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Libraries and Museums are Major Contributors to the Success of Film Forward

December 15, 2011 ET

Author: Nancy Rogers, IMLS Office of Strategic Partnerships

Libraries and museums are anchor institutions for communities all over the planet -- safe spaces where ideas are welcome and where learning is central. That makes them perfect collaborators with Film Forward, an initiative of the Sundance Institute, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, IMLS, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Film Forward is a cultural exchange

program designed to enhance cross-cultural understanding, collaboration, and dialogue around the globe by engaging audiences through the exhibition of film and conversation with filmmakers. Libraries and museums are playing a big role in the program’s success.

Last year, Film Forward went on a journey to seven sites within the U.S. – Nashville, Tennessee; Tucson, Arizona; New York City (the Bronx); Jackson, Mississippi; Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, Washington, DC., and Puerto Rico. In addition, events took place in China, Kenya (at a refugee camp), Morocco, and Uganda, with an extra showing at UNESCO in Paris. At all sites, IMLS worked with our partners to ensure that museums and libraries were central to the program.

A Mississippi Museum of Art volunteer welcomes people to an outdoor screening of a Film Forward selection held at the museum. Photo by Jacqueline Carlson.

For example a branch of the Nashville Public Library located in the midst of the city’s Kurdish community hosted one of the showings. The film, Son of Babylon, the wrenching story of a Kurdish grandmother and her grandson on a journey to find their son/father, who had disappeared into the maze of Saddam Hussein’s prisons, elicited intense conversations among the audience. The Mississippi Museum of Art hosted the opening event in that state, a showing of a touching Indian film, Udaan, which begins in a boys’ boarding school. Young people made up much of the audience, since the primary partner for the events in Jackson was the Piney Woods School, a historically African-American boarding school. The filmmaker and Sundance staff found the discussions exciting and multicultural in nature, with many of the young people identifying with the issues raised by the film. And in Puerto Rico, two major museums, the Museum de Arte de Puerto Rico and the Museo de Arte de Ponce, were the venues for many of the films. On the opening night, 700 people tried to attend the showing in an auditorium holding 400, and every event was oversubscribed.

Museo de Arte de Ponce Director Agustin Arteaga (second from right) with filmmakers and other participants in Film Forward's Puerto Rico stop. Photo by Chris Reddish.

Film Forward is now entering its second year, with ten more films chosen – six from the U.S. and four from abroad. Five of them are documentaries and five are narrative (or fictional) films. Domestic venues will be the Central Valley, California; the Chickasaw Reservation, Oklahoma; Puerto Rico, and Tucson, Arizona. The foreign sites will include Beijing, China; New Delhi, India; Rabat, Morocco; and Bogota, Colombia. IMLS is already working to bring people in these sites to their local libraries and museums, so that they can connect with these wonderful films, discussions, and ideas.

All of the film directors are excited and enthusiastic about participating in Film Forward, which will put them in touch with new audiences. They are prepared to lead discussions on the major themes of this year’s films: transformation, identity, and coming of age. As Lixin Fan, the young Chinese director of one of the films in last year’s program, recently told this year’s featured filmmakers: “This will be an amazing journey; embrace and enjoy.” Libraries and museums will add their spaces and their connections to their communities to Film Forward, which can only deepen the journey of this vital program.

Please visit the Film Forward Web site for more information.