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ACT Human Rights Film Festival to connect students with world cinema and service in its second year

The second annual ACT Human Rights Film Festival begins next month, bringing a vibrant combination of international film and civic engagement to Colorado State University.

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Dr. Scott Diffrient, associate professor of film and media studies, created and conceptualized the first ACT Festival in 2016.


According to ACT’s Director of Marketing Carol Busch, the vision for the 2017 ACT is threefold: screening high-quality films that are not widely available, generating conversations between students and the attending filmmakers and connecting students with non-profit organizations.

“The ACT Human Rights Film Festival is a call to social justice, and that’s why a CSU student organization and a non-profit organization are present at every single film we screen, ” Busch said. “The American Civil Liberties Union is one of the groups we’ve invited this year.”

Tickets go on sale March 16, with a pre-screening on March 28 at Fort Collins’ Odell Brewing Co.. The main event is a week-long glimpse into world cinema, from April 14 – 21, at CSU’s main campus.

According to the ACT’s program coordinator Lindsey Nielsen, the 2017 festival features 16 films from an array of international artists.

Featured films provide insights into socio-cultural issues  that stretch across the hemispheres. This year’s international entrants hail from Cuba, Afghanistan, Iran, Mali, India, Korea, Ireland and many others.

The festival brings good news for aspiring directors and cinematographers. Student film projects are being considered through March 7. Entries should run 10 minutes or less and relate to one of the festival’s six themes: art as resistance, immigration and exile, LGBTQ rights, race and class in America, war and genocide and women’s rights. Projects can be submitted to or

Department of Communications Chair and Producer Dr. Greg Dickinson saw these films as an artistic bridge to world citizenship.

“The ACT Human Rights Film Festival is an enactment of human freedom, and the films ask hard questions about the human condition,” Dickinson said. “Fine art never leaves us with easy answers.”

If art’s nature is rooted in struggle, then these traits extend to the film selection process. Dr. Julia Khrebtan-Hoerhager, assistant professor of communication and board member of the ACT Festival’s Programming Committee, said each member considered about 70 film entries, with only a fraction making the cut.


“There’s an agony of choice when you distill the films down to 10 or so,” Khrebtan-Hoerhager said. “Each shows a unique perspective, and it is very hard to choose.”

Dickinson recalled one of those unique perspectives that made it through the rigorous selection process with the movie “They’ll Have to Kill Us First.” The film is about musicians in Mali standing up to the Islamic extremists who have issued a music ban across two-thirds of the West African nation.

“Why do you think people are willing to go to jail for their music?” Dickinson asked. “It’s because music is social action. Music has the power to move people. It’s an international language, and it reaches a broad audience. It inspires service and make us realize that our work needs to matter in the world.”

“We want to show students that these films are about issues in our own backyard, and we want them to feel empowered to help,” Busch added.

One of these issues relates to another entry “Raving Iran.” This film follows a group of underground techno DJ’s based in Tehran where playing rave music live can translate to jail time. The film documents their clashes with authorities and a dangerous struggle to promote their music.

“We’ve had conflict with the Middle East for so long,” Busch said. “Maybe that’s why there is a desire within American culture to look to these regions for stories.”

Khrebtan-Hoerhager said this same desire carries with it a distance. CSU students, whose lives are often different and separate from those of the festival’s subjects, may wonder how they can relate to citizens of the developing world.

“Academic institutions have an isolated, liberal bubble,” Khrebtan-Hoerhager said. “We write a paper, get an A, walk out and we are unaware of so many ways to create change. People must find avenues to do actual work in the world. If we can do that, our transformation will be one of consciousness and of you as an empathetic citizen.”

It is the agency belonging to both film subject and student viewer that the ACT Human Rights Film Festival seeks to unite. Film participants watch and talk. They see one another as individuals, and together, they are moved to act.

“A life is not a nationality, nor is it black or white,” Khrebtan-Hoerhager said. “It’s human.”

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