“The Mission Statement and Programming Priorities”

By David Sparks (BFF 2019, Bates Class of 2020)

When signing up and petitioning for Film Festival Studies, I didn’t know exactly what to expect from the course. I had gotten a taste of what the Bates Film Festival would be like during my sophomore year at Bates when I attended a few screenings. At the time I first walked into the screening of Witchcraft Blue in the Olin Arts Center, I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t read about the film and had no idea if it was a documentary or a narrative. Next thing you know I was immersed into a culture I had never experienced before. The story followed the lives of burlesque performers and the uniqueness surrounding burlesque shows. Before the film I had never heard the word “burlesque” in my life, so it’s safe to say I was awed. Part of the Bates Film Festival’s mission is to engage in “the transformative power of our differences,” and Witchcraft Blue embodies this statement.

Witchcraft Blue World Premiere at the 2018 Bates Film Festival: Two of the performers profiled are joined by Associate Professor of Philosophy Lauren Ashwell and Associate Professor of Psychology and filmmaker Michael Sargent

When it finally became time to select the films for the 2019 festival, I remembered how creative and ‘different’ the Witchcraft Blue film had been for me as a sophomore. I remembered at the end of the film how the burlesque dancers stood up from the audience and came to the front of the theatre for a Q & A. I remembered how powerful the discussion was as I listened to the struggles and hardships the women in the film had endured but also the happiness that they felt. So, when narrowing down the selections for the festival my senior year, I knew the festival needed to show films that were both powerful and welcoming to a variety of viewpoints. I knew that the message a film portrayed, the discussion that could surround a film, and even the difficulties a group might have had in making a film would be more important than showing a film that just told the classic sappy love story. 

“when narrowing down the selections for the festival my senior year, I knew the festival needed to show films that were both powerful and welcoming to a variety of viewpoints.”

Midnight Traveler (2019)

So, when it comes to the selection of each film, it is essential to consider the value that a conversation around that film would bring the audience. From my experience, I gathered the importance of diversifying the film portfolio and choosing films that portrayed different social issues. Marijke de Valck in her paper “Introduction – Film Festivals as Sites of Passage” mentions that film festivals “accommodate culture and commerce, experimentation and entertainment, geopolitical interests and global funding” (de Valck, 2007: 16). For the Bates Film Festival (BFF), part of the focus was on accommodating culture. This year’s documentary selections were also entertaining films. One film, Midnight Travelerthat was selected and received the Jury Award for Best Documentary was filmed with just phones. Yes, the entire film was shot with three different cell phones and followed the journey of director Hassan Fazili and his family as they fled Afghanistan after a bounty had been placed on his head by the Taliban. This film, although it may not have been shot with the best Hollywood equipment, embodied experimentation and entertainment. 

De Valck discusses the Pesaro Film Festival as a major platform to be invariably political in nature (de Valck, 2007: 27-28). The Pesaro Festival showed films with “uncompromising solidarity with class struggles all over the world” (de Valck, 2007: 28). The festival additionally created a space with ample opportunity for discussion and academic input (de Valck, 2007: 28). I think the Bates Film Festival, with its selection, schedule, and mission statement of 2019 embodied what the Pesaro Festival exemplifies. The mission statement is a too-often-overlooked personification of a festival. The BFF mission statement explains the values and purpose that the board members attempt to control in film selection and discussion panels. Like the Pesaro Film Festival, the Bates Film Festival created a schedule that accommodated productive panel discussions in an academic setting. The festival takes place at Bates College, a liberal arts institution with around 1,800 undergraduate students. Thus, the space in which this festival takes place already includes young, motivated individuals who are aspiring to learn more about the world. The documentary films we chose were Midnight TravelerChanging the GameAlways in SeasonThe Feeling of Being Watched, and Chasing Portraits. Each of these films created an atmosphere in which college students and local community members were able to effectively draw from a slew of different cultural experiences and different struggles of people around the world. From investigating the lives of transgender athletes who play high school sports, to following the story behind a refugee family, the BFF had a socially diverse selection of films.

Marijke de Valck

De Valck also highlights the significance of “specialized” and “thematic” programming and the importance for a festival’s participation in world politics and cinema culture (de Valck, 2007: 13-43). Specialization and a thematic approach to programing arguably begin with a mission statement. The creation of the Bates Film Festival mission statement for 2019 began with a review of the 2018 festival mission statement. The 2018 statement was slightly altered and shortened based off of group discussions, edits, and reviews of slightly different vocabulary that the programmers believed to best suit the festival. A collective effort included phrases like “work that cultivates productive discussions of topical social and political issues” and “we work for equity and justice by welcoming a variety of viewpoints.” Essentially the verbiage selected was meant to be represented in the films we would choose to display. 

Overall it is essential to take a thematic approach when choosing the films that will be programed. Film selection should also represent the fundamental values displayed by the programmers that have been laid out in the mission statement. For the BFF, it was clear that we wanted a variety of politically relevant social issues that would lead to productive discussions in an academic setting. When programming a new festival, it is key to come to a consensus on a goal and for all board members to understand the central ideals. 

Works Cited

de Valck, Marijke. “Introduction – Film Festivals as Sites of Passage.” In Film Festivals: From European Geopolitics to Global Cinephilia. 13-43. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2007.