USF to Host 14th Annual Human Rights Film Festival

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Brian Healy
Staff Writer

For the 14th consecutive year, the Hilltop will play host to USF’s Human Rights Film Festival, which unofficially marks the beginning of film festival season in San Francisco with San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) running from April 21 to May 5. Early bird tickets to SFIFF have already gone on sale while entrance to USF’s Human Rights Film Festival is free. You can expect to catch a wide array of human rights films Thursday, March 31, Friday, April 1, and Saturday, April 2 at Presentation Theater.

Susana Kaiser, who teaches in the Media Studies Department and is the founder of the festival, runs a senior seminar course whose students have become de facto organizing committee members for the festival. The course, simply titled Human Rights Film Festival, tasks students with distributing flyers and posters, creating a social media network for festival news, updating the outdated festival website, and securing volunteers, among many other responsibilities.

One of the more visible contributions comes from Junior media studies major Sarah Frei, who designed the poster for the festival. Frei, who is minoring in design, said she was excited to come up with something unique for the festival’s poster since it combined her two passions, film and design. “When I made the poster I decided to create a Super 8 camera, but tweak it a bit to make it look like it’s being used as a gun,” said Frei who goes on to elaborate on her decision of choosing such a powerful symbol “By this I wanted to evoke the message of film being used as a weapon – a way to fight injustices through the power of visual messages. The rays of light that highlight the Human Rights Film Festival can be translated as ‘shining light’ on the Human Rights issues going on in the world,” said Frei. This poster now serves as the festival’s main source of marketing imagery.

Senior media studies major Jordan Guingao, another student taking the course, made the Hollywood-caliber trailer of the festival’s movie lineup, which can be seen on the festival’s website and social media pages. Guingao wanted to create something based on the poster since he said, “Consistent branding and synergy is incredibly important in properly advertising anything,” and going on to credit Frei’s poster with giving him a sense of direction the trailer should take, “She did such an amazing job with the poster that it actually made my job easier because I just followed her lead and ended up using many of her elements like the camera, fonts and color schemes in the video,” said Guingao.

Kaiser, who spent last year on sabbatical and is making her triumphant return at the helm of the festival, has been making calls trying to secure movies and willing Q&A participants since early last semester. Something she always looks to include is at least one Oscar-nominated film; this year it is “The Look of Silence.” Previous years included a screening of Oscar-winner “Taxi to The Dark Side,” which was followed by a Q&A with director Alex Gibney. Those who go to this year’s festival will be able to decide on one of the 15 Q&A’s taking place after the films, facilitated by filmmakers, producers, actors, activists, professors and alumni.

Senior media studies major, Eunice Hoo, also takes the Human Rights Film Festival class and believes this festival is important to the USF community. “It has been named one of the most impactful film festivals according to The Audience Awards, and it’s important to continue that successful tradition. Also, many of the movies we are showing this time around bring attention to a lot of issues many people may not think about, we want to get that dialogue going,” said Hoo.

Frei adds that she believes the festival serves as a platform to feature smaller local filmmakers. “It gives the independent, underground movements a platform to display their work, which is just as powerful, if not more, than the films you can see at your local, corporate-controlled movie theater,” said Frei who even argues that the festival’s significance is more evident when considering the endangered status of San Francisco’s indie movie houses. “Independent theaters are dwindling in San Francisco, so it’s places like USF, who have the space and support to host a festival, that are incredibly important,” said Frei.

Kaiser said she is most looking forward to the screening of “The Black Panthers: Vanguards of The Revolution” since she believes it’s important to recognize the 50th anniversary of the Black Panthers, as well as serving as an appropriate follow-up to Dr. Angela Davis’s visit.

Kaiser explained that she is optimistic about the festival’s outcome. “For the immediate future, I hope people who come to the festival leave with a feeling of motivation and try to do something. And doing something can include talking with someone who may be ignorant of some human rights issues, it doesn’t necessarily mean working 10 hours a week as a volunteer,” she said. She even encourages students to get involved by volunteering during the film festival, citing it as a platform for those who want to break into the film industry. Previous organizing committee members have gone on to work for the Sundance Film Festival and the San Francisco International Film Festival.

For more long term plans, Kaiser hopes she can build more partnerships with Bay Area organizations and continue to put on the festival, with the current goal being able to make it 20 years with a human rights film festival represented on campus. “I will expect the festival to reach its 16th anniversary, and its 17th anniversary, up to its 20th anniversary. And from there it can go wherever anyone — hopefully the students — will take it,” said Kaiser.

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