Hungry for some intellectual stimulation? On Thursday, September 27 in Lecture Center 100 on the SUNY New Paltz campus, a teach-in on the subject of Food Insecurity will be paired with a screening of the Lunafest short film festival. Admission is by donation — a suggested $5 to $10, and/or some nonperishable food item(s) for local food pantries. But here’s the kicker: The movies being shown aren’t a bunch of documentaries about organic farming or the food industry or world hunger. They’re a menu of delights chosen for this traveling exhibition simply because they’re terrific short films made by women.
The panel discussion, which begins at 5:30 p.m., features a couple of SUNY New Paltz graduates who have made their mark in this field: Dr. David Levinson (Class of 1975), president of Norwalk Community College and co-founder of its Food Pantry; and Regina Calcaterra (Class of 1988), an attorney who wrote about her experiences with foster care, abuse, homelessness and hunger in her book Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island. Also on the panel are faculty members Dr. Shala Mills and Brian Obach, author of Organic Struggle: The Movement for Sustainable Agriculture in the United States, along with Isabelle Hayes of Students for Sustainable Agriculture.
Lunafest was the brainchild of Kit Crawford, co-founder of Clif & Co., which manufactures Clif Bars and Luna Bars, who wanted to promote the telling of women’s stories onscreen. Here’s the way it works: Each year a short film competition is held, and the winners are distributed to towns around the US — 175+ so far — who want to hold a fundraiser for a charity of local concern. Luna Bars’ pet project, Chicken & Egg Pictures, which helps women break into the film industry, gets $350 off the top; the rest of the money raised goes directly to the designated local not-for-profit. There’s no intrinsic food connection (other than the Lunafest tradition of leaving a free Luna Bar on each seat in the screening venue); it just happens in this case that the SUNY New Paltz food pantry had 746 visits last year and could use a financial boost to cope with the increasing demand. The food pantries at Dutchess, Ulster and Norwalk Community Colleges are also partnering in this event.
As for the movie offerings: This year’s Lunafest crop consists of nine gems, both fiction and nonfiction, that will captivate any viewer ready for PG-13. They range in length from a two-minute animated poem that will make you laugh (Amanda Quaid’s Toys) to an 18 ½-minute mini-feature about bereavement and friendship that will make you cry (Megan Brotherton’s Buttercup). Three of them involve fathers learning to let their talented daughters take the lead; five of them have Asian, African or Latino protagonists.
Girls Level Up by Anne Edgar tells the true story of a young Pakistani immigrant who conducts Girls Make Games workshops for tech-savvy middle school girls in the US. Svetlana Cvetko’s Yours Sincerely, Lois Weber ingeniously simulates old, worn film stock to pay tribute to the highest-paid silent film director at Universal Studios in 1916. Uttera Singh’s Fanny Pack brings topical concerns about brown people being perceived as terrorists to a family comedy about an artistic young Indian-American woman with an overly controlling father. Bekky O’Neil’s Last Summer, in the Garden is a beautiful animation of the filmmaker’s own watercolors. Ifunanya Maduka’s Waiting for Hassana is a heartrending first-person account of the 2014 Boko Haram kidnapping of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls. Emily Sheskin’s Jesszilla introduces us to an engaging 10-year-old girl intent on winning Olympic gold in boxing. Set in a Korean-owned suburban nail salon, Joy Joy Nails by Joey Ally starts out seeming to be about two female employees competing for the attentions of the owner’s son, but takes a darker turn upending the “catfight” trope while it explores some hot-button social issues.
Taken together, this program of films only runs about an hour-and-a-half, beginning at 7 p.m., and the variety of subject matter, visual storytelling approach and emotional tone keeps it lively and engaging. Come for the teach-in, the movies or both; you’ll support several good causes at once and have a good time doing it. To learn more, visit www.lunafest.org or http://hawksites.newpaltz.edu/fdc.