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Rated SR for Socially Relevant: The Birth of a New NYC Film Festival

Rated SR for Socially Relevant: The Birth of a New NYC Film Festival

The inaugural edition of
Rated SR Socially Relevant Film Festival New York (March 14-20 at New York’s
Quad Cinema) assembles 55 films from 18 countries, offering an uplifting,
enlightening, and artistically satisfying experience that celebrates life. Many
of the talented filmmakers — 40% of whom are women — will be present at this
inaugural edition, some having traveled all the way from Armenia, Canada, Cuba,
France, Germany, Israel, Norway, Serbia, South Korea, Switzerland, and The

This is the story of the
festival’s origin. 

I went to the London School
of Economics to study sociology while pursuing an acting career. It was there
that I learned to become more socially aware, socially proactive, even socially
rebellious. Those were the times when we were swinging to the tune of “Free
Nelson Mandela” and gender equality seemed de

I grew up in the Middle
East, but I did not feel particularly objectified or discriminated against
until I arrived in Hollywood. Suddenly, my beliefs, my degrees, and my social
conscience were in the way of my acting career. I was the opposite of what Hollywood
expected of women. And even though at 23 we are all somewhat pretty little things,
this pretty little thing was asking too many questions, even when she decided
to shut up and just do as she was told.

But I didn’t give up.
After identifying the problem, I tried to remedy it. In an effort to be
accepted, I tried to dumb down, to be silly and superficial, frivolous and
mindless. But I soon realized that by adopting that persona, I was actually losing
something very important — the essence of who I really was. And I was also
growing older. At 30, I was too old for Hollywood. It was time to leave.

Paris is where I landed
next. That is where I produced films, some of which went on to become official
selections at such festivals as Cannes, Rotterdam, Berlin. I was finally happy,
having found my professional niche as actor and producer.

But life is full of
surprises, and the hand that was dealt to me had NYC written all over it. It
was time to move once again.

As my new life was about
to take shape in the Big Apple, I had the misfortune of losing my cousin and my
uncle to a hate crime. To heal the pain of the loss, I set out to learn about
other people’s tragedies. I wanted to know how others coped, how they lived. I
needed to share their pain, their laughter, and their humanity. 

Tragedy suddenly gave way
to new opportunity, one where all that I had done and become would work in
total synergy. That was how the Rated SR Socially Relevant Film Festival was born:
as a platform for filmmakers with human-interest stories and for women
filmmakers who focused on socially relevant content.

It is not a new idea. Many
have advocated for a socially relevant film culture — one dedicated to
human-interest stories that are told responsibly but don’t preach. Many others have
done it and continue to do it. But the proliferation of gratuitous violence on
our screens and the glamorization of crime and criminals — not to mention the ongoing
absence of women filmmakers  — prove
that these efforts are never enough and that there is always room for more.

As an actor, filmmaker and
curator, I had organized many film programs and series, but creating an
essentially unfunded film festival from the ground up was no small feat. However,
I am convinced that if you truly believe in something and defend it with all
your might, it is bound to take shape in a positive way.

I strongly believe in the
power of the film medium in bringing about positive social change, or at least in
raising awareness about important issues though the medium of cinema. That is
our job and our responsibility. 

Armani is the Founding Artistic Director of the
Rated SR Film Festival.

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