SUPPORT: Art as Diplomacy

How film can be just as good as a handshake when it comes to crossing borders and building relationships

WATCH: Global Lens 2012 director Oday Rasheed speaks with Deb Amos of NPR about QARANTINA and living and working in Baghdad

Ever since our founding, the phrase ‘promoting cross-cultural understanding through cinema’ has echoed with every presentation of Global Lens we sponsor, every grant we award, and every educational screening we host.   Our belief is that film, especially world cinema, has the ability to transcend politics and lines of conflict, exposing us to new cultures and new ways of thinking, allowing for better communication as a global society.

It’s a spectacular concept, and hardly the first of its kind—over the centuries, art and literature have always had the same power.  However, when it comes to film, for as simple as it sounds, until audiences see this process in action, the phrase rings a bit theoretical, and idealistic.  In fact, in a world where the majority of people consider film a form of entertainment, saying it is anything other than that is a hard sell—unless of course we “sell” it within a context other than entertainment.

Last week, the Global Film Initiative and the Council on Foreign Relations—an organization with whom we share a kinship in mission, and whose goal is to ‘better understand the world’ and the foreign policy decisions that affect it—hosted a screening of Global Lens 2012 film QARANTINA at the Council’s New York headquarters.   The event took place during the heart of our Global Lens 2012 premiere, and Iraqi director Oday Rasheed was in attendance, as were Board members Igor Kirman and Amy Hunter, and Ned Parker—Los Angeles Times Baghdad Bureau Chief and the individual who first wrote about Oday’s film, while living in Iraq.

By all accounts, the event was a success and resulted in a very insightful, and personal, Q&A with Oday (moderated by Deb Amos, of National Public Radio; see the video above).  And similar to our interview with him, it revealed exactly how film can work as a medium of cultural communication:  the audience was able to speak with Oday via his human experience as filmmaker, rather than the singular context of Iraq’s humanitarian crisis, and was afforded an opportunity to look beyond U.S. policy, and into the artistic psyche of a man whose existence is not just governed by war, but also a metronome of daily life.

Of course, one film and one screening doesn’t change the context of war in Iraq, or how Americans will eventually relate to the country.  But it does possibly show one filmmaker, such as Oday, that when it comes to Iraq, audiences in the States are interested in more than just their vested interests, and politics of economy and conflict.  Or, perhaps it does nothing of the sort—except to open a window of opportunity for communication, where traditional politics and other forms of diplomacy might have failed.  Ultimately, it introduces us to a story, told by one man and not the mass media, about his country.

M. Levent Bilgen, Consul General of Turkey (right), discusses the importance of film at the Turkish Consulate's reception for Global Lens 2012 director Tolga Karacelik

It’s something to think about.  Earlier this year, we wrote about the business of film, and what it means to forge relationships and partnerships that span not just our artistic world—but the literal, physical world.   Next week, Oday will be in the nation’s capitol, with U.S. Ambassador Cynthia Schneider, to participate in a similar presentation of his film at the Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.  In a few weeks, Susan Weeks Coulter will be in Colombia, to support that country’s burgeoning film industry, as a guest of the Cartagena International Film Festival and the Ministry of Culture of Colombia.

‘Promoting cross-cultural understanding through cinema.’  Film is the most universally consumed art form in the world, and its stories and images can open doors and minds, and help us find a common ground for conversation.  In its simplest form, it can move us emotionally.  And, at its best, it allows us to inhabit an alternate reality, showing us something we never knew about the world–a thought best expressed by an audience member at the Council’s screening, whose only comment about the film was: “To be quite honest, I had no idea anyone besides Americans were making films in Iraq.”


Our presentation of QARANTINA at the Council on Foreign Relations, and other Global Lens programs, are made possible by generous donations to the Global Film Initiative.  If you like to make a donation, please visit our online site.  Or, support our films, filmmakers and programs by purchasing a Global Lens DVD–all revenue from film sales is used to support production grants to emerging nations, community programs, educational programming and resources, touring film exhibitions and other philanthropic initiatives sponsored by the Global Film Initiative.




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