ACT Shorts shed light on cross-cultural connections

ACT Human Rights Film Festival

by Lauryn Bolz – October 28, 2019 – This story originally appeared in The Collegian

The ACT Human Rights Film Festival brought global social justice to Colorado State University’s front door through education and art at the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art on Oct. 24.

As part of their Year-Round series, ACT (which stands for awaken, connect, transform) presented a series of South African short films and guest lectures. By partnering with CSU’s department of art and art history, the department of anthropology and geography, CSU’s Africa Center and the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art, ACT created a diverse and dimensional presentation of themes surrounding “Migrations, Movements and (Im)Mobilities” in South Africa and abroad.

man lecturing to room of people

David Riep, curator of the Africa Gallery Permanent Collection at the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art, explains the significance of pieces he has included in his collection Oct. 24. (Megan McGregor | The Collegian)

“We live in a global world,” said Beth Seymour, ACT’s managing director. “This makes it vital to create space to better understand other countries, histories and cultures. Art, in all forms, is one of the most universal and accessible mediums for people to connect across geographies and cultures.”

ACT presented two critically-acclaimed short films, “Mthunzi” and “Mma Moeketsi,” which brought light to the persisting economic and social affects of apartheid in South Africa, despite anti-segregation legislation in 1994. Though the events in the film took place halfway across the globe, Jay Schutte, a postdoctoral fellow in the departments of communication and anthropology, stressed that the issues taking place in South Africa are not unique.

Having grown up in South Africa during apartheid and witnessing the government’s attempts to shed their segregated history, Schutte experienced the events displayed in the short film first hand.

“My own movement, migration and mobility is not exactly absent (from my teaching),” Schutte said. “I grew up around these places in the free state of Johannesburg.”

Schutte’s unique perspective allows them to make global connections between other historically colonized regions, including Fort Collins, Colorado.

“Post-settlement colonialism and themes of migration and mobility are highly relevant to our local contexts,” Schutte said. “Countries like the (United States), Canada, Australia and South Africa have significant similarities in a sense that all have had to account, and in some cases not really account, for how to incorporate indigenous politics into their local context.”

Like the characters in the short film, Indigenous people in America have suffered the effects of systematic oppression in their homeland. Schutte said it is important to recognize the implications of CSU’s existence as a land-grant university when discussing topics such as these.

“I think this message is important in the U.S. at present, when you look at what has been coming up around culture wars, where a lot of white Americans want to retreat into identity and unmarkedness,” Schutte said. “These are two propositions that are really troubling and lead nowhere. Unmarkedness makes you no one’s ally, and retreating into identity makes you treat every single action of colonialism as a personal attack.”

Schutte’s purpose is not to guilt or blame, but to educate and converse about America’s history of colonization and oppression.

“I want to push many of the discussions beyond just feeling white guilt, but the understanding that it is important to take accountability of yourself and be able to contextualize your own history,” Schutte said. “I think you can remember that you have that history and still account for your personhood and your presence without having to deal with the personal guilt.”

To supplement the presentation of the films, David Riep, professor of African art in the department of art and art history, presented on the importance of art in cultural identity. He used examples of traditional objects used to portray status, such as hats worn by Zulu women.

person looking at artwork

A person views the Africa Gallery Permanent Collection curated by David Riep and Lauren Karbula at the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art on Oct. 24. (Megan McGregor | The Collegian)

The multimedia approach opened up many different avenues for understanding the complex issues of oppression and identity.

“A human rights film festival, which is supposed to be a space (for) ideas about the ethical horizons of our world, (is) kind of being put to the floor,” Schutte said. “It’s not like you’re receiving a lecture; you’re being exposed to film and art. Collaborating with anthropologists or museum curators provides a number of different entry points into conversation.”

Scott Diffrient, a professor of film and media studies in the department of communication and the artistic director of the ACT Film Festival, said that the mediums of film and art increase understanding of issues and build empathy for humanity.

“These partnerships benefit everyone, both on- and off-campus audiences, by opening access to learning opportunities that otherwise may be closed,” Diffrient said. “Partnerships also give us new lenses to examine film and art in unconventional ways.”

Through the use of varied media, ACT’s film shorts taught about a culture, made global connections and communicated its effects here in Fort Collins. With their Year-Round presentations, the film festival continues to connect CSU students as global citizens.

“None of us watch anything in an unmediated sense,” Schutte said. “You are always prepared from a certain perspective. Informing your viewing with perspectives of others always enriches the viewing itself.”