By Evan Welsh
In America’s current political climate, films elevating voices of the marginalized have become more and more necessary with every passing day. For the past eight years, a group at Tacoma Community College (TCC) has given a platform for films of this nature with the Diversity Film Festival. This year it has focused on curating films that ask the question of what it means to be an American.
The theme for this year’s festival is “Defining America,” a perfect example of what the festival strives to be. “TCC’s Diversity Film Festival is a six-day film festival held at the Grand Cinema usually in April. The festival seeks to explore and celebrate individual and cultural differences through film. We feature dramatic and documentary films that promise to both entertain and inspire,” Allison Muir, a co-chair of the diversity film committee at Tacoma Community College, said.
The film festival is nearly a decade old and has grown substantially since its inception.
“The Diversity Film Committee started as a sub-committee of TCC’s President’s Council on Equity and Diversity in 2009 when Alan Waugh, a faculty member, thought it would be good to use film as a medium to discuss diverse issues. The first TCC Diversity Film Festival at the Grand was in April of 2011. The festival has grown quite a bit over the past eight years,” Muir said.
This year’s lineup features six films released within the past decade, more than half of which were released in the past two years. The festival begins with “Gook,” a film whose title is sure to turn some heads. It discusses strained and divided race relations in America with a story of two Korean brothers who must defend their shoe store after riots break out in aftermath of the verdict of the Rodney King beating. After the showing of “Gook,” which is at 2 p.m. April 15, there will be an opening-day gala held at The Grand Cinema.
That film is followed by “Out of State,” a documentary about Hawaiian prisoners who are transferred to a for-profit prison in Arizona. After “Out of State,” “Radio Dreams” tells the story of Hamid, an Iranian immigrant looking to pursue his writing dreams in America only to find himself working at a small Iranian radio station. “Whose Streets?” is a documentary that focuses on the protests after Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson.
The final two films of the festival are “Winter’s Bone” and “East Side Sushi.” The first features a teen, played by a young Jennifer Lawrence, trying to keep her impoverished family afloat in Ozark, Missouri. It’s a film that discusses poverty and abusive familial relations in the U.S. “East Side Sushi” is a film about a Latina mother who finds work at a sushi restaurant and finds a new life passion in a culture she is not a part of.
“For the last few years, we’ve endeavored to pick more current films with the hope that newer films will draw in more of an audience than older ones,” Latoya Reid, co-chair of the Diversity Film Committee at Tacoma Community College, said.
The festival hopes not only to encourage and elevate diverse voices on screen, but also hopes to have a diverse audience on hand for each of the films. “We want to draw a diverse crowd, not just to fill seats in the theater, but to also foster the meaningful dialogue that these films prompt. We want as many different voices in the discussions as possible. This is really the mission of the festival,” Muir said.
Particularly in the face of everything that has taken place over the past few years in America, film stands as pop culture that can continue to allow members of different communities to see, understand, and ask questions about people who are different from them. So often over the past few years I have heard how important it is for dialogues to be created, and film may be the perfect thing for people to gather around to begin having those dialogues.
“I think people should be excited to see our treatment of the theme ‘Defining America.’ This is the first time since the festival has been held at the Grand that we’ve employed a theme, and we chose this one because it felt especially poignant in our current socio-political climate,” Reid said.
Tacoma Community College’s eighth annual Diversity Film Festival runs from April 15 through May 2 at the Grand Cinema. Showtimes can be found at www.grandcinema.com/tcc-diversity-film-series/ or at www.tacomacc.edu/filmfestival