[Guest writer Barbara Rofkar started as a pediatric nurse, became an anthropologist and worked to start the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center. She also taught at WWU for several decades.]
This year, 2020 is the 20th anniversary of the Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival (bhrff). It begins February 20th! The film festival was the ‘brain child’ of a couple of young volunteers who worked at the Pickford theatre twenty-some years ago. They worked with the Whatcom Film Association and Alice Clark whose ‘brain child’ was the Pickford. Initially, it was a full week of films at the Pickford (which is now the Limelight).
After the first year, Alice, Michael Falter, and other community members worked to continue the festival that has became an annual Bellingham tradition. Community members, including college and high school students, have worked every year to provide a wide variety of films. They each cared about global issues and understood that more information was needed to engage the community. The film festival was born to encourage understanding of issues not reported with depth in corporate media.
The festival has continued because of a dedicated group of individuals who volunteer myriad hours to review films and establish appropriate venues for those films throughout the county. This year there are 24 films in 12 different venues around our county. A number of them are shown several times in different locations to promote the widest range of viewing possibilities for the public. The primary venue is the Fairhaven College Auditorium. Whenever a film is located at Fairhaven College, the parking is free on the lot outside the college at WWU.
There are several reasons this film festival is important. As news media is mainly run by large corporate entities, their programming is chosen to influence what they deem is important for the public to know. Their intent is to entertain, even in their nightly newscasts. Also, media is profit driven, so material that entices one to think, relate to, or question what is going on in the world is not always the best way to entertain the regular viewing audience. To enhance profit, the primary focus of advertisers on network news broadcasts is consumption, which an awareness of global reality does not often encourage.
Human Rights Film Festivals have become important events around our nation and the world. They expand one’s knowledge, comprehension,and consciousness of the world in which we live. They allow us to put ourselves into another milieu and consider how, if, or why our nation should “help”—or whether we are actually “helping” various situations. They invite us to become an active participant in our democracy and world. These festivals have given our community a remarkable opportunity to explore critical human rights issues that affect us all, allowing us to deliberate how best to create and work toward a more just world.
Each film will have one or more community organizations that are co-presenters or co-sponsors. They will explain the activities their group is involved in and invite viewers to join their work if they have an interest. The groups may work locally, nationally, or internationally to create a healthy livable situation for those who have limited power. Many of our local co-sponsors, presenters and donors have been generous and help us keep this festival free. When you visit them, please thank them for their support in bringing these amazing films to our community!
The goals of the festival are many: They educate us on human rights issues through film and discussion. They invite us to see the connections between human rights and environmental issues. They also connect the global to the local, which is why many local organizations will be present to offer suggestions on how to be a more engaged citizen. There are many stories of inspirational activism, both nationally and internationally, that can energize and engage a sense of belonging to our larger world community.
The films are shown free, but donations are gladly accepted and are used to help purchase or rent the films. Through the generosity of those who have donated, over 250 of our films have been purchased and are available at the Bellingham, Whatcom County, and local college libraries. All locations can be found on our festival’s website.
This year’s films will look at a number of environmental issues, (The Wild, Beyond Climate). There are international issues, Gaza Fights for Freedom, and a look at the media, The Brainwashing of My Dad, and many more. The full schedule, with times and venues, is also on the website.
As one of our festival participants wrote in the evaluation, “Thank you for your prior and continuing work to organize such a sobering, informative, humbling and inspiring film festival. You make our community richer, and help connect us to the world in ways the mainstream media does not.”
As a committee, our hope is to inspire. In the words of Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”