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New film series at NU brings light to Africa

By Stephen Mikolaitis
On November 1, 2011

The Campus Climate Committee is funding a new campus-wide film series called Voices of Africa. The series will be played in the faculty dining lounge on designated Sundays, from approximately 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., according to the head coordinator of the movie series.

"Our community action grant selection committee deemed Dr. Judith Stallings-Ward's project, called Voices of Africa, an acceptable educational program," said Nicole DiDomenico, director of Civic Engagement & Campus Climate at Norwich.

The Campus Climate Committee provides community action grants of up to $15,000 to any student, faculty, staff or group on campus. There are two pots of money available, according to DiDomenico.

There is $10,000 available for professional development in the areas of campus climate, such as effective communication. "The other pot is for social or recreational activities that must demonstrate how they will help improve the campus climate," said DiDomenico.

"The idea is to show current events, important things in Africa that you would not necessarily get in books, online or any other form," said Stallings-Ward, professor of Spanish at Norwich and head coordinator for the film series. "It is a more immediate and more current look, or window into our world, and we are focusing on Africa in this series."

The film series was created by two prestigious film makers, Women Make Movies and Gacaca Films, said Stallings-Ward.

The series will address multiple issues taking place throughout Africa, such as genocide, the spread of AIDS and gay activism, according to Stallings-Ward.

These documentaries will cover difficult social challenges in Africa. "We will be looking at the issue of gay activists, what it is like to be in African and be an activist for gay rights, and have AIDS," said Stallings-Ward.

"There are other really difficult issues. There is a horrible, horrifying custom there among some countries of female genital mutilation, which one documentary will be looking at," said Stallings-Ward. Questions asked and answered include, "How in the world does this come to be, and how are we letting this happen in the 21st century?"

The goal of the documentary series is to help make Norwich students aware of issues outside of the United States, according to Stallings-Ward.

An additional goal of this series is to stimulate intellectual discussion and debate at the end of each film.

"(The discussion) is pretty deep and very philosophical about issues of mercy, reconciliation, justice and accountability, and how you balance those in the aftermath of widespread human rights atrocities," said Rowland Brucken, professor of history at Norwich.

The discussion provides an outlet for intellectual discourse, general awareness of how people struggle with human rights issues, and an outlet for students and faculty to interact, according to Brucken.

Students can partake in these discussions "freely and comfortably, with not just our peers, but also with professors in an environment where you are not being graded," said Stallings-Ward.

The comfortable environment has allowed students to discuss issues on an equal level with their professors, said Andrew Roberts, an 18-year-old freshman history major from Bethlehem, Pa.

"Most of the professors there had questions, and it was nice to hear a question a professor has and try to figure it out together," said Roberts. "It brought us down to the same level and we are all able to discuss it, and get a lot out of the conversation."

Different movie series have been playing on the Norwich campus for three years, according to Stallings-Ward.

This is the second year in a row Stallings-Ward has been funded to host movies and discussions of this manner, said DiDomenico.

"The first series, Beyond the Veil, was actually funded by the Friends of the Kritzberg Library," said Stallings-Ward.

The series has also received a strong backing by faculty members, said David Orrick, professor of criminal justice.

"There is a corps of three or four very helpful professors who are reliable presenters for professor Stallings-Ward in her series," said Orrick.

"I have been a helper of hers, sometimes like the main cheerleader for her, but I have also been the presenter for a couple of the films," explained Orrick.

Other professors have provided technical skills to assist Stallings-Ward in presenting the movie series. Ward has helped with operation of the projector and movie player in the faculty lounge, said David Ward, professor of German and modern languages.

Each film will be shown in the faculty dining lounge during dinner, according to Stallings-Ward.

"We reserved (the dining lounge) so that students can come in and get a tray and have their dinner, and have the movie at the same time, and then have a little discussion and question-answer session," said Stallings-Ward.

Films from the series are My Neighbor, My Killer, played on Oct. 15, Gacaca: Living Together on Oct. 30, Speaking Out: Aids and Hope on Nov. 13, and Simon and I on Dec. 4.

There will also be four films from the series playing next semester. Those films and dates are Africa Rising on Jan. 22, Sister-in-Law on Feb. 12, Iron Ladies of Liberia on Feb. 26, and Nollywood Lady on April 15.


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