Film is a powerful medium that can connect us with diverse perspectives and stories from across cultures. This weekend at the Global Cinema Film Festival of Boston, organizers are bringing some of the top global documentaries to the city in order to inform and inspire audiences, as well as visually transport them to places near and far. The festival begins Friday, May 19 and runs through May 21. It will feature films such as "Las Abogadas: Attorneys on the Frontlines of the Migrant Crisis" and "Iron Butterflies," which tells the story of Flight MH17 shot down over Ukraine in 2014. Raouf Jacob, the executive director, creator and founder of the Global Cinema Film Festival of Boston, discussed the festival with GBH's All Things Considered host Arun Rath. This transcript has been lightly edited.
Arun Rath: Tell us a bit about the story behind the festival, how it got started, and up until now, what have been some of the most meaningful moments?
Raouf Jacob: The Global Cinema Film Festival is really an extension of my production company, Worldwide Cinema Frames, which has been around for over a decade with the primary focus of spotlighting films about the human condition, near and far. Some of these topics range from human rights violations to simply observational pieces that take us and transport us to another realm in order to understand issues that are affecting populations around the globe. My work as a documentarian really has inspired putting together this carefully curated festival of films that tackles sensitive issues that we feel deserve global attention and that, most importantly, speak to the immediacy of now.
Rath: Something very dear to my heart, as somebody who's made documentaries with GBH, and I think probably to a lot of our audience. Tell us some more about the topics that you're covering this year. These are all documentaries, right?
Jacob: Yeah, that is correct. So, we have 12 films — four of them are shorts — and they're documentaries that cover over 18 different countries, whether it's the country of origin or the country of production or filming, and an array of different issues, politically engaged issues, human rights issues.
We have films from Ukraine, films from Mexico, films from South Africa, from Lebanon, from France. I think what we're trying to cover are issues that speak to what's happening in the world today and issues that are affecting people who are in limbo, whether it's the refugee crisis around the globe, whether it's environmental issues that are affecting us, in terms of the big debate of traveling to space and what that looks like and what are the consequences of that for us. Also just spotlighting average everyday people that live ordinary lives but yet might be forgotten or marginalized. There are many films in the festival that we're very proud of this year, and we hope that our audience can really engage and kind of go on a journey all over the globe.
Rath: I want to talk about some of these films, in particular the film "Las Abogadas," which follows attorneys who work with migrants and displaced people. I have to imagine some of them are epic characters when you spend some time with them.
Jacob: Yeah, this is a great film. Here we have four female lawyers that are tackling this immigration dystopia that we live in, if you will — and it's happening during the pandemic, it's happening prior to the 2020 election, and it's happening in a very sensitive time in terms of immigration legislation. Here they are offering various assistance, whether it's pressing border officials at the borders to do their job properly, whether it's providing medical care to folks in a Volkswagen bus that they drive around with, or advising people and giving voice to those who are stuck in limbo. There's a very complicated web in terms of an immigration system, a broken system that we have 'til this day in this country. So, it's a film that takes us on a journey with these women as they give voice to many immigrants who are just stuck in the shadows and trying to find a way or a path to legalization, whether to be granted political asylum, become legal permanent residents, or the pathway to citizenship. It's really a narrative that centers around diverse women and their clients, and we see heartbreaking and heartwarming stories unfold, but mostly the audacity to challenge the status quo, to make sure that immigrants are treated as people and not just simply as objects or a means to an end.
Rath: There's such a wide range of perspectives and many different countries represented [in this festival]. I'm just wondering, with a festival like this, how do you go through the process of going through the films and finding out about them and deciding which ones to include?
Jacob: What we do is we get submissions throughout the year. We're on a FilmFreeway, which is the leading platform, and films are submitted for consideration from all over the world. Then the challenge becomes — because there's no shortage of issues around the world — is watching films and deciding which ones you think will resonate with an audience, but most importantly, adhere to our mission of spotlighting films that make us care about sensitive issues. Of course, there's also looking at and examining the artistic approach of these productions.
But at the heart of it, we're looking for films that take you to the frontlines and films that are made by filmmakers, again, with the audacity to inform and transport audiences to places that they otherwise would not have access to. They do that all sometimes in less than 90 minutes.
I think it's amazing to go on this journey where you're watching the evolution of the documentary form, and we're not just seeing talking head interviews or archival footage, but rather films that are sometimes observational studies of the human condition in films that are immersive, films that are visceral, films that are transportive, and films that inspire a call to action.
Rath: Have you seen the audiences for global cinema change over the years? Has it grown?
Jacob: Absolutely. This is our eighth edition and we've seen a transformation in terms of folks that are now attending our festival, and we've seen that through a shift in demographics. At first we had an older audience, if you will, a lot of educators. Now, what we're seeing is there is a younger population very much engaged in and interested in watching documentaries. Let's be honest, documentaries is one of the most difficult markets in terms of the film industry to compete and also to get films out there and distributed. If you look at like Sundance, every year its a launching pad for a lot of these films. They pick up distributors usually right away. That's becoming increasingly more difficult. As we see this year, films that are coming out of Sundance, for example, that still don't have a distributor because of how sensitive some of these issues might be and how difficult this market can be. So, we're very proud that our audience has evolved and we have people from all walks of life accessing these very urgent matters.
Rath: Raouf, it's been great talking with you. Thank you. And and good luck with the festival.
Jacob: Thank you so much for having me.