This week at the Emmys, Viola Davis reminded us that, “the only thing that separates women of color from everyone else is opportunity”. Clearly she was talking about women actors’ accessibility to leading roles in Hollywood, but her comment got me thinking about how this applies to all the arts and about access to viewing films as well.
There is a certain irony that most film festivals began with the intention of sharing independent films with the community - bringing cinematic art to the people – yet have now become fairly exclusive events. The enormous popularity of film festivals have turned what were once grass root gatherings into major Vanity Fair type events. Regardless of the best intentions, film festivals tend to cater to the crème de la crème of the film world and society in general. When known actors began appearing in independent films, and since known actors put butts in seats, film festivals began to screen films that might technically be indies, (i.e. non studio) but for all intents and purposes are Hollywood films. Right? I mean, Jobs premiered at Sundance. And this is all good – after all it’s kind of cool (literally and figuratively) to stand in line outside Eccles in Park City and see Ashton Kutcher step out of a Toyota Highlander. But then again, I’m fortunate enough to be standing in line at Sundance. What about those that don’t have this opportunity?
Which brings me to Ambulante Film Festival. Ambulante disrupts the traditional structure of a film festival. They’re a traveling film festival that brings free screenings of cause-based films to communities who typically would not attend a film festival or even go to a theater to see a documentary. Last week, thanks to Ambulante, we screened CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap in Pershing Square Park on a Saturday night – in the warmth of California’s Indian summer and under a crescent moon – to 250 people from all corners of Los Angeles. People arrived on Muni, on foot, on bikes and on skateboards to watch our documentary about the importance of incorporating women and people of color in software engineering. They brought their kids, their pets (I swear I saw a cat on a leash), their picnics, their moms. They spread blankets and soccer chairs on the lawn; they sat on concrete park benches and they watched a film about a subject they might or might not have know mattered to them. The opportunity to watch a film was there, in open air, in downtown LA, for all to view.
And because of this opportunity, there is a chance that the film sparked an interest or a seed of hope in someone in the audience. What if a Latina woman never thought she could enter the tech world but now wants to try? What if a young kid who is disengaged in school is now inspired to learn to code? What if someone in tech now thinks about his or her own biases? What if?
This is why we made the film - to inspire girls and people of color to believe they can contribute to technology. To help bridge the gender gap and digital divide. But our options to screen the film to the part of community we are trying to reach, is limited. As a cause-based filmmaker, there is nothing more rewarding than reaction from your audience. Knowing we have inspired, ignited, touched, disrupted - that’s what it is all about.
Kudos, Ambulante, for bringing film to communities that might otherwise be marginalized from film festivals, from theaters, from cable TV channels. Thanks for bringing opportunity to the community, through film.