but also the finesse of the films that were submitted. “Amongst the 60 films that we are going to screen, they’re all super high-quality. I think that’s the one thing that I’ve been very impressed with as a filmmaker,” Cambry said.

The films that are featured this year address a wide range of topics and the following films are just a minor excerpt of the lineup and should give you a small taste of what to expect:

A Little Revolution – A Story of Suicides and Dreams (59 min, India, Director: Harpreet Kaur): follows the remarkable journey of filmmaker Harpreet Kaur, who travels from the rural villages of Punjab to the capital of India with children of farmers who’ve committed suicide. She confronts the government’s highest officials with the hope that they will understand the effects of their policies and avail the opportunity to help these children.

The Bully Trap (5 min, Singapore, Director: Sangeeta Nambiar): a short film that hopes to end the vicious cycle of bullying that seems so prevalent amongst kids today.

Carbon for Water (22 min, USA, Director: Evan Abramson): In Kenya’s Western Province, most drinking water is contaminated. The wood many Kenyans use to boil this water to make it safe is increasingly valuable. Women and girls, who bear the responsibility for finding water and fuel, often miss school or work while seeking both fuel and water. Some even encounter sexual violence. Yet waterborne illness remains a daily – and life-threatening – reality for them and their families.

Found (3 min, Canada: Director: Gabriela Esquivel): a girl goes through life facing rejection, only to find out it is because of her skin color.

Maestra (33 min, Cuba, Director: Catherine Murphy): explores the experience of nine women who, as young girls, taught on the Cuban Literacy Campaign of 1961. The film begins with archival footage from the UN General Assembly in September 1961, when Cuba announced it would eradicate illiteracy in one year.

Paper Planes (15 min, Australia, Director: Storm Ashwood): tells the story of Alier, a young boy who is forced to flee his home in Africa when civil war breaks out. He befriends a UN soldier and is subsequently kidnapped by rebels. A boy confused for a father figure, he soon finds himself trapped between African militia, UN peacekeepers and a country being torn to shreds.
On opening night, attendees will have a “Special Sneak Peek” of a new film currently in the works by Kartemquin Films and Spargel Productions called The Homestretch.

“The film tracks several students in the Chicago Public School system who are, in fact, homeless, which is something that more people need to know about and very few people actually have any idea of how large of a demographic that is,” Cambry said. The issue of homelessness, Cambry explained, is pervasive to our society and ever-present, even when we don’t – or can’t – always openly recognize it. That is why this film is ultra relevant.

Cambry is also very proud to preview a Kartemquin film in particular because of this production company’s elite status. “Kartemquin is pretty much the biggest social change filmmaking house that’s out there and we’re fortunate enough that they’re based in Chicago,” he said. “This is a big profile for our festival and a testament towards the fact that there are not many venues to showcase these kinds of films.” Cambry is more than willing to be that platform for social change cinematography.

The Microlending Project will be the Opening Night film. Cambry is excited to highlight yet another social and policy-related topic that is often overlooked: microfinancing. This film is an independently produced feature documentary centered on the current state of global microfinance to women as a tool for alleviating poverty.

What’s even more unique about this film is that – in conjunction with the premiere – “Seeds” will also be launched, a social game for mobile microlending as part of CISCFF’s social outreach initiative. Moviegoers will receive a free credit to make a loan through the game with the purchase of their tickets and will be encouraged to download the game as they leave the theater. Seeds will connect lenders and borrowers through direct mobile money transfer. The initiative will launch in Nairobi, Kenya with later domestic lending opportunities in cities like Canton, Ohio, the director’s hometown.

“[Seeds] is something that can be done in a creative way to get [the audience] to think about innovative solutions to try and make the world better,” Cambry said.

But Cambry also hopes that while people are excited about and open to making monetary donations to many different causes, they will go a step even further and give of their time. “[I measure] the success of our festival not by how many dollars are generated, but also by how many volunteer hours [are donated],” Cambry said. He explained that after most every film, hosts and panelists will announce different ways that the audience can get involved and give of their time.

“Our job from the film festival perspective is to try to align different organizations and people and put processes in place to lower the barriers [of volunteering so that people can] actually act and help,” Cambry said.

“No matter how committed you are about making social change a reality, there’s still so much that we don’t hear about. And so for me to be sitting here and watching these films and being educated and crying about certain issues that I had no concept of beforehand is really a testament to how important this film festival really is,” Belcore added. “And that’s the hope… that people who may normally think that they know all there is to know about these things find something else out that inspires them so they can be involved and do more to create social change.”

If you would like to purchase tickets to the Chicago International Social Change Film Festival or would like to take a look at the full lineup of films, visit chicagosocialchange.org. You can also find more information on how you might be able to support CISCFF and its endeavors to positively impact the world through film.

Written by Brittany Langmeyer,
StreetWise Director of Marketing & Design

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