Film Forward brings Sundance to Williamsport

Over the previous few decades, Williamsport has become regionally renowned for its arts scene and cultural capital. Thanks to a recent initiative by the James V. Brown Library, this wealth will continue to flourish, and begin to create footprints globally.

The library recently was chosen to participate in Film Forward: Advancing Cultural Dialogue, a partnership of the Sundance Institute and various U.S. Federal Cultural agencies. The partnership presents an “international program designed to enhance greater cultural understanding, collaboration and dialogue around the globe by engaging audiences through the exhibition of films, workshops and conversations,” according to the Film Forward press release.

Because Pennsylvania is one of only eight locations worldwide chosen to host the Film Forward, it is an especially unique honor to have the Sundance Initiative’s program in Williamsport.

“Pennsylvania is the first state attempting multiple viewings through this partnership as a way to increase the reach of the films and the topics explored by them,” Dana Brigandi, the library’s leadership assistant and media coordinator, said. “Without this unique agreement, people would have to go to Harrisburg to see these films, which could be a burden for those in rural areas. The Brown Library strongly believed that bringing these films and their discussions would be extremely educational for our community, so we partnered with the State Library of Pennsylvania to offer this in Williamsport.”

Bringing Film Forward to Williamsport has been no small feat. From forming state agency partnerships, to relying on steadfast community-based sponsors, the Sundance Initiative’s arrival in Williamsport required a team effort. Brigandi stressed the particular importance of community partners in bringing the Film Forward initiative to town.

“We are fortunate to have incredible community partners in Lycoming College, the Community Arts Center, the Central Pennsylvania Film Commission and Uptown Music Collective, along with local educator and longtime movie critic Joseph W. Smith III.” (Ed. note: Smith also is a movie critic for the Showcase)

In all, four films will have been featured in Williamsport through April 25. Two films will be screened at the Brown Library and the others will be at the Community Arts Center and Lycoming College, featuring “extremely knowlegeable presenters from our partnering groups who are sure to lead thought-provoking discussions,” Brigandi said. The films range a variety of genres, and were selected “with our community in mind and what we believe they are interested in: women’s rights, religion, music and education,” she added. According to Keri Putnam, Sundance Institute executive director, each film presents “an extraordinary representation of universal themes that will inspire and challenge audiences to look at their community and our world in a new way.”

With the first film showing complete, the rest of the library’s films and presenters are as follows:

“If You Build It” – 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Lowry Theatre, Welch Wing, James V. Brown Library. “If You Build It” spends a year in the life of one of America’s most innovative classrooms. Designer/activists Emily Pilloton and Matt Miller, together with their high school students, unleash the power of humanitarian design to help their struggling community in rural North Carolina. Lorena Beniquez of the Central Pennsylvania Film Office will facilitate.

“Twenty Feet From Stardom” – 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Community Arts Center. Millions know their voices, but no one knows their names. The Academy Award winning documentary, “Twenty Feet From Stardom,” shines a spotlight on the untold true story of the backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends of the 21st century. Jared Mondell from Uptown Music Collective will facilitate.

“Circles” – 6 to 9 p.m. April 25, Lowry Theatre, Welch Wing, James V. Brown Library. Five people are affected by a tragic heroic act. Twenty years later, all of them will have to confront the past through their own crises. Will they overcome the guilt, frustration and the urge for revenge? Will they do the right thing, at all costs? Joseph W. Smith III will facilitate.