Actress Kerry Washington reflects on the ability of film to foster cultural understanding.
By Kerry Washington
A year ago, I was honored to be appointed to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities by President Barack Obama. We work closely with the White House, government cultural agencies and the private sector to highlight the importance of the arts and humanities in this country, working on projects that increase participation and foster excellence in these disciplines.
I am excited about our program Film Forward: Advancing Cultural Dialogue. This is cultural diplomacy through film, an international exchange program that will take 10 independent filmmakers, five Americans and five from other nations, to present their works in locations in the U.S. and around the world. We may believe we have nothing in common with someone from another country, but we hear their first person stories – of overcoming poverty, or suffering the death of a parent, or going on a journey of self discovery – and we experience an instant bond.
The nonprofit Sundance Institute is our partner for Film Forward and we couldn’t be more thrilled about the alliance. My personal experience with Sundance dates to 2000 when I was in the acting company at the renowned Directors Lab. The Institute, like the Committee and the federal partners, believes artists are fundamental to creating an engaged and informed society.
Sundance, the Committee and the other key agency directors have collaborated to select this year’s artists, films and locales. The talent is incredible, ranging from Cherien Dabis, a young Palestinian-American director, to African-American documentary filmmaker and Macarthur Fellow Stanley Nelson. From filmmaker Mohamed Al Daradji (a dual Dutch-Iraqi citizen who literally risked his life to tell his country’s story) to the collaboration between director Peter Bratt and his brother Benjamin, each of these films embody the potential to unite us across boundaries of race, religion, language and ethnicity.
Beginning in December, Film Forward will take filmmakers to U.S. embassies and other venues in China, Kenya, Morocco, Tanzania, Tunisia and Turkey, and throughout the U.S., to share their work and their stories. We hope the ongoing screenings, master classes and Q&A sessions will encourage dialogue on such universally recognized themes as love, loss, war, family and the human experience. Please join us on May 12, when all 10 films will be screened at various Smithsonian venues on the Mall. It will be inspiring and we hope to see you there.
Film Forward’s Ones to Watch
A Small Act (Director: Jennifer Arnold)
Afghan Star / Afghanistan/ UK (Director: Havana Marking)
Amreeka (Director and Screenwriter: Cherien Dabis)
Boy / New Zealand (Director and screenwriter: Taika Waititi)
Freedom Riders (Director: Stanley Nelson)
La Mission / USA (Director and Screenwriter: Peter Bra )
Son of Babylon / Iraq (Director: Mohamed Al Daradji; Screenwriters: Mohamed Al-Daradji, Jennifer Norridge, Mithal Ghazi)
Winter’s Bone (Director: Debra Granik; Screenwriters: Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini)