Lights, Camera and Social Action

Cleveland social justice films

Popcorn in one hand and a cold drink in the other, you settle into your cushy movie theatre seat ready to embark on a cinematic journey offered by the 42nd Cleveland International Film Festival, happening now through April 15.

Only the film you’re about to watch isn’t necessarily for the purpose of entertaining you. It’s stories about someone or something impacting the world in one way or another.

At some point in your life, you became interested in films that offer substance. You crave action, but not the kind that involves a car chase through the city, or a violent fight between the hero and villain. The on-screen action you crave is the kind that results in positive change in your life and in the lives of others.

Social justice films at CIFF42 cover a wide-range of topics, including climate change, art as non-violent resistance in Africa, LGBT stories and injustice against Native Americans — just to highlight a few. Some are full-length and others are short films.

An advantage of watching these films at a film festival is the possibility of meeting the filmmakers. This past Saturday, I saw “Liyana,” a wonderful documentary/animated story co-created with children from an orphanage in Swaziland, Africa. After the screening, the filmmakers shared their experiences making the film and answered audience questions.

Consider giving this genre of film a try if you’ve never done so. You may not get bored, but instead touched in ways you wouldn’t have imagined because these films are meant to …

  • Expose untold stories
  • Evoke individual or collective action
  • Provoke discussion
  • Build community cohesion

Experience their meaning yourself, and make your way online to to check out a few titles playing now on CIFF42 screens around the city. These screenings are still available, and some films are sponsored by community partners who are offering discounts toward the purchase of tickets.

“The Art of Loving”– Based on the life of Michalina Wisłocka, a heroine of the sex revolution in 1970s communist Poland, this story shed light on how one woman educated other women about their bodies and sex. (Catch it on Netflix if you can’t make the festival screening.)

Community Partner: NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio – For $2.00 off, use the code: NARAL.

“Maynard” – Learn about how Maynard Jackson, the first African American mayor of Atlanta in 1973, faces an uphill battle to address racism in the city and influence social movements around the country.

Community Partner: Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival – For $2.00 off, use the code URBAN.

“100 Women I Know” – A short documentary telling honest stories of 100 women who have been raped. Part of the Shorts Program 11.

“Freedom for the Wolf” – What does freedom and democracy look like, and why are people fighting for them in the 21st century? This documentary explores this question by examining what’s happening around the world.

Community Partner: The City Club of Cleveland – No discount code located

“Dawnland” – This documentary is about the survival of the Wabanaki tribes of Maine and how they addressed the stealing of their children in the 20th century.

Community Partner: Anisfield – Wolf Book Awards – For $2.00 off, use the code ANWO.

“Larger than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story”– Now makeup artists are commonplace in the world of fashion, and that’s because of Kevyn Aucoin. Described as a scrapbook of the life of a flamboyant pioneer in fashion, this documentary tells the story of beauty.

Community Partner: PLEXUS – For $2.00 off, use the code PLEXUS.

“On Her Shoulders” – Captured by ISIS, abused and raped for months, Nadia Murad, a Yazidi, shares how she survived and eventually became an activist speaking against the genocide of the Yazidi people.

“Don’t Talk to Irene” – A bullied teen finds a way to live her dream despite her circumstances in this coming of age comedy.

Community Partners: HandsOn Northeast OhioFor $2.00 off, use the code HANDS, and The Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio – For $2.00 off, use the code DCNEO

“Anote’s Ark” – The island of Kiribati, one of the most remote places on the earth and home to over 100,000 people, is on the front lines of climate change. Scientists predict the island will be uninhabitable within this century because of rising sea levels. President Anote Tong has traveled the world to ask the international community for support in this documentary.

Community Partner: Cuyahoga River Restoration – No discount code located

Action in films shouldn’t be solely for entertainment. The power of taking action as a result of watching a social justice films can have lasting effects. And if you don’t get a chance to catch any at CIFF42, check them out from your local library, or watch them on a streaming service.  

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