Empathic Cinema

Student-led Film Festival

The following is from an interview with Meena Marchione, Year 12 IB Student from Beijing International Bilingual Academy


What is Empathic Cinema?

Empathic Cinema is a student led film festival that promotes the voices of young people to express their views of the world around them. I was inspired by other student led projects that used creativity while still striving to make an impact.

What were you hoping to achieve with Empathic Cinema?

I wanted Empathic Cinema to not only be a community bonding event where families and friends sit back and relax, but wanted our audience to leave with a deeper awareness of the world around them. Although the film festival featured short films about various global issues, we wanted in the end to do more than just raise awareness. We wanted audiences to be inspired to take action. To help with this my team and I decided to also promote a 24-hour fast, a fundraising event where we and other members of our school community go without food for 24 hours to raise money for the hungry.

meena-organizes-festivalWhat experiences in your past inspired you to organize this film festival?

I had attended a fashion show in Hong Kong that IBDP art students had produced at their school. It was extremely impressive as the students had managed to collect sponsors from high end clothing lines, had set up impressive social media, and really helped to convey the glamor of fashion. However, I was disappointed by how there was more emphasis on the brand name of clothing worn by students rather than the creativity and imagination of student produced designs. Although the fashion show was fundraising for a battered women’s shelter, there was a disappointing emphasis on materialism.

How has growing up overseas as an American expatriate attending international schools in Asia shaped your sense of international mindedness?

I have lived in 4 different countries over the past 8 years, which most certainly has shaped my sense of international mindedness. However, I also have a very multicultural background being Italian, Indian, Filipino American. All these factors have most certainly played a role. When I was 10 years old, I had the opportunity to visit my relatives in the Philippines for the first time. I’ll never forget coming face to face with a boy my age, emaciated, and holding a sickly baby in his arms. At the moment, there was nothing I could do to help.

My grandfather’s story surviving near death due to extreme poverty in India also heightened my awareness of the world before I became an international student. Even after immigrating to the US and becoming an engineer and businessman he still occasionally had nightmares where he would find himself as a beggar again, and that when his family walked by, they would ignore him. I am haunted too by the fact that I had ignored the suffering of this boy, who very much resembled my own grandfather when he was that age.

welcome-to-empathic-cinemaWhat were some of the challenges you faced organizing this film festival?

I knew it would be challenging initiating this CAS project in a school that was new to the IBDP program. So in preparation I discovered Crossroads Foundation’s Global Xperience, which creates simulations for schools and organizations to create empathy and positive change for people living in poverty. I set up a Skype call with David Begbie the Director of Crossroads. He understood that I wanted to truly make an impact and introduced me to the idea of turning our film fest into a 24-hour fast and lock- in. In order to build a sense of community around this ambitious project I had to share this idea in different ways to different groups of people. I also had to allow other students to add their own input and initiative for aspects of the event that excited them most.

What are you most proud of in regards to organizing this film festival?

I am most proud of my school community for coming together and supporting this event. BIBA has a big heart with many of us involved in service projects from our parents to the students to the teachers. I am especially proud and grateful to the students who joined the organizing team. We would not have been able to make the impact we did raising awareness with the films and raising funds for the NGO Freedom from Hunger if we didn’t all work as hard as we did.

If you can describe one moment that will forever stay in your mind regarding producing this film festival?

I finally took a moment after all the running around to look out at all the people who had shown up for the film festival. It was so satisfying to see families and students happily and peacefully watching these films outside on the grass picnicking around our school’s Confucian temple. Finally, after almost two years of dreaming and planning—it happened: Empathic Cinema!