Sundance spans the globe with Film Forward program
8 films, 8 locations • Bringing filmmakers together with audiences in far-off places.
Published: November 2, 2012 11:50AM
Updated: March 6, 2013 11:31PM
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Courtesy photo Gulzar Ahmad Bhat (left) and Neelofar Hamid in the drama "Valley of Saints," in the World Dramatic competition of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

Audiences from Maine to Mexico, from the Columbia River to Colombia, from Bosnia to Jordan and from Puerto Rico to China will be getting a taste of independent film next year, as the Film Forward program rolls on for a third year.

Organizers Thursday announced eight films and eight locations for Film Forward, an international touring program run by the Sundance Institute and the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities in partnership with several federal agencies: the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Institute of Museum and Library Services, along with U.S. embassies and domestic institutions.

The program “helps further our mission to foster artists and audiences,” said Meredith Lavitt, director of Film Forward and Sundance’s educational initiatives.

Film Forward will travel to eight locations — four in the United States, four overseas — from February to September 2013. The U.S. locations are California’s Imperial Valley (crossing the border to serve Mexicali, Mexico), Maine, Washington state and San Juan, Puerto Rico. The four international stops are Bosnia and Herzegovina, China and Taiwan, Colombia and Jordan.

Film Forward doesn’t focus on a traditional movie audience, Lavitt said, but aims to bring films to places that “do not have access to this kind of programming.”

“The program basically brings films to places where perhaps there isn’t a movie theater,” said Mike Cahill, a filmmaker who participated in Film Forward this year.

The heart of Film Forward, Lavitt said, is letting audiences see stories that have universal ideas, no matter their place of origin.

She recalled screening the drama “Winter’s Bone,” a drama about an Appalachian girl (Jennifer Lawrence) seeking her missing father, to audiences in China. “They said, ‘We had no idea there was this level of poverty in the United States,’ ” Lavitt said.

In addition to showing the films, the program brings the makers of two films to each location for panel discussions and student workshops “so there really is a connection between audience and artist,” Lavitt said.

Cahill, who directed the 2011 Sundance Film Festival hit “Another Earth,” called the experience “life-changing.” He traveled in May to Morocco, screening “Another Earth” in little towns, going from school to school for workshops. “All these film students were excited to see the films and talk to the director,” Cahill said. “We would speak on philosophical things, like existentialism and second chances, and then we’d be talking about green-screen camerawork.”

At one school in Casablanca, Cahill recalled, a student asked how he achieved the film’s final shot — in which the movie’s star, Brit Marling, meets a duplicate version of herself. “I asked one of the kids to grab the camera, and we took a blue curtain off the wall and used it as a blue screen,” Cahill said. The students had cameras and editing software and were able to re-create the shot in a few minutes.

“It was cool for the kids to see it,” Cahill said. “What you find are youth populations that are hungry to learn and eat up information.”

Lavitt said the filmmakers get as much out of Film Forward as the audiences. “These audiences do challenge the perspectives of the filmmakers,” she said. “Everyone’s lives do become a little more nuanced.”

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Film Forward picks its films

The following eight films will be screened next year to underserved audiences in the United States and abroad, as part of the Film Forward program presented by the Sundance Institute and the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” • Director Benh Zeitlin’s acclaimed drama set in a mythical Louisiana Bayou community, centering on a 6-year-old girl trying to figure out the universe and her place in it.

“Bones Brigade: An Autobiography” • Stacy Peralta’s documentary about the renegade ’80s skateboarding team that came to influence popular culture around the world.

“Chasing Ice” • Director Jeff Orlowski’s documentary profiles photographer James Balog and his efforts to document in pictures the receding glaciers of the Arctic.

“La Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon)” • Patricia Riggen directed this drama about a 9-year-old Mexican boy who braves all to reunite with his mother, an undocumented worker in the United States.

“The Light in Her Eyes” • A documentary by Julia Meltzer and Laura Nix that profiles a woman Islamic preacher in Damascus, Syria, who teaches her girls that pursuing their ambitions is a way of worshiping God.

“The Loving Story” • Nancy Buirski directs this documentary about Mildred and Richard Loving, who changed history by fighting laws against interracial marriage in Jim Crow-era Virginia.

“Town of Runners” • Jerry Rothwell’s documentary introduces three teenagers from Bekoji, Ethiopia, a rual town that has produced 10 Olympic gold medalists in the past 20 years.

“Valley of Saints” • Writer-director Musa Syeed’s drama takes place at a lake in Kashmir and focuses on two best friends contemplating escape and the beautiful female researcher studying the lake’s environmental degradation.