The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



Film festival celebrates 30th anniversary of justice education

Jill Barwick | Tuesday, February 28, 2012

This week, Saint Mary’s Justice Education Program looks to harness the power of the moving image to celebrate the department’s 30th anniversary.

In honor of the event, the department is hosting the Leadership and Social Change Film Festival from this Tuesday until Thursday.

Jan Pilarski, director of the Justice Education Program, said she organized the festival with the help of the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership to draw attention to everyday people who strive for righteousness.

“The whole idea behind this film festival is to highlight ordinary people who have developed their leadership by doing extraordinary things in their countries for social justice,” she said.

Pilarski said the motive behind the event is to draw attention to these exceptional goals achieved by regular people.

“Our goal is to have people realize that skills and issues are certainly what is going on,” she said. “What’s exciting is seeing people stretch themselves to realize that these issues are happening.”

The film shown Tuesday night, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” is the story of 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Leymah Gbowee, as well as other courageous women’s rights activists in Liberia. 

“This film is only 3 years old, so it is fairly new,” Pilarski said. “We are excited to include this film because of Gbowee winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Her accomplishment highlights how lessons of work carries over in many ways.”

Today’s film, “Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai,” is a dramatic story of a Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize winner whose simple act of planting trees grew into a national movement to protect the environment and human rights and defend democracy. 

“The issues of land and environmental destruction are very prominent in this film,” Pilarski said. “Maathai not only built strength in herself, but she built a movement. This film highlights the importance of how to make change.

“Maathai became a catalyst with her movement for continued action in Kenya including the poor and women of the country. Her act of standing up to people in power for taking land from the poor began with a simple act of planting trees.”

Thursday, the department wraps up the film festival with a showing of “A Small Act,” a Sundance-featured film about a Holocaust survivor and the Kenyan student whose education she supports. The film demonstrates how individual actions can create a ripple effect to make a difference and support change, Pilarski said. 

“This film has a lot of potential to show how individuals can create something bigger than they ever imagined,” she said. “Much of change is built on relationships and partnerships.

“‘A Small Act’ shows each of us in our own way have the potential to make a difference through the connections we make.”

Playing films that showcase leadership skills and the power of everyday people ultimately conveys to students the message of the Justice Education department, Pilarski said.

“The Leadership and Social Change Film Festival truly hits the mark on our departments 30th anniversary theme,” she said. “The films are meant as examples of justice education in college, community and around the globe.”