Engaging Perspectives: Community Conversations 2017 at AIFF


By Courtney Williams

“Now more than ever we need to talk to each other, to listen to each other and understand how we see the world, and cinema is the best medium for doing this.” ~ Martin Scorsese

Ashland Independent Film Festival seems to be ahead of its time, or at least at the forefront of the swelling zeitgeist. Last year, the Talk Back panel on Women in Film was spirited, nearly but not quite, riotous, and filled with stellar advice and inspiration for women filmmakers and men who support more gender balance in the film industry. Women’s Marches have now taken a central role in the current social and political climate, and AIFF 2017 focused this year on Activism through film – a trend already expanding and sure to become a large part of our media landscape.

AIFF is further leading the way with well-attended Community Conversations, in which festival-goers gather to discuss their personal responses to selected films. These are not film critiques but opportunities for people to talk about their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and impulses for action that are sparked by the films. Marla Estes and Kay Sandberg designed these conversations for AIFF and skillfully lead them to create an intimate space that honors and explores the audience members’ impressions and participation with the film – and with each other. One participant commented, “Marla and Kay have an engaging way of bringing in different perspectives from the group, which made it a rich gathering.”

At a time when we seem to be encouraged, if not forced, to reach across the aisle or look deeply at our own views, and listen to those of others, these conversations are encouraging opportunities. And they’re fun! We’re talking about the movies – a medium that can take us anywhere and give us a deep experience of things unknown. When we watch a film in the theatre, we have a shared experience. Kay and Marla skillfully take that shared experience a daring step further. They selected three provocative documentaries, very different in scope, subject and style: City of Joy, I Am Another You, and Sacred.

City of Joy

This documentary is about a transformational leadership community in Bukavu, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, for women survivors of extreme violence in the villages. The post-show discussion at the Elks Club immediately tapped into a palpable empathy. “What can we do?” was one of the first questions asked. For each of the films discussed in the Community Conversations, Kay carefully researches and presents how people can take effective action both locally and globally. See below for Action Points for City of Joy

Participants were simultaneously upset and uplifted by the film. One commented that seeing the movie is so much different than reading a news report – to hear the women tell their stories and to learn from the inside out – created an awareness that was irrevocable. For another, this was her first exposure to the atrocities in the Congo; she’d had no idea of the warfare that has been going on for decades.


A Rabbi, an Islamic Scholar and a former Evangelical Pastor, now Post-Theist, walked into the room. It sounds like a joke, but Rabbi Joshua Boettiger, Steve Scholl and Rob Schlapfer were the special guests for the discussion of Sacred, a documentary that culled the work of 40 filmmakers to depict diverse expressions of faith and spiritual practice from around the world. Religion and politics used to be forbidden subjects at the dinner table, but with facilitators like Kay and Marla, the discussion was – mostly – amicable.

Marla and Kay lay out specific guidelines – “We are not trying to come to a consensus; this is not a debate; we’re not going to give advice or ‘fix it’ for anyone”. The two have a knack for directing the conversation back to personal responses, and also pointed out that what you say about a film often says more about you than the movie. We all have subjective filters – and the perspectives of others can give us a new lens through which to view experience. This was definitely the case in the discussion of Sacred.

Marla and Kay asked: What is sacred to you in your life? A participant shared that she was raised Fundamentalist Christian, became a Hindu priest, and is now agnostic and focused on finding the sacredness in Everything. Marla elucidated that challenge and asked, can we find sacredness even in darkness or in something we don’t understand? What is sacredness? Several participants expressed that it is something quiet, and in many ways private. The conversation allowed us to discuss and share a personal thing within community.

Several people hadn’t seen the movie – spoiler alert! – and some others didn’t even have tickets, but went to the box office right away. “They’re great discussions even if you haven’t seen the film!” commented one participant.

I Am Another You

In this documentary about homelessness, the filmmaker discovered that the predicament of her subject, Dylan, was born out of mental illness (or perhaps an extremely non-normative perception of the world). This was another film in which getting the story from the inside out made an indelible difference.

The room was unanimously aghast, with participants reporting having a visceral reaction to a scene in which Dylan created an enactment of his auditory perception of the world. In this scene, he tries to complete a task while eight people begin reading from different books, in different voices, all at once. The cacophony and confusion were overwhelming. Participants confirmed a shared insight into the inner experience of what schizophrenia might be like.

Those gathered discussed homelessness as less of a choice than they or most people think, and that often it’s not (just) an economic situation. One local homeless advocate also pointed out there are many “invisible” homeless people who present as “normal” but who are living in their cars due to a downturn in their economic circumstances.

Participants again wanted to know what they could do, how they could help. The film and the conversation spurred local, direct activism, and gave the community a chance to see what they can do, hearing from people on the ground here in Ashland. Special guests were Vanessa & Jason Houk, local homeless advocates; Zander Fitzhugh and Kathleen Gamer from Southern Oregon University’s Homeless and Hunger Alliance; Bob Morse from Ashland Culture of Peace Commission; and Laurie Carter from Laundry Love, an organization that provides free monthly laundry facilities for
community members who need it. Having clean clothes is important for people’s dignity. See below for Action Points for I Am Another You

Sharing and listening – active, personal participation – was the theme of the Community Conversations and the Festival.

“Old” stories are being seen through new lenses. New stories are being revealed.

Marla Estes
, M.A. is the founder of the School of the Examined Life. She gives workshops using film watching as a lens for personal growth, and understanding oneself and others. Contact her at marla@theschooloftheexaminedlife.com and visit her website www.marlaestes.com

Kay Sandberg, M.A., is passionate about film as a way to elevate our experience of being human. She has spent her career facilitating conversations that matter, and particularly values collective experiences that lead to fresh insights and actions. Contact her at sandberg.kay@gmail.com and visit her website www.globalforceforhealing.org

Courtney Williams is a writer and filmmaker, living in Southern Oregon. NYC-trained, she works in development and physical production as an assistant director and production manager, and is currently producing RED DRESS, a documentary about women being visible, or invisible, in the world. Contact her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/courtney-williams-57762a25/


GET EDUCATED http://impactpartnersfilm.com/films/city-joy




http://www.stoprapeinconflict.org *


 *Note: The Nobel Women’s Initiative held a conference in 2011, resulting in The International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict. Go to their website to sign the pledge. Many local women’s groups have been started in the DRC, presumably by City of Joy grads.

 ORGANIZE A V-DAY EVENT IN THE COMMUNITY http://www.vday.org/organize-event


By check, mail to: V-Day Congo Campaign, 4104 24th Street, San Francisco, CA 94114; Make check to “V-Day” and write “DRC” in memo line; Tax ID: 94-3389430

Online: http://www.vday.org/donatedrc/


Email via http://drc.vday.org/contact-us/

Due to the large volume of email, there is no guarantee you will get a reply. No volunteers are needed at this time, since City of Joy is completely run by Congolese staff. They are not able to receive donations of items including clothing, medical supplies, etc.


ACCESS, The Community Action Agency of Jackson County: www.accesshelps.org; phone 541.779.6691; wide range of services for low-income residents, seniors, veterans and their families. To donate: mail check to ACCESS, PO Box 4666, Medford, OR 97501; credit card donation by phone: 541.774.4323; take donations to: 3630 Aviation Way, Medford, OR 97504.

Ashland Community Resource Center (ACRC)/Options for Homeless Residents of Ashland (OHRA): www.homelessoptions.org; wide range of services similar to ACCESS in Medford. For a full listing and referrals: www.211.info.org or dial 2-1-1.

To donate: visit main website or check to OHRA, PO Box 1133, Ashland, OR 97520.

NOTE: OHRA operates the Winter Shelter from 11/1-4/15 (approximate dates) yearly, 5 nights a week. Locations vary by night at local churches and Pioneer Hall. There is a movement to make the shelter year-round, starting with extending services through May of this year.

PEACE DINNERS are held every Friday at Pioneer Hall, free to the community from about 5-7pm. To volunteer or contribute food, contact Jason and Vanessa Houk: Jason@kskq.org.

Ashland Culture of Peace Commission (ACPC): ashlandcpc.org; 541.552.1061; info@ashlandcpc.org; creating a culture of peace and a world that works for all by regular talking circles, special programs, outreach to residents without homes, and volunteer support for Friday Peace Dinner. To donate: ashlandcpc.org/donations.

Ashland Emergency Food Bank (AEFB): ashlandemergencyfoodbank.org; 541.488.9544; located at 572 Clover Lane; food assistance weekday mornings and other times; volunteer opportunities via local churches and 2nd Saturday every other month (Feb. through Dec.). To donate: ashlandemergencyfoodbank.org/donations.

Ashland Food Project: AshlandFoodProject.com; 541.488.6976; “building community, sharing food”–bimonthly green bag collection of food for AEFB above.

Housing and Homeless Alliance (HAHA) at SOU: Wed. 2-3pm meetings open to SOU students and the general public; collaborates with other local initiatives to end homelessness and hunger in our Valley; contact Kathleen Gamer, UN Club Coordinator: gamerk@sou.edu or Zander Fitzhugh: fitzhugha@sou.edu.

Laundry Love: free access to wash clothes, enjoy food and love once a month, every second Saturday from 5:30-7:30pm at Henry’s Laundromat in Ashland Street Shopping Center; phone Hedy Schoonover, 541.708.0109 or Laurie Carter, 650.575.8434 to make a donation or get involved. Co-sponsored by 3 local churches:

UCC, South Mountain Friends House and Unitarian Universalist, and supported by several local businesses. To donate: c/o UCC Church, 717 Siskiyou Blvd, Ashland, OR 97520. Write “Laundry Love” in subject line of your check.

Maslow Project: phone 541.200.9995; school-based outreach offering case management and referrals for at-risk and homeless youth; at Ashland High School.

UNCLE FOODS DINER, 541.482.364: free community meals every Tuesday 4:30-5:30 at United Methodist Church (corner of Laurel and North Main). In conjunction, La Clinica operates a low or no cost mobile medical and dental clinic 1:00-4:30 each Tuesday. For more information or to volunteer, contact Peace House: 541.482.9625.

NOTE: NBC5 (KOBI.com) TV station recently started a weekly series called, “S.O. Close to Homeless” (soclosetohomeless.org) Tuesdays’ at 6pm, co-sponsored by ACCESS. The series features stories about families who are—or were—without a home, and how local community services supported them to get back on their feet. It brings a human face to our friends/neighbors–“where but by the grace of God go I”.

“Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.”

~Nelson Mandela

 Compiled by Kay Sandberg, kay@globalforceforhealing.org, 4/8/17





















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