NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival Provides a Platform for Change

The NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival continues to allow independent creatives to present their stories. (Courtesy of David Darr/NYCITFF)

The NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival continues to allow independent creatives to present their stories. (Courtesy of David Darr/NYCITFF)

Last week, the NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival held its fifth annual presentation of work by some of the country’s most promising independent artists. It provides a voice for innovative storytelling that authentically reflects the hopes and obstacles the world faces today. Many of the stories featured, especially the following three, were linked by their contemporary relevance and their lessons on how individuals can find power within themselves to help change their communities for the better. I had the opportunity to watch some of the films in the festival and speak with various creatives about their films.

One film containing these themes is “Don’t Stay Safe,” a musical short that depicts a day in which Franki, a young Black woman living in New York, must decide between protecting her younger brother in the Black Lives Matter protests or staying inside to keep herself and her relationship with her girlfriend safe. After careful consideration of her own values and conflicting desires she finds strength within herself to not take the safest route, but instead the one she believes in most.

This inner conflict was brilliantly portrayed using music, and the changes in tempo and mood as the protagonist changed her mind throughout the film gave life to the whirlwind of emotions Franki felt as she had to make her difficult decision. Christina Franklin, director of “Don’t Stay Safe,” told me in an interview, “a character starts singing when the emotions are so high that speech becomes inadequate.” This use of song to voice the hope, fear and determination of those on screen made their experiences easily accessible to audiences.

During the many challenges America faced in 2020, including a string of incidents of police brutality and the COVID-19 pandemic, this film hit very close to home. Many people can relate to the emotional repercussions of these societal issues and a hostile political atmosphere within their home, testing one’s faith in their community and in their ability to help it. Franklin responded to this current climate, saying, “it’s important to remind yourself that another time will come. And in the meantime, when you don’t have access to what you love, reflect on the reasons you love it.” While hardship may be discouraging, evaluating what inspires you to keep moving forward is one important lesson “Don’t Stay Safe” shares with “Valens.”

For his directorial debut in “Valens,” Mazin Akar spoke with me, saying that he shares a “journey of self-discovery and growth” by following Faisal, a young man in search of a way to make a difference in his community plagued by corrupt politicians and a damaged economy. It is a search that leads him back to himself. Shot on site in Lebanon during the “October Revolution,” this short film depicts internal strife under a different political context, but with universal lessons and emotions.

One line from “Valens” formed a great response to anyone who may question whether it is worth getting involved in helping their communities through societal and political crises: “A cause beyond your own is truly a cause worth fighting for.” Here, those on screen give advice directly to viewers. As the audience travels alongside the protagonist, it is given an inside look at what motivates him in his effort to create a better world, which consists mostly of protecting the welfare of people besides himself.

“Once we’re able to discover what it is that we wish to fight for as individuals, does it become easier to channel that energy into our communities more effectively or align ourselves with a preexisting cause,” Akar told me. As Faisal tries to find a cause in which to place his support, he discovers he is passionate about making change for the people he loves and realizes he must follow his own values — not those of others — to truly help his community.

This emphasis on finding one’s own way while still contributing to causes greater than themselves can also be seen in the final film, a documentary short named “The Joy of 2020.” This lighthearted account of the journeys of five people rediscovering their passions and what they are grateful for during the pandemic instills hope in audiences, serving as a reminder to look for silver linings in difficult times. Filled with small clips of the everyday lives of these individuals, this short creates a new, beautiful interpretation of what normal looks like as people recognize the happiness they get from the simplest tasks.

Bailey Bass, director of “The Joy of 2020,” told me “even in the toughest of times, we can find good, experience moments of happiness and continue to grow as individuals and a society.” The film inspires viewers to reconnect with what they find fulfilling and to not let unfortunate circumstances dull their faith in themselves and their communities.

Franklin said that one important lesson from “Don’t Stay Safe” is “everyone has their own cocktail of trauma, stress, hopes and dreams. It’s important to have compassion for others when their priorities don’t align with yours.” This is a valuable statement after a year like 2020. As these productions have shown, progress truly begins with the individual. It may take a lot of reflection and soul-searching, but everyone has their own values, passions and reasons for wanting a better world. Only when differences are embraced and people are empathetic of both each other’s experiences and hopes for the future can greater change be made in the world of today.