International FilmFest 2015 in D.C. Classrooms
After our meaningful discussion [about the film Limited Partnership], I went home and thought more about the topics of homosexual discrimination and rights. I was one of the students who mentioned how my relatives do not associate with homosexuals. So that night I had a deep conversation with my mother to get a better understanding of her passionate opinion on gays… Your visit helped me become closer and more knowledgeable about my own mother! What more can I ask? — Danny, high school student
Teaching for Change was pleased to help Filmfest DC 2015 bring filmmakers and students together for the fourth year in a row. In April 2015, students at three high schools in Washington, D.C., had the opportunity to talk with film’s directors about their documentaries. This year’s films were about gay marriage in the U.S. and education in Israel and Palestine.
Students in English teacher Jill Weiler’s class at Capital City Public Charter School met not only the director and producer (Thomas Miller and Karen Hori) of Limited Partnership, but also one of lead subjects of the film, Tony Sullivan. (Students referred to him as the hero.) The film tells the story of Filipino-American Richard Adams and Australian Tony Sullivan, on of the first same-sex couples to receive a marriage license in 1975 California. The couple has spent four decades on the forefront of the struggle for marriage equality, but they’re still battling to be recognized as a couple even as same-sex marriage laws are finally changing.
During the discussion, students asked critical questions about their personal experiences, the work that went into creating the documentary, and the people and politics in the film. In a school with a large immigrant population, they were interested to hear Sullivan talk about his status as an undocumented immigrant to the U.S. His 40 year marriage to Adams, a U.S. citizen, still did not afford him citizenship.
Many students were inspired by the film to have courageous conversations with parents and re-examine their own views about relationships. Several students remarked that they were struck by the passion with which Tony has pursued his goals, and his forgiveness for those who have opposed him. Said student Colby,
I was very impressed by Tony Sullivan’s forgiving character. It is not often that we are given the opportunity to meet a person that has overcome so much adversity and still manages to live without resentment.
This Land is My Land
Director Tamara Erde discussed her film This Land is My Land in an ESL class at Wilson High School (with teacher Mary Ann Zehr) and a class on the History of Jerusalem supported by Qatar Foundation International (with teacher Alexander Porcelli) at Washington Latin Public Charter School. The film explores how Israel and Palestine teach the history of their respective nations and their conflicts.
Students were eager to make connections between their own lives and the lives of students abroad. After learning that Erde chooses to live in France instead of Israel, where she was born, high school student Hendrey remarked,
Making your own decision to go out of Israel caught my attention. I see it difficult to adapt to a new culture. Some people in this class are still adapting themselves to American culture.
Students wanted to understand why professors in the film chose to teach material that was not approved by the magistrate. Erde helped students understand that the professors believe the risk of not teaching the truth—to allow students to enter the world with a skewed understanding of the conflicts—is more dangerous.
Both filmmakers enjoyed the experience of talking to the students and getting the perspective of young people on their work. Erde said,
It was a pleasure for me to meet the students and discuss the film with them, and I think it’s one of the film’s main tasks.
Filmfest senior program consultant Linda Blackaby remarked on how the students asked very thoughtful questions and treated the filmmakers with great warmth and enthusiasm. As the filmmakers wrapped up their visits, the students requested photos and autographs.