Through Cultural Diplomacy, Sparking Conversations on the Silver Screen

Posted by Marjorie Ames
February 13, 2012
Worker Prepares Film Reel

The American Film Showcase, a partnership between the U.S. Department of State and the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts, uses film as a public diplomacy tool to bring people together and foster greater understanding across cultures. An arts-based exchange, the Showcase is a dynamic way to share the vision, artistry and diverse viewpoints of American filmmakers. USC convened a committee of 23 notable filmmakers, academics and film experts that recommended a slate of films for their cinematic mastery and without regard to specific policies or practices depicted in the film. The program, like so many of the Department's public diplomacy initiatives, demonstrates the diversity of thought and style in the United States.

This was the basis of a two-day orientation we had over the weekend with the participating filmmakers. The American Film Showcase sends award-winning documentaries, animation, and, for the first time, feature films to people around the world, offering diverse views of American society and culture as seen by independent filmmakers. A number of embassies will now have the opportunity to select a film and bring the filmmaker to their host country to facilitate workshops about filmmaking as well as discussions about freedom of expression.

Filmmakers will carry with them the excitement and passion that permeated this weekend's events. From the welcoming reception in an "old Hollywood setting" within USC's state-of-the-art cinematic arts facility to a day of meetings and briefings on the objectives of the program, the filmmakers and film experts expressed enthusiasm for this valuable exchange opportunity.

We were impressed by this class of filmmakers' interest in reaching new audiences and using the universal language of film to start conversations with a wide range of different cultures that may not have had access to American films. Many of the participants have traveled worldwide to film festivals, participated in international discussions, and taught in or conducted workshops or master classes sharing their craft and their expertise.

From documentary film legend Les Blank to newcomers Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin, whose film Undefeated is nominated for an Academy Award this year, the American Film Showcase includes leading lights in the filmmaking community and film experts. These cinematic leaders not only share technical expertise, but also encourage understanding of the role of filmmaking as a catalyst for dialogue about important contemporary issues. For example, a number of participants are dedicated to supporting women in filmmaking and giving voice to women's issues. All of the film experts and film makers are enthusiastic about fostering conversations that will contribute to empowering women and girls.

Having met the American Film Showcase Class of 2012, the Department is more excited than ever to reach people through film, and, in the process, create opportunities for greater understanding among all people and cultures.

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