Movie News & Reviews

One World Film Festival focuses on cultural diversity


In 1997, Annette Mayer had the same relationship to film that most people have: "I'd pay $5 and go see a movie," she says.

Fourteen years later, more has changed than just the rising price of movie tickets. So has Mayer's experience with film, as has her vocabulary.

"Now I've learned to use words like non- theatrical so that they'll know we're not showing it at a big theater," Mayer says, recounting her learning curve in booking films for the One World Film Festival, which starts its 13th edition Sunday in the theater at the Lexington Public Library downtown.

It started when Mayer was selected to serve on a Pew civic leadership initiative, designed to address community problems.

"One of the entrepreneurs we met was from India," Mayer says of the late Raj Chawla. "He had the idea that through film, we could understand different cultures in the community, and that would bring people together."

It seemed like a great idea to Mayer, a retired Transylvania University employee who now works part-time coordinating an outreach program for the library.

So that first year, with Chawla's help, the One World Film Festival was born, screening three films. Now, it shows 10 films in a little more than a month at The Kentucky Theatre and in the library theater.

Chairing the event has turned Mayer into something of a film curator, constantly on the lookout for movies that would fit the festival's essential mission of showing quality films that expose audiences to diverse cultures.

"Whenever I get New York Magazine, the first thing I go to is David Edelstein's reviews, to see what he's writing about," Mayer says. "I keep thinking I should send him a note to tell him how much he has helped form this festival."

She and other members of the festival's 10-person committee also watch out for other sources of tips for what they should consider for the festival, and then they start watching them. At committee meetings, Mayer says, they will screen portions of several films, and if they are interested in exploring further, one member of the team will take the film home to watch it all the way through.

"We never show anything at least one of us has not seen all the way through, and I have seen all 10 of them," Mayer says. "You can get in a lot of trouble showing something you haven't watched."

With films selected, Mayer embarks on the arduous process of getting the rights to show each publicly. They are all available on DVD and shown from DVDs — "We don't have the funding to mess with 35 mm," says Mayer, who estimates that the festival costs $6,000 a year — but royalties still have to be paid for public exhibition.

And although all the films are available at the library for free seven-day loans, seeing them together is part of the key to engendering the community that the festival is meant to build, particularly through the participation of area groups with interests in the topics of the films.

"We never pay for food," Mayer says. "We always invite groups to come in and host receptions after the showing, and often they will have panel discussions, too."

For instance, she says, local Muslim groups have been enthusiastic about hosting events after films that address Islamic cultures. The Muslim Women's Council of Kentucky will host a reception after Thursday's screening of Amreeka, about a Palestinian woman who moves to Illinois.

Vanishing of the Bees, a documentary about the worldwide disappearance of honeybees that will be shown Feb. 24, will feature snacks and a reception by the Bluegrass Beekeepers Association and other interested parties.

Festival organizers like partnering with groups, but Mayer says the event is not intended as a propaganda outlet.

"If you have a pet peeve, we don't want to go out and find a film to express your pet peeve," Mayer says. "If you have a film that's good, that's a different story."

Over the years, Mayer says, she has been proud to present the first public showings of many critically acclaimed films that are not box-office draws. Last year, the festival screened the Japanese film Departures, the winner of the Academy Award for best foreign language film in 2009.

In recent years, the festival has added events, such as the showing of Soundtrack for a Revolution, a movie about the music of the civil rights movement that was shown at The Kentucky on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It drew more than 600 people, a sign of One World's growing success, Mayer says.

Mayer says she has seen Chawla's initial idea play out in the festival.

"This is a very educated community," she says, "and people here are interested in seeing good films that have meaning."