Sundance Comes to Harvard


By Cristina Garmendia, News Writer, MPP ‘13

There are no direct flights to Park City, Utah from Boston.  Luckily for our resident film buffs, on March 2-3 a bit of Sundance can be seen at the Gleitsman Social Change Film Forum (GSCFF), hosted by Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership. The GSCFF will bring together social change leaders, filmmakers, and students for screenings and a conversation about some of society’s most pressing issues.

On Saturday, March 3 two films, straight from Sundance 2012, will be screened at the Harvard Film Archive: Finding North and We’re Not Broke. Finding North was an entrant in the U.S. Documentary category while We’re Not Broke wasa nominee for the Grand Jury Prize.

These films cover economic inequality from two very different perspectives: Finding North is about the resurgence of hunger in America, while We’re Not Broke follows activism against corporate tax breaks and economic inequality through the grassroots activities of U.S. Uncut and later, Occupy Wall Street. CPL selected these two films from the 117 screened at Sundance with the help of Sundance Senior Programmer Caroline Libresco. Between screenings will be a panel of filmmakers, as of press time including Karin Hayes, the director of We’re Not Broke.Chad Troutwine

A student-led panel examining the experiences of students and recent alumni active in film and social change will be held on Friday, March 2, at the Charles Hotel. I asked student panelists to answer one question as way of introduction: “How does film relate to social change?”

Chad Troutwine, MCMPA ‘12

Chad has produced twelve films addressing social issues including poverty, education, reproductive rights, election reform, human trafficking, and the cultural impact of Barack Obama’s path to the White House. Three of those films premiered at Sundance.      

Storytelling is the original human art form, and it is as powerful today as ever.  Cinema is one of the most effective ways to tell a story, and for anyone interested in social change it can be the best way to reach and mobilize a large audience.  The film An Inconvenient Truth not only earned an Academy Award and helped former Vice President Al Gore win a Nobel Prize, it almost singlehandedly reinvigorated the environmental movement.  The global climate crisis permeated the international consciousness because of that film.

Seeking to address a similar social challenge, Truth director Davis Guggenheim tackled the American education crisis in Waiting for Superman.  While Superman did not rival Truth in box office revenue, it became the face of the conversation about education reform and helped catapult education reformers Michelle Rhee and Geoffrey Canada into the mainstream.
Juliet Asante, MPA ‘12

Juliet Asante is the President of Assegai, the holding company of Eagle Productions Ltd, one of Ghana’s largest film and television production companies. She is a writer, producer, and director of films and the Ghanaian television soap opera Secrets. She was a member of the Entertainment Council of the World Economic Forum. 

Speaking from an African perspective, Africans by nature are a visual and highly expressive people.  Film is an extension of that medium of self-expression.  But even more important is the terrain of the continent and its limitations to organizing.  Technology, especially in communications and media, is the one language that has penetrated this barrier with ease.  As a continent of over one billion people who speak thousands of different languages, film cuts across boundaries, by telling the human story in a way that resonates, no matter where you are and come from.  For example, the director Jeta Amata uses Black Gold to bring the story of the atrocities in the Delta region to the doorsteps of the people in Nigeria and the world and is working to use this as a tool for action.  Another example of where film sparked social change recently is the YouTube video in Egypt that propelled the Arab Spring uprising.

Talmage Cooley, MCMPA ‘12

Talmage Cooley is a director and producer of four films, with two premiering at Sundance and one shortlisted for the 2006 Academy Award in the Short Documentary category. Two of his films are included in the Sundance Collection at the New York Museum of Modern Art.

Great film stories (whether narrative or documentary) are driven by a protagonist’s fervent desire being thwarted by powerful conflict over and over in an escalating and unrelenting cycle until something breaks and a new order must be established. One of the greatest sources of conflict throughout the history of all storytelling has been man versus society, with society’s demands, flaws and injustices serving as a towering obstacle in the way of the hero’s goals.

Even in the most personal stories, the pressures exerted by society usually play an important role in revealing the greater themes of the story. Through these conflicts between heroes and society, the filmmaker strives to demonstrate not only the problems in society, but that change is possible, for the protagonist, for the audience and even sometimes for society.

In general, the most effective film stories do not attempt to approach social change from a polemical or pedantic posture, but rather strive to create a deep emotional identification with the hero’s struggle against the injustices of society. Through the hero’s journey, the audience hopefully gains greater insight into the state of man in the world and identifies with a vision of how that world is flawed and how it could be better.