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Social Justice Film Festival 2020: A quick look


Above: A scene from the documentary "The Condor & the Eagle."

The best of the annual Social Justice Film Festival is coming to Spokane this weekend. This year's theme is "courage." Following is my preview of the festival that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Courage is one of those qualities that can be hard to define.

Here’s one meaning: endurance in the face of opposition, despite the threat of ostracism, of pain or even death, in an attempt to accomplish what you know intrinsically is right.

That, though, is only a definition. Labeling someone as courageous also depends on what it is they’re trying to accomplish. Lucky for us, the annual Social Justice Film Festival is here to give us a number of examples, from all over the world, to study – and in some cases to follow.

The 2020 version of the festival, which will screen this weekend at the Magic Lantern Theater and at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the Gonzaga University School of Law’s Barbieri Courtroom, is a collection of the best short films and feature documentaries culled from a 10-day-long event that played last October in Seattle.

Split into separate programs, 2:30 and 6:30 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday, plus the Tuesday night screening, the Spokane festival comprises 12 films in all – five features and seven shorts.

The Tuesday-night feature is the HBO-produced documentary “True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality,” which is a profile of the civil-rights attorney whose story was dramatized in the narrative film “Just Mercy” starring Michael B. Jordan, Brie Larson and Jamie Foxx.

Stevenson’s courage to work in Alabama to provide legal aid to those too poor to afford competent representation is obvious. Just as obvious, though, is the ongoing fight of indigenous populations to document their historical struggles, as occurs in the documentary feature “The Condor & the Eagle.”

Or the efforts, documented by the makers of the feature simply titled “Hurdle,” of Palestinians attempting to find a sense of freedom in the shadow of the wall that separates Israel’s two main populations.

“Guest House,” though, takes us in a different direction by focusing on the experiences of three women striving both to fight their addiction to drugs and to find some way to navigate their way following incarceration. “Patrinell: the Total Experience,” meanwhile, studies choir leader Patrinell Wright and her longtime efforts to found and manage the Seattle-based Total Experience Gospel Choir.

Those, though, are just the features. The festival’s seven short films offer just as many different experiences, beginning with the Oscar-winning Live-Action Short “Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone (if You’re a Girl).” Directed by Carol Dysinger, the film follows a group of young Afghani pre-teens as they both learn to read and, yes, attempt to skate like junior Tony Hawks.

Nation Isaac’s documentary short “Remembering Our Grandpa” – I’m sorry but I can’t pronounce the native title – recalls the 1981 raid on the Canadian native nation at Listuguj. While two other shorts, “Elegy Ending with a Cell Door Closing” and the Spanish entry “Unburied,” use animation to capture other kinds of painful personal experience.

Here’s the best part. Admission to each of the Spokane-based event’s showings is free.

But then that’s only natural. It costs nothing to show courage – nothing except the price we all pay to conquer our biggest fears.

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