Tamara Van Strijthem: Grassroots level can make a difference

The Filmhouse in Edinburgh will be one of the venues during the Take One Action Film Festivals. Picture: Toby Williams
The Filmhouse in Edinburgh will be one of the venues during the Take One Action Film Festivals. Picture: Toby Williams
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This is the year that brought us the Panama Papers, the Zika virus, a US presidential nominee whose campaign unashamedly embraces lies and deceit, Brexit, countless terrorist attacks across several continents, rising inequality and the seemingly commensurate rise of the extreme right in European democracies, the bombing of thousands of innocents in Syria and Yemen and a refugee crisis that has led to thousands of deaths at sea or, too often, inhumane conditions for those who reached the shore.

Throw in the climate disaster we persist in heading for, and it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed in the face of such damning odds. So, do we give in and give up on our hopes for a better world? No way. There are causes for celebration, too. Don’t believe me? In the last two months alone, a momentous peace agreement between Farc and the Colombian government brought an end to a 50-year-old conflict; in India, 800,000 volunteers worked together to plant 50 million trees in one day.

At a grassroots level, there are countless examples of inspiring, fabulous initiatives bringing people together to fight for a fairer and more sustainable world, and at Take One Action Film Festivals, this is what we want to highlight and celebrate.

Among the information “noise” and echo chambers that surround us, it can be hard to identify what the most effective route to action may be – or indeed what lies at the core of specific issues. Film is almost unique in its capacity to shed light on complex issues. It is a great source of escapism, but it’s also a fantastic way of engaging with the world around us – and of bringing people together. Watching films with others and being able to explore our relationship to the issues they raise through inclusive, empowering post-screening discussions, affords a sense of community that Take One Action capitalises on to inform, motivate and empower audiences.

Our programme offers a challenge to defeatism, a reminder that positive social change is within our reach. Popular movements have shown, throughout history, that standing up for what we believe in is the only way to challenge the status quo: let’s take more notice of all the amazing achievements that activists’ relentless optimism and dogged hard work have brought about. Our opening film, the French globe-trotting documentary Tomorrow, presents a wonderfully uplifting reflection of this desire to shine a light on how we can shape our world for the better. .

Women’s empowerment, refugee integration, fighting austerity and global warming are all key themes of our festival films.

By giving audiences direct access to crucial, moving stories from all over the globe as well as the information and tools to push for positive social change within their community and beyond, we believe we can offer a much-needed, tangible antidote to powerlessness. We are enormously proud to be encouraging a true sense of connection and a wide variety of perspectives, with a welcome plurality of voices behind the camera, on screen and among our guests.

2016 need not be an annus horribilis. Let’s celebrate the people and the movies that are changing the world.

lTamara Van Strijthem is Executive Director of Take One Action Film Festival, which takes place in venues across Edinburgh and Glasgow, 14-25 September, in Aberdeen 11-13 November, and in Inverness 18-20 November: takeoneaction.org.uk