Engaging College Students Through Film: 2015 College Action Network Conference
Earlier this month, Kweighbaye Kotee, founder & director of the Bushwick Film Festival, entered REACT to FILM’s (RtF) conference room and shared her incredible and diverse journey with two dozen attentive college students. As the opening speaker of the 2015 RtF College Action Network Conference, a 3-day conference with workshops, speakers, and a tour of the Museum of the Moving Image, Ms. Kotee commanded the room. RtF Chapter Leaders listened to her impressively varied accomplishments, ranging from producing and hosting her own TV series to operating as CEO of an entirely hand-crafted film festival. When asked about this diversity, she said, “There are just so many layers in the film industry, and my goal as a professional was to really try to understand the entire umbrella. Wrap my mind around each aspect because I wanted to be as helpful to others as I could be, but also because I just needed to know.”
Joining RtF only a few days prior as a summer intern, I had no idea what to expect entering the conference. Part of me anticipated a similar environment to the one that my university offered, and, as a Film Studies Major, I have often felt out of place in that departmental environment. I am one of the few people in my department that has never wanted to write or direct his own feature film. My passion for film and television stems not from my own urge to create; rather, it stems from my love of the medium and its power to affect and influence others, to move people to cry, to walk out of the theater, to take action. The visual medium has an incredible impact on society that has intrigued me since I was young, and Kweighbaye Kotee’s sentiments reflected this passion. Associate of Educational Programming, Katerina Downward, reflected on this later in the day, calling it a “rumbling in our bellies” that brought about “gastrointestinal discomfort.” The rumbling couldn’t be ignored. When she spoke, I realized that RtF was a different beast than what school had prepared me for. I related with this passion, this need to know, this need that was often brushed over in my university courses.
The rest of the conference reinforced this feeling with each new incredible speaker, from Starlite Randall and Nagidmy Marquez from Horyou TV to founder of THINKFilm Mark Urman. These presenters were able to redefine film and media in a way that applied to them, in unique and creative ways. In a nutshell, that’s exactly what REACT to FILM aims to do year after year. Chapter Leaders from across the country convened in New York City for this conference not only to represent their schools, but also to create a new community of varied perspectives on social justice and documentary film. Some of the Chapter Leaders were filmmakers, as I expected, but even more studied Global Health, Political Science, English, and so on. The students at the CAN conference each brought their own meaning, experiences, passions, and rumbling bellies.
Experienced Chapter Leaders shared stories of their hardships and successes, while other first-time Chapter Leaders shared their hopes and concerns for the upcoming semester. Having no experience as a Chapter Leader, the conference was an exciting opportunity to create lasting connections. I realized that going into the fall, these Chapter Leaders, both new and old, could act as a support system to talk to about our troubles finding funding or even just a great new film we saw that week. We practiced our pitches for screenings in the fall, and there was no fear of embarrassment or failure in the room since all of us were in the same situation. Instead, the energy was one of positivity and excitement. This energy and support that every workshop cultivated made me recognize the importance of the national moment that RtF’s screenings produce. After meeting such wonderful and inspiring people, I cannot wait to begin screening films at my school this fall to both spread this community and foster the one that was formed over these three days.
In just the few weeks that I have worked with REACT to FILM so far, thanks to this incredibly diverse community, I have been exposed to a multitude of ways to understand and appreciate film. Like the RtF community, film does not live in isolation; it is not static. It expands and grows in meaning based on the world around it, taking on meaning that others grant it. When asked what part of the industry gives her the most joy, Ms. Kotee responded without hesitation, “Making films and sharing them.” Films are not meant to merely be seen; they are meant to affect.
Join your local REACT to FILM chapter this fall (or you can email Caitlin Stone at firstname.lastname@example.org!) You can also start an RtF Chapter at your school to start this national conversation. RtF will be screening The Hunting Ground at 7pm on September 29th and The Mask You Live In at 7pm on October 20th.
Written by Ben Goldberg, student at Wesleyan University and intern at REACT to FILM.