Nishat Kurwa on Monday, Jun. 18th
“Innovation” is often used as a euphemism for “technology,” especially in the San Francisco Bay Area. But as a film festival launching in Oakland this week demonstrates, “innovation” is mutable, expansive, and just as aptly used to describe process as it is to label outcomes.
“It happens to be a word that has like 35 different definitions,” said Ashara Ekundayo of BluBlak Media, a co-curator of the Oakland Innovation Film Lab. ”Some are directly connected to a problem in the community that we want to solve using arts and culture as a lens through which we discuss our issues.”
The OIFL is a weeklong series of events linking education, arts, and community organizing, spearheaded by KQED, which earlier this year held a Teacher Town Hall in Oakland. As part of an effort to have what Ekundayo called a “different kind of presence in the community,” the station had also screened a film in Oakland, one that hadn’t gotten much traction. OIFL began as an effort to re-introduce that film, but when Ekundayo and event promoter Michael Orange of Top Ten Social became involved they suggested a more organic approach. Instead of trying to promote a film that clearly didn’t resonate with Oakland audiences, they incorporated community groups and films that could reflect the city’s renaissance and yet were connected to its struggles.
The OIFL kicks off today with an intensive filmmakers’ workshop for young people, staffed by TILT’s Robyn Bykofsky, Katie Gillum of the Disposable Film Festival, and Matt Williams of KQED. In the space of an afternoon, participants will frame and edit short films and end the day with a completed project.
“If you’re not able to teach someone how to do it,” Ekundayo said of the youth workshop, “you’re not going to be able to utilize and harness the energy of young folks and their ideas and their voice. The idea is that they tell us what the problems are.” The youth films will screen together tonight, and then individually throughout the festival.
Other festival screenings include national and international films that showcase innovation through the filmmaker’s lens, or resonate with Oakland’s culture of arts activism.
Maestra, which screens tomorrow, explores the 1961 Cuban literacy project, during which Ekundayo said 750,000 people learned to read through the efforts of 100,000 young volunteers. Both Maestra and Wednesday’s An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, for which director Terrance Nance used claymation, animation, and cell phone photography in addition to more traditional production methods, are paired with community events being promoted as platforms for discussion of the films’ themes.
The OIFL is the Oakland debut for each of the films.
“We’re looking for it to be an annual event, but also the catalyst for film education pieces to unfold from different partners, Ekundayo said, adding that many of the group’s community partners were eager to participate in film festivals but hadn’t been invited to do so until the OIFL .