10-day UN film festival marks closing weekend

Oct. 29, 2010, 3:01 a.m.

The world comes to Stanford through film for 10 days every year through the United Nations Association Film Festival (UNAFF), now in its 13th year of showing international documentary films to the Stanford campus and greater Bay Area community, including Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and San Francisco theaters.

The festival kicked off last Friday and has been running full speed since, showing four to nine films a day, plus holding panel discussions and receptions with filmmakers on international topics. The festial has its closing night this Sunday.

“Friday’s topic is war and peace, Saturday’s is environmental issues, and Sunday’s is securities and liberties,” said Jasmina Bojic, the festival’s founder and executive director. “Sunday’s films are also a bit scary because it’s Halloween and the topic is appropriate—plus, it’s the 13th year.”

In its first year, the festival spanned three days. Now, it’s a 10-day festival with 60 films, for which the selection committee received 600 submissions. Thirty-six documentary filmmakers, including several alumni, are visiting campus during the festival for in-person panels and appearances.

The festival, whose theme this year is “Population—Migration—Globalization,” receives funding support from 138 sponsors, Bojic said, many of which are Stanford departments or organizations. For Bojic, the festival’s continued and successful growth has been a personally satisfying progression.

“My vision is already fulfilled in a sense because I wanted this film festival to be connected to Stanford, Palo Alto and East Palo Alto, getting to reach all ethnic groups, and to have the films into the different departments at Stanford,” she said. “We would love to have more financial support—funding is a huge issue, but we’re trying to attract Stanford alumni interested in film and human rights issues.”

For Ronny Hamed ’10, a volunteer with UNAFF who took a film seminar taught by Bojic last year, the appeal of the festival’s content is its delicate approach to decidedly sensitive and complex topics.

“It is interesting to observe the approach a filmmaker takes with his or her ‘characters,’” Hamed wrote in an e-mail to The Daily. “In some cases, there is a clear distinction in the roles of protagonist and antagonist, especially when the film focuses on the plight of victims of human rights abuses.”

“Meanwhile, other films portray the ambiguous nature of their characters with regard to their values, decisions, and actions, demonstrating the complex interplay of environment and individual, cultural differences and international rights laws, and the severity of all the factors involved in these non-fictional circumstances,” he added.

Twenty movies are still to be aired throughout Friday, Saturday and Sunday, along with one panel and a closing-night party on Sunday. Bojic pointed to “Rapping in Tehran,” the final movie on Saturday night, and “Let’s Make Money,” Sunday night’s closer, as films not to miss.

Hamed served on the jury selection committee and spent the summer selecting films for the festival.

“We, as a collective group, then went through the difficult and occasionally frustrating and emotionally overwhelming process of limiting the final list to 60 films,” he said. “It was an arduous task but a very rewarding and thought-provoking learning experience.”

Bojic sees the film festival as a jumping point for other academic experiences, such as opportunities to talk with film directors as well as engage in the new “Camera as Witness” program, which lets student groups share the films at group events.

“Sharing these films is an opportunity to discuss the issues behind them,” she said. “There aren’t Hollywood type films where you see them, then leave and don’t care. You think about these films for a longer time afterward.”

The festival gets its namesake affiliation from the United Nations Association in Palo Alto.

In all, Bojic thinks that the incentive for students to partake in the festival’s offerings are high.

“This is the best passport for students to learn about world cultures,” she said. “And it’s free.”

Ellen Huet is currently a senior staff writer at The Daily; she joined the staff in fall 2008 and served one volume as managing news editor in fall and early winter of 2010-2011. Reach her at ehuet at stanford dot edu. Fan mail and sternly worded complaints are equally welcome.

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