For more than two weeks, the Carnegie Mellon University International Film Festival will draw audiences in with a selection of films from around the world, many of which will screen in Pittsburgh for the first time. The event not only promises the return of in-person screenings, but will serve as a platform to discuss major conflicts affecting the world, primarily the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing crisis between Israel and Palestine.
From Thursday March 24 to Saturday April 9, CMU IFF will screen 13 films representing approximately 17 countries, including through co-productions. Under the theme “Faces behind the mask”, the festival seeks to “explore the realities” that figurative masks hide, “the facades they represent and the ways in which we wear them”.
The festival will take place at CMU, as well as the Harris Theater in downtown Pittsburgh and Carlow University.
Festival organizer Jolanta Lion says she thinks people will be “hungry” for these sorts of events after the pandemic confined so many film screenings to the digital realm. CMU IFF, which was founded in 2006, had to go online last year, with screenings spread out over the year instead of airing over several weeks.
However, being online meant missing out on many of the immersive cultural aspects that made the festival so distinct. For example, Lion highlights how CMU will host a live dance performance for the opening night movie. Casablanca Beatsa 2021 narrative feature about Moroccan youth using rap and hip hop to challenge the restrictive societal norms of their culture.
Lion adds that there will also be dishes prepared by local restaurants whose national cuisine matches certain films, discussions led by directors, etc.
“So every event is not just a movie screening,” says Lion.
Lion, who organized the festival with interns including Cindy Lu and Regis Curtis, says that while they were able to bring the festival back in person, the shrinking of films presented another challenge, especially when many films come straight from the major festival circuit. to streaming services, before even seeing a theatrical release.
“It’s a really tough market because global distributors are taking films from festivals, and I’m also in the middle of that because I want to have the Pittsburgh premiere,” Lion says, “or know that the movie will not be be screened on Netflix or other platforms.
Still, Lion says she was able to source some big headlines, including Cathedral Squarea Panamanian drama nominated for this year’s Oscars, and Ahed’s kneea film that has garnered buzz for its criticism of the Israeli government, primarily its treatment of Palestinians.
Other films screened include Chinese films Ascent and ripples of lifethe indian movie Pebblesand leave no trace, the Polish entry for Best International Feature at the Oscars. Also on the program, the Maltese drama Luzzu and If the weather is nicea tragicomic Filipino film about the human toll of climate change.
Lu, a CMU student who serves as the festival’s Asian component coordinator, says the theme also questions “what people hide just to fit in or conform to social norms,” and how filmmakers challenge the status quo. quo, not only in terms of content but in terms of art style. She quotes the 2021 documentary Trenches as an example, saying that the selected film, which follows French journalist Loup Bureau, who spent months in the field with Ukrainian soldiers as they battled Russian-backed separatists, offers a more ” microscopic” of the daily life of soldiers on the front line of what would become a catastrophic war.
Along the same lines, discussions led by the filmmakers and experts that Lion says will “give audiences a chance to fully think through the issues.” For example, screening for Devil’s Driversa documentary that, over a five-year period, tracks the dangers faced by Palestinians smuggled into Israel for work, will include a panel discussion featuring professors from CMU and Pitt and March Fichman, who is president of J Street Pittsburgh, the local chapter of a political action committee to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In addition to using films to entertain and enlighten audiences, the festival also offers students from CMU and other area schools a way to gain real-world experience. Lion points out that the event isn’t “just a CMU film festival,” as the interns, moderators, and others involved came from the University of Pittsburgh and LaRoche University.
Curtis, a student from Pitt, says he and other students, including a design student from LaRoche, had a major stake in the festival, from choosing films to coordinating sponsors and moderators.
“Our opinions matter and that makes for a very unique work environment and atmosphere because everyone is doing something that feels fulfilling and has an impact, which I think is really rare among undergraduates. and graduate students doing internships,” says Curtis.
After months of preparation, Curtis says he can’t wait to see how audiences react to the festival.
“We have so many different avenues and perspectives on what it’s like to be alive and keep moving forward that it’s truly amazing,” he says. “I didn’t expect so many different things to happen at the same time and come together in one cohesive piece. We did it one way or another, and I can’t wait for it to happen and for people to see it all over the next few weeks.
Carnegie Mellon University International Film Festival. Thu. March 24-Sat. April 9. Various places. $5-15, $10-15 opening night only, festival pass $25-50. Open to the public. cmu.edu/faces