CMU International Film Festival Reveals ‘Faces Behind Masks’

Jolanta Lion, deputy director of the Carnegie Mellon’s Humanities Center and a part-time Polish teacher at Pitt, remembers asking pedestrians about the importance of masks in their lives before the Carnegie Mellon International Film Festival.

“We interviewed people on the street [about] what the masks mean to them,” Lion said. “Most of them would say, naturally, protection and health, but there were actually people who found masks as a different meaning – masks as national pride, masks as protest, masks as identity.”

Lion explored the idea as director of the festival, which runs through Saturday at Carnegie Mellon University’s McConomy Auditorium, as well as Carlow University’s Harris Theater and Gailliot Center. The festival studies a different ‘face’ each year – previous festivals have studied the faces of identity, conflict, globalization and many more. But this year’s festival chose something universal in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic – “faces behind the mask”.

Regis Curtis, a young French, German and major in gender, sexuality and women’s studies at Pitt who completed an internship with the festival, said the theme posed a broad question to the public about their own relationship with masks – identities, the facades and the disguises that people wear.

“What we don’t want to do is tell you exactly what we want from this theme,” Curtis said. “A lot of what we do is find films that deal with things that are hidden and things that could be revealed through analysis or the act of seeing…it’s really an opportunity for the audience that we bring to have this discussion between them about what this mask means to them.

The festival has suffered setbacks during the pandemic, according to Aarushi Jain. The Carnegie Mellon graduate student in entertainment industry management said this year’s festival was a welcome departure from the virtual format.

“The festival has been going on for a while, but the last two years have been very difficult due to COVID – but even then the people involved over the last two years have done a very, very good job of making it virtual,” Jain said. . “This year we’re really happy that we got to do it again in person, and some faces actually came out from behind the mask.”

The festival featured 14 films from around the world. The opening night presented the Moroccan film “Casablanca Beats“, while others like the Polish film “leave no trace» and the Brazilian film «private desertwere screened during the festival.

Cindy Lu, a festival intern and fifth-year Carnegie Mellon student majoring in psychology, global studies, and human-computer interaction, said the feature Wolf Bureau documentary “Trencheswas relevant to the conflict in Ukraine.

“[It] shows what everyday life looks like for soldiers in the field. It was filmed for several months before the outbreak of war [in the] Donbass region,” Lu said. “It takes a microscopic look at people’s lives.”

Lu said these films are meant to confront audiences’ preconceptions about the world.

“The selection criteria for films is that we want them to be thought-provoking, and also to challenge the social status quo that people have accepted in their daily lives,” Lu said.[We want to] that people see other perspectives and think about it, without giving any message about how they should think about it.

The festival also featured Q&As with the makers of “Casablanca Beats” and “Leave No Traces,” among others. A panel discussion after “Trenches” included Pitt faculty members Will Zavala, Adriana Helbig and Tetyana Shlikhar. Some receptions included dishes from the culture depicted earlier on screen – the Chinese catering at Squirrel Hill restaurant Yue Bai Wei followed the Mandarin film “Ripples of Life”.

Curtis said these events aim to create a culturally immersive environment.

“These times are when this festival and this organization are at their peak,” Curtis said. “We started late this year and had some issues, especially with the uncertainty of COVID, [so] we weren’t able to make every screening this big event, but we made sure we could show exactly what this festival is all about in a perfect year many times over.

One thing that was notably lacking at the festival was the English language. Audiences heard around 16 languages ​​throughout the festival, none of which was English except for a few loanwords in Maltese. This element of the festival was intentional, Jain said.

“It exposes people to different cultures, especially in a place like this – not just CMU, but the United States in general, where there are so many cultures and expats coming together to stay here” , said Jain. “It helps people live together. It helps people to have a discussion, a healthy speech.

Lion said she hopes these films will help break down stereotypes.

“Movies allow audiences to meet each other, to get to know each other, to make the other someone who will become familiar,” Lion said. “If that happens, you will understand each other much better.”

Curtis said that ultimately the goal of the festival was increased cultural exposure.

“It’s really about providing the Pittsburgh community with an opportunity to engage with diversity and see the world from an auditorium at CMU,” Curtis said.