by Ryan Tipper
In the ever-growing world of visual media, independent films which aim to raise awareness of human rights in modern society are becoming more frequent. With that in mind, events such as the Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival, currently in its 13th year of operation, give filmmakers a chance to inspire audiences through their own displays of visual media.
From Feb 21 to March 2, the film festival took place at eight different venues around Bellingham, including Whatcom Community College, and showed more than 10 different movies within its two-week span. The themes represented by the films ranged from environmentalism to activism as well as many others.
Courtenay Chadwell-Gatz, division chair of both the English as a Second Language – Academic (ESLA) program and the World Language Department Committee at Whatcom Community College, was the one who initially helped get the film festival showings at Whatcom this year.
“I was contacted by the Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival about showing some of their films at Whatcom this year,” Chadwell-Gatz said. “I was invited to come and watch all the films in the festival this year and got to choose which ones we would show at Whatcom.”
Two of the movies that were chosen by Chadwell-Gatz were Harvest of Empire and Genetic Roulette. These films focused on specific human rights issues, specifically immigration and food supply.
“I have learned so much from watching all these films.” Chadwell-Gatz said of the process of choosing the films. “It has been such a mind-opening experience.”
Harvest of Empire, a film about immigration issues in America, highlighted countries all over the Western hemisphere that have seen refugees flee their home lands and move to America over the past 50 years. The film showed interviews with immigrants, both legal and illegal, who told their stories and journeys of escaping a hostile life in hope of something better in the U.S.
The film also showed why the immigrants believe there is a better life waiting for them in the U.S. One woman, a middle-aged immigrant from El Salvador, spoke about having to leave her 9-year-old daughter behind as she traveled all the way through Mexico to the United States. More than 10 years later, her daughter made the same journey and was reunited with her mother in California.
Throughout the film, connections were made between the driving forces that pushed people to leave their countries and come to the United States. Many of the civil wars and rebellions taking place in these countries were said to be funded or supported by the U.S. military, according to the film.
“I invited many of the faculty here at Whatcom to bring their students to the film showings,” Chadwell-Gatz said. “There is so much to realize and learn from them and this is the perfect opportunity to do so.”
Genetic Roulette, a film focusing on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in America’s food supply, and harmful side effects linked to them, aimed to bring awareness of specifically what the human race is eating in today’s society.
The film looked into how, over the past 20 to 30 years, the world is seeing people with new health problems that never existed before. With cancer, autism, diabetes, obesity and more on the rise globally, experts are starting to search for answers.
As the film progresses, the audience is shown the harmful effects that are associated with GMOs and how they originated. Genetic Roulette ends with a call to action about how the consumer can be aware of exactly what they are eating and what they can do to work towards overall better health, according to the film.
“We have had such a great response from the community turn out,” Chadwell-Gatz said. “Hopefully, more students will be interested in watching them in the future.”
Chadwell-Gatz said she is planning to try and have the film festival use Whatcom as a venue for years to come.
With the rise of social media, film festivals are growing with more followers, supporters and film submissions that seek to get the word out about current events and issues. The Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival is a prime example of this and hopes to bring awareness to Whatcom County through its lights, its cameras, and its action.