Peggy Goldwyn could only sigh when she learned that Kings of Dance had canceled their performance at College of Southern Idaho after 22 of the 44 Russian dancers were denied visas.
Goldwyn has worked hard to bring in film directors and others from such far-flung places as Pakistan to speak at her annual Family of Woman Film Festival. But it’s gotten increasingly difficult in the past two years, thanks to tightening Homeland Security measures.
This year Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Jennifer Redfearn had to turn down a trip to Sun Valley from Cuba where she is teaching film making at the University of Havana through a special New York University exchange program. University officials feared she would not be allowed to return to Cuba.
And Goldwyn didn’t even bother to try to arrange travel for a filmmaker from the Democratic Republic of Congo because she was so certain he would be denied a visa.
An American lawyer who happens to do work in Afghanistan missed her flight to Sun Valley last year because of a lengthy TSA interrogation quizzing her over her frequent trips to Afghanistan. And a speaker from Zimbabwe had to secure letters last year vouching for him, in addition to copies of a round trip ticket, even though he had a valid visa.
“Some of our participants are nervous about taking part because they hear about survivalists in Montana and anti-Muslim incidences in this country,” Goldwyn added. “I tell them Blaine County is a very welcoming area.”
Goldwyn has used the Family of Woman Film Festival, which takes place Feb. 27 through March 4 in Sun Valley, to educate viewers about the stories behind the headlines. This year’s films are no different.
“In Syria” features an absorbing look at the life of a family trapped inside their apartment in Damascus while a street war wages outside.
“Their view becomes ours, through a slit in the blinds and sounds from the street…to an ominous knock on the door,” said Goldwyn. “As an audience, we share their sense of being under siege.”
Goldwyn is especially keen on showing that film because of comments she’s heard that refugee camps are breeding grounds for terrorists.
“The people in the camps are fleeing from terror—they are mostly women, children and older people,” she said. “Sadly, a lot of the able-bodied men have either been killed fighting terrorism or have left for other countries to find a safe haven for their families or are on the front lines in their homeland fighting terrorism. To think that refugee camps are ripe for terrorist recruitment is the height of lack of knowledge or understanding of the situation.”
“Girls’ War” Filmmaker Mylene Sauloy embedded herself with an all-female unit of the Kurdish freedom fighters to learn why Kurds are so effective in their fight against ISIS and why Kurdish women are particularly effective.
“The Kurdish people largely won the battle against ISIS only to be attacked by Turkey and Syria,” Goldwyn said. “We need to know more about these unique people and why their neighbors fear them.”
Other films in this year’s lineup do not involve war but still present viewpoints that can be useful to American viewers.
“Tocando La Luz” (“Touch the Light”) follows three blind Cubans as they attempt to lead lives that are not defined by their disability.
The film has spectacular cinema photography, even as it shows the safety net Cuba has for people with disabilities that the United States does not have, said Goldwyn.
And the drama “Sami Blood” focuses on a little known part of Swedish history where the Sami reindeer people were told they were inferior to Swedes.
“It’s breathtakingly beautiful to watch with a riveting lead performance,” Goldwyn said. “And the film reveals a form of racial prejudice that comes as a surprise.”
The Family of Woman Film Festival always schedules time for its speakers to visit schools and other groups. And this year will be no different, said Jen Simpson, who is in charge of outreach.
Scott Slonim’s class at Hemingway Elementary School has been the beneficiary of that, receiving a wide range of speakers associated with films, including Astronaut Barbara Morgan and Alaa Bastneh, who as a teenager helped organize demonstrations against the atrocities in Syria using social media from her Chicago bedroom.
“We always have the kids prepare a list of questions to interview our guest speakers,” said Slonim, a tech teacher. “And they get so much out of it. It really broadens their view of the world.”
Here’s the lineup for this year’s Woman of Family Film Festival:
Wednesday, Feb. 28, 6 p.m.—“SUN COMES UP.” This Academy Award-nominated film follows the relocation of the Carteret Islanders, who are having to leaving their home in the South Pacific Ocean due to climate change. Director Jennifer Redfearn will discuss it through Skype at 6 p.m. at Ketchum’s Community Library. FREE.(tncms-asset)edf0b8ea-1b5f-11e8-9c8b-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Thursday, March 1, 7:30 p.m.—“MAMA COLONEL.” This feature documentary tells the story of a woman who heads a special national police unit as she works to bring happiness back into the lives of women whose country has been devastated by a long civil war.
There will be a post-screening discussion with Dr. Henia Dakkak, senior advisor for the Humanitarian and Fragile Contexts Branch of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund at the Sun Valley Opera House.(tncms-asset)f10963a6-1b5f-11e8-93bc-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Friday, March 2, 7 p.m.—“TOCANDO LA LUZ,” or “Touch the Sky.” This feature documentary focuses on three blind women in Havana and their heartbreak and joy as they deal with their blindness, trying to get away from depending on others. Filmmaker Jennifer Redfearn will weigh in via Skype at the Sun Valley Opera House.(tncms-asset)eef49202-1b5f-11e8-a2f9-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Saturday, March 3, 11 a.m.—“POETRY.” South Korean actress Jeong-hie Yung came out of retirement to play an aging woman developing Alzheimer’s. She won numerous awards for her role as a woman dismissed by society who finds a powerful voice when she joins a poetry class to stimulate her mind.
The film will be shown FREE of charge at the Sun Valley Opera House.(tncms-asset)eff78dee-1b5f-11e8-9e15-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Saturday, March 3, 3 p.m.—“SAMI BLOOD.” This drama from Sweden is based on the life of the grandmother of filmmaker Amanda Kernell. It follows a young Sami girl who is taken from her reindeer-herding family and put in a state school where she is told that the Sami are inferior to Swedes. She reacts by breaking all ties with her family and culture to try to pass as a Swede. A discussion with filmmaker Amanda Kernell will follow at the Sun Valley Opera House.(tncms-asset)ecfcd450-1b5f-11e8-90c9-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Saturday, March 3, 7 p.m.—“IN SYRIA.” This feature drama, which won the Audience Award at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival, was shot in Lebanon. It recreates the life of a family trapped in their apartment by the raging civil war in Damascus as the matriarch of the family tries to keep the chaos outside from intruding. A discussion with filmmaker Philippe Van Leeuw will follow at the Sun Valley Opera House.(tncms-asset)ebf870d2-1b5f-11e8-8a90-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Sunday, March 4, 3 p.m.—“GIRLS’ WAR,” a feature documentary from the Kurdish region of Iraq. Filmmaker Mylene Sauloy embedded herself with Kurdish female soldiers who have proven themselves in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The film not only shows them winning victories but explores a society based on gender and equality and a culture that embraces a feminist religious viewpoint. A discussion with filmmaker Mylene Sauloy will follow at the Sun Valley Opera House.