Office of Public Engagement

White House Participates in Cultural Diplomacy Launch

The understanding between artists and individuals – on a people-to-people level, is one of the cornerstones of free societies. During the cold war, artists and cultural exchanges helped win what some scholars call the “war of ideas” by demonstrating to the world the promise of America. Now, in a post-9/11 world, where information travels at speeds previously unthinkable, economies are interdependent, and the arts & humanities are truly global, the beauty and universality of the moving image offers unique opportunities to increase cross-cultural understanding.

On Friday, December 3rd, the White House participated in the launch of “Film Forward: Advancing Cultural Dialogue”, a public/private cultural film exchange effort by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and the Sundance Institute,  in New York. The project encompasses five contemporary independent American filmmakers and five international filmmakers that will tour throughout the United States and abroad as part of an effort to build bridges between countries, and is  operated in partnership with the major federal cultural agencies,  the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.  State Department officials also participated in the launch.

The powerful stories represented by the  contemporary independent films and artists in Film Forward are ideal for bridging different cultures, not only in the diversity of artistic approaches, cultural traditions and political views of the films, but in meeting a very important need in engaging audiences here and abroad in one-on-one dialogue about shared perspectives on issues raised by the films. By  encouraging dialogue on universal themes  these films challenge stereotypes and open doors to other cultures, ideas and places.

The five American films that will tour throughout the United States and abroad as part of the program are: 

The five international films chosen to complete the line up of independent films are: Afghan Star directed by Havana Marking; Boy directed by Taika Waititi; Last Train Home directed by Luxin Fan; Son of Babylon by Mohamed Al-Daradji, and Udaan directed by Vikramaditya Motwane.

“We could not be more excited about this program and these films,” said Rachel Goslins, Executive Director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. “Each one of them powerfully represents universal themes and stories that will foster exactly the kind of cross-cultural understanding and dialogue that the President’s Committee and the program’s federal partners, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services believe are so important in today’s interconnected world.”

 This year’s films explore a range of universal themes, and the evolving nature of film in our global community.  Boy, La Mission, Udaan and Winter’s Bone navigate the transition to adulthood and re-define family in broadly different circumstances;Amreeka and Last Train Home depict contemporary challenges of immigration for those seeking work and a better life; Afghan Star explores the story of youthful dreams and the clash of global pop culture in a traditional Muslim society; Son of Babylon focuses on the enduring nature of family love in a society decimated by war. Finally, exploring the impact of individual and collective action are:  A Small Act which shows the impact of one individual’s choice to give, within a global context, and Freedom Riders depicts the real-life drama of a small group of courageous citizens who risked everything 50 years ago in the struggle for civil rights, and transformed American life.

Over the next year Film Forward will travel to twelve locations including  Nashville, TN; Jackson, MS; Washington, DC; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and the Saginaw Chippewa Reservation in Grand Rapids, MI; as well as Tunisia, China, Turkey and Kenya. All ten films will participate in a Spring Showcase on the National Mall in May.

While the Film Forward website is built, for more information on the program, you can check out: http://www.pcah.gov/film-forward

Kalpen Modi is an Associate Director for the Office of Public Engagement

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