The Asia Pacific Peace Studies Institute (APPSI) at HNU hosted the opening days of the 15th annual Oakland International Film Festival, from April 4 through April 6, on campus in the Valley Center for the Performing Arts. The events included screenings of feature films and short films, discussions with filmmakers and participants, and live music performances.
The first day of the festival’s residency at HNU included a screening of Guangzhou Dream Factory, a documentary film by Christiane Badgley and Erica Marcus, which focuses on African immigrants working and living in Guangzhou, China, as workers, small-scale entrepreneurs, traders, and factory owners. The opening night's programming was presented by the Oakland Film Society, APPSI, and the Professor Yuan-Li Wu Economics Speaker Series. Following the screening, Badgley, Marcus, and David Roach, the executive director of the festival, participated in a discussion and took questions from the audience.
When asked about the film’s development, Badgley discussed how she and Marcus saw it evolve as they were working on it. “I think that in terms of the narrative of the film, it changed because of what we saw. Like I say in the film, everything seemed initially so amazing, and positive, and dynamic, and there certainly is this great entrepreneurial spirit and these people are so resilient and creative. But at the same time over this period of years, just seeing some of the struggles people were going through, I couldn’t help but think why are these people not able to do what they want to do back home? We just felt it was important to talk about those challenges, but in a way that would allow people to see that the people themselves are really striving, and dynamic, and trying to do the best they can, but there’s so much that is working against them. So, the film kind of ended up coming back to Africa in a way that maybe initially we didn’t anticipate.”
The first night of the festival concluded with a networking reception.
The second day of the festival started in the afternoon with a series of short-film screenings, organized by theme. The first set of films explored the theme of “Restorative Justice” and included screenings of Walk With Me, from the Hartley Film Foundation, and AmeriKa, by Ryan Ward. After the screenings, Sophia Park, SNJM, PhD, assistant professor of religious studies and philosophy at HNU, Amy Jamgochian, PhD, academic program director of the Prison University Project, Mackenzie Gruer, producer and co-star of AmeriKa, and Ward, who directed, wrote, and co-starred in AmeriKa, participated in a panel discussion about the two films.
Walk With Me is a documentary about the Church of Gethsemane in Brooklyn, New York, a Presbyterian church that focuses on ministering to prisoners and ex-prisoners and their families. The film explores the ways that the church has affected the lives of its congregants. During the panel discussion, Jamgochian spoke about her reaction to the film. “It seems like the film’s saying, ‘How can we create a diverse society?’ You know I almost feel like it’s about reparations. For me, it is,” she said. “It’s a question of how we all mess up all the time, but we still want to be trying.”
The short film AmeriKa imagines an alternate history in which slave traders from Africa captured people from Europe and put them into slavery in the U.S. In the U.S. of AmeriKa, African-Americans are the majority population in the country, Swahili is the dominant language, and white people are a minority population. Speaking about the motivation behind the film, Ward said that it started for him as a thought experiment. “I was trying to change myself. I was trying to understand something that’s not my experience. I guess the reason that we wanted to reverse it was that I always find if I’m watching a story and there’s an African-American protagonist, there is a subtle distance for me, and I know that I don’t know their experience 100%, so I can’t totally relate. I can relate, but I can’t totally relate, you know what I mean?” he said. “This movie is an attempt to put white people in that position where there is no distance. If I’m white and I’m watching it, that’s me. And so I thought maybe that would help to make it more real. This isn’t really happening, but what if it did? I think that’s the point of art—to try to make us feel things that we don’t normally feel.”
The second set of the afternoon focused on young filmmakers and included the films Cultivating Community, by Jasmine Ehrhardt, The Seated Siren, by Sylvia Colt-Lacayo, and Sifu, by Walden Smith, all of whom belong to the Factory, a video-production collective run by the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC).
After the screenings, Sarah Gonzalez and Diana Yip, instructors at BAVC’s Factory, joined David Roach for a discussion of the films, the mission of the Factory, and the ways in which they encourage young filmmakers. “Really listening to them [the students] and really fostering a safe space in the community is one of our foundations at BAVC,” Gonzalez said. “But also on a personal level, it’s hard to teach someone who you don’t know. You have to really know what they care about and where they’re at and we’re really lucky to have a youth program where we get to foster those relationships in the beginning in order to help them learn through their process.”
Yip echoed Gonzalez’s comments. “Just because I’m an instructor doesn’t mean I’m better. It doesn’t mean that I know everything. I really like to just kind of make a space for them [the students] to talk about what they think or just for them to share their opinions. But, yeah, young people know what’s going on in the world. We have a lot of students at BAVC who talk about the political climate and are really passionate about it or passionate about changing it. It’s kind of fun to talk about. Sometimes it’s hard to talk about that stuff with adults. Young people are kind of more real in that sense and they don’t have a filter.”
The final offerings for the second day of the festival included screenings of Forgiveness, by Sati Gossett, Visions of Warriors, by Ming Lai; a networking reception followed by Goddesses of Nature, a photo exhibit by Gerald Hoffman; and evening screenings of Masters of Rhythm, by Eve A. Ma, and Yemanjá: Wisdom from the African Heart of Brazil, by Donna Roberts.
A series of short-film screenings concluded the festival’s stay at HNU on April 6. The films screened included Surf Wasted, by Clifford Kapono; I Am Ayotzinapa, by Daniel Chávez Ontiveros and Kadri Koop; Born Fighter, by Daniel Chávez Ontiveros; Silentium Dei, by Atilla Rostas; Now’s A Bad Time, by Michael Oberst; Walls, by Miguel López Beraza; ¿Señor O Señorito?, by Cristina Piernas and Victoria Ruiz; Ace, by Morgan Nichols; AmeriKa, by Ryan Ward; The Way of Life, by Keiya Ando; and Sifu, by Walden Smith.