March 16 is a bittersweet day for me. This year, the day marks the 11th anniversary of the violent death of my
dear cousin, actress/producer Vanya Exerjian. But it’s also the launch date of the second edition of SR Socially Relevant Film Festival New York, which I
created in her memory.
To heal the pain of loss and to keep Vanya’s memory alive, I set out to celebrate her life instead of dwelling upon her
death. And in so doing, I wanted to celebrate the lives of all women victims of
violence, as well as celebrate the lives of
all actresses, filmmakers, and producers who decide to go against the grain, who stand up and speak their minds at the risk of hurting their existing or
potential careers in Hollywood. Many are those who have stood up to the male-dominated, misogynistic establishment and challenged the glass ceiling. Patricia Arquette,
Susan Sarandon, Whoopi Goldberg, Geena Davis, Sheila Nevins, and many others
are vivid examples and inspirations to us all.
The glass ceiling is still as tough as a rock,
but even the huge boulders on the beach are eventually eroded under the effect
of the wind and the waves. Together, we can crack the glass ceiling and eventually shatter it to pieces, but only in unison is this possible.
SR Socially Relevant Film Festival was created
in reaction to the proliferation of violence and the violent forms of storytelling common in Hollywood. Together, we can make it a platform where the stories of ordinary
people can be heard. Now in its second year, SR is celebrating not
only social issues and human-interest stories, but also women filmmakers. In its
inaugural edition last March, women filmmakers made up 40% of the festival’s slate. This year, the lineup boasts over 50% women. But SR
does not program based on gender alone, but on quality and social
relevance. Happily, women are increasingly standing up to be recognized.
As an actor,
filmmaker, and film curator, I strongly believe in the power of film in bringing about positive social change, or at least in raising awareness
about important issues though the medium of cinema. As women in the film
industry, we have a job and a mission. It is our responsibility as filmmakers
to advocate this change.
Our goal is to shift the paradigm back to where the focus should be: on the story. As an ordinary person, I find it difficult to identify with the monsters, special effects, and superhuman characters that Hollywood has to offer today. The mainstream film industry turns film into distraction, rather than a form of engagement and enlightenment.
Only by returning to human-scale storytelling might we dream of a
world free of conflict and violence, of a world where people care about
each other’s plights and traumas. Only then might we can hope for mutual
understanding through knowledge and empathy.
This year, SR Film Festival New York showcases 53 films
from 33 countries, offering an uplifting, enlightening, and artistically
satisfying experience to celebrate life. To make a difference and to find out
how you can be involved in socially relevant films, visit the festival website.
Nora Armani is the Founding Artistic Director of the SR Socially Relevant Film Festival New York.