An ambitious new series, Solutions Cinema, is off to a strong start. The monthlong festival searches for action and accountability around entrenched injustices through a slate of interactive films. Instead of one-directional storytelling, the 12 films are coupled with audience dialogue, including panels with filmmakers, featured characters, and students. Free screenings range widely, from a portrait of an Oakland high school’s reckoning with COVID-19 by director Peter Nicks, interviewed before by Mother Jones’ Brandon Patterson, to a documentary about grassroots journalism by Dalit women in India defying threats of violence and intimidation, by directors Rintus Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh.
The two, Homeroom and Writing With Fire, top my list. There’s another, about migrant laborers in Italy and Côte d’Ivoire (The Invisibles), and a timely documentary about South Africa’s escalating water scarcity (The Water Queen), along with a look at indigenous people in Mexico defending their community (Cherán: The Burning Hope). What’s uniquely promising here—the festival runs throughout April, launched by Doha Debates and Maine’s Point North Institute—is more than the scope and scale. It’s the basic premise, a kind of wager that is vanishingly incentivized in much of today’s media: a bid for dialogue instead of monologue. An effort to learn and unlearn. And an affirmation that audiences are drivers, not passengers, of cinema. The goal of engaging across divides without false equivalencies or neutrality, and finding that sweet spot, needs amplifying.