Skip to main content

Notes from the Reel World, Winter 2017

By Marjan Safinia

Photo by Mark Hayes

Dear Community,

I had prepared a different column for you, but post election, everything is different. 

This nation is as divided as it can be. We've long talked about two Americas, but now half of us are waking up in that stark reality. It seems the others feel they have been living it for years. These Americas are made up of radically different experiences, media and Facebook feeds, each in a distortive echo chamber, with scant substantive dialogue or sense of shared truth. Disconnection and a steady stream of uncontested lies have brought us to this moment. 

So what now? To move forward, we in this community need to do what we do best and bridge difference with reflections of shared humanity. It is harder to hate the Other when you know them, so let's hold up a mirror and show America both her sides. 

Many feel outraged resistance. Me too. But we have to stare down the division, bigotry and hatred, and engage. Difficult as it may feel, we have a responsibility to push ourselves to practice active listening, always asking ourselves, What life experiences (or lack of experiences) underpin an opposing point of view, and what stories can we share to help reframe that perception? Stories fortify shared experience. All conflict-resolution experts attest that people, however opposed, generally want the same basic things–safety, stability and a better life for their children. If we can gain any toehold of mutual respect, however small, we can find common ground to tackle the challenging conversations we need to have. We can't fix this in isolation.

We also need to challenge our own prejudices and hypocrisies. Let's own the fact that the elitism and snobbery that exists in our circles gets in the way of reaching across the divide. We spend a lot of time preaching to the choir. But how accessible is our work? We must find new ways to define and distribute docs and build new relationships with outlets and venues that draw different audiences. We must accept that discussions of diversity should include political diversity. 

Lastly, we need to invest in this community. Period. If we believe in defending truth, we just got a resounding call to action. No more talk about diversity and representation in who gets to tell stories. Action. No more talk of compensating filmmakers sustainably. Action. Most importantly, the time is upon us to build a serious war chest to fund and protect unpopular opinions and vulnerable voices as they take risks for truth. If past behavior is a predictor, dissent shall not be well tolerated. That threat is real. We must have filmmakers' backs, in practice, not in theory. Help us.

Filmmaker Grace Lee recently told me that she knew IDA was a safe place when she saw me at the podium—a woman, an immigrant, an Iranian. "It matters who we see," she said. That's truer than ever now, and there's real work to be done. Let's get busy fighting for all that is good and right. 

With gratitude,

Marjan Safinia