Campus film event promotes dialogue on diversity

The Empathy and Diversity Film and Art Festival sponsored by the Associated Student Government held April 9, in SSC 212 offered an opportunity to discuss diversity on campus as well as in the wider community. Non-profit Level Ground provided the program. Saturday’s festival focused specifically on film and dialogue.

“ASG funded this project so they can help students live in a diverse world and celebrate it,” said Emily Maynard, student development staff member. “Empathy is innate in us, but it has to be trained, [the goal is] to provide trainings to help us grow.”

Based in Pasadena, Level Ground holds an annual art and film festival with approximately 500 attendees. They also conduct pop-up festivals around the country. Recently they began having daylong events at colleges and churches, like this one at Saddleback College.

“Our mission is to create a safe space for dialogue through art,” said Samantha Curley, executive director of Level Ground. “We measure our success based on the kind of conversations people have. We want to create spaces for people to form friendships across their differences.”

Saturday’s program included workshops discussing diversity, exploring identity through cultural and religious heritage and six short films. No art was shown at this event, but it is open to student art participation in future events. Lunch provided was free to all attendees.

Discussions moderated by Azusa Pacific University professor Jen Buck included topics like how to engage the broader community, how to help people understand differences when it comes to sexuality or immigration and making space safe for individual stories to be told.

“We’re all here to be learners,” Buck said. “Let’s respect the process together.”

Participants attended the event for a variety of reasons. Some to engage with like minded individuals, others to experience and share their thoughts and feelings in a supportive environment.

“I came to learn, because of different religions, how to communicate with each other,” said Nagham Mosmeh, psychology student.

The six short films shown, ranged from a 7-year-old gender non-conforming child ”Tomgirl” to “I’m Yours,” a film of a transgender male and female answering questions from an unseen narrator. They also showed the Academy Award winning short documentary “Facing Fear.” Another film, “My Mother’s Orphan,” was of a mother struggling with her daughter’s choice to live with her female partner.

“How can we be in better relationship with others through empathy,” Samantha Curley said.

Discussion questions after the films centered on cultural and religious identities, how might watching these films change one’s perspective and which stories and characters does one connect with most.

“It makes me think about how I relate to my own family,” said Erlynne Ballo, interim director of student life.

This was the first event of its kind at Saddleback Campus. Their goal is to have more events like this in the future.