Take One Action! Film Festival 2016 preview
The politically minded film fest launches its latest edition to tackle 2016's year of global unrest
2016 – what a year it's been so far, eh? Any other year might be remembered on the basis of its seismic cultural shifts alone. Prince, David Bowie – any other year, and these departures would be among the biggest, most shocking headlines of the year. In 2016 though, the passing of these artistic figureheads seems positively frivolous next to actual news – stories so omnipresent you know at least roughly what they're about from a single word. Orlando. ISIS. Zika. Erdoğan. Calais. Brexit. Trump.
'2016 does feel like a particularly eventful year,' says Tamara Van Strijthem, executive director of the Take One Action! Film Festival. She's responding to my question about how a politically minded festival such as TOAFF reacts to such global unrest. Unlike me though, she's refusing to dwell exclusively on the negatives.
'The Colombian government recently signed a ceasefire agreement with the FARC, marking the end of a 50-year conflict that caused over 250,000 deaths and led to more than 6 million people being displaced,' she says. 'It's a momentous step forward!' Not only that: 'The Paris Climate Agreement last year was justly criticised for not going far enough to address the urgency posed by a changing climate, but that 145 signatories could come round the table to devote time, energy and political will to end the stalemate is remarkable and encouraging in itself – it means the conversation is changing.'
This theme of optimism in the face of adversity is apparent in TOAFF 2016's opening film. 'At a grassroots level, there are countless examples of inspiring, fabulous initiatives bringing people together to fight for a fairer and more sustainable world, and we want to celebrate this,' says Van Strijthem. 'Tomorrow is a wonderfully uplifting reflection of that desire to shine a light on the good stuff, not just the bad. It'll put a smile on your face and make you want to roll up your sleeves to join a community garden, support local community power initiatives and question the status quo.'
It's that 'questioning the status quo' bit that's key – the world isn't all sweetness and roses, no, but TOAFF wants you to recognise the badness and then actively try to change it. 'We seek films that offer an inspiring, empowering and accessible take on the most important issues affecting our planet and its inhabitants,' says Van Strijthem. 'Our focus is on social and environmental justice – and people power, of course. We love to present films that allow our audiences to find their own connection to stories of global significance, and will always contextualise our programme through post-screening conversations with a fantastic range of contributors.'
Such contributors this year include Bill Binney, a pre-Snowden NSA whistleblower and the subject of Friedrich Moser's documentary The Good American (Moser will also be in attendance). Frequent Ken Loach writer Paul Laverty will pop up alongside director Iciar Bollain at an outdoor, bike-powered screening of The Olive Tree, a European road trip dramedy with a socially conscious edge. Director Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami will present the double Sundance award-winning Sonita, about an Afghan refugee who dreams of becoming the next Rihanna. Calib Behn, a law graduate and activist for Canada's First Nations population, will be in town to discuss the impact of fracking on the country's indigenous communities – Canada isn't all Justin Trudeau hugging pandas, you know.
'The key aspect of our work lies in the communal experience we foster,' says Van Strijthem, underlining the importance not only of TOAFF's guests but also its audiences. 'Watching films with others and being able to explore our relationship to the issues they raise through inclusive, empowering post-screening discussions affords a sense of community that TOAFF capitalises on to motivate and inform audiences further. Our post-screening conversations are programmed as carefully as the films themselves: we combine our organisational expertise and networks with our volunteers' involvement in a wide range of organisations and initiatives to identify relevant contributors whose perspectives will enhance the film's reach and provide a real opportunity for audiences to get involved, here in Scotland, in the issues they care about.'
If that last paragraph left you breathless, you have some measure of Van Strijthem's passion and enthusiasm. 'I've had the pleasure and honour of working for Take One Action! for just over three years,' she says. 'I was obviously interested in world politics and global movements before joining – indeed, that's the very reason I wanted to become part of this fantastic organisation – but whereas I used to feel defeated by the violence, racism, sexism, inequity, environmental destruction and intolerance that exist in the world, I now focus on those who are fighting to bring about their opposite: tolerance, equality for women, sustainable transport, energy and fiscal policies, tax justice, ethical business practices … There are so many people standing up for what they believe. Let's take more notice of all the amazing achievements their relentless optimism and dogged hard work have brought about.'
Various venues, Edinburgh & Glasgow, Wed 14–Sun 25 Sep.