Recently we chatted with Afarin Eghbal, director of 2011 Jimmy Stewart Crystal Heart award-winning short, Abuelas. We discussed her film’s journey over the last year, and what her involvement with Heartland has meant to her personally and as a filmmaker. It’s such a reward to hear from filmmakers throughout the world who embrace our organization and its impact on film and culture with unbridled enthusiasm.
Abuelas, an animated documentary student short, looked different than other films Afarin had seen and her lingering thought upon completion was, “What if this is wrong?” Once out of school she kept her film safely tucked away, hesitant to submit it to the festival circuit. Four months after she graduated a friend asked her about the festivals to which she’d submitted. When Afarin admitted her reluctance to share Abuelas, her friend told her to forget her ego, reminding her that she’d made a promise to tell the story of the abuelas. If only one person learned about the impact of Argentina’s Dirty War, the film would have done its job
When Eghbal first discovered the story of Argentina’s Dirty War in college, she was shocked to learn that these atrocities occurred in her lifetime, yet she’d heard nothing about them. And so she set out to make an awareness film that would appeal to her peers in an engaging way. Using real-life testimonials of the grandmothers she interviewed in Argentina, this animated documentary raises issues of memory, repression and loss.
Though Afarin’s goal was to inform her peers about the Abuelas story, her film has grown beyond that audience and traveled the world, spanning age, culture and background. With each new screening the story of the Abuelas has grown within society’s collective memory, ensuring that history won’t repeat itself. Thanks to Afarin’s film, when Jorge Rafael Videla, former senior commander in the Argentine Army and the de facto President of Argentina during the Dirty War, was sentenced to life in prison in July 2012 for the systematic kidnapping of children during the Dirty War, his sentence resonated more loudly. Afarin’s film didn’t play a part in the conviction, but the voice her film gave to a buried history proves that one film can make a difference.
But Afarin submitted Abuelas and was accepted to Heartland well before her film found wild success in the festival circuit. What prompted Afarin to submit to Heartland was its mission to inspire filmmakers and audiences through the transformative power of film, which is what she’d set her heart on accomplishing in making this film. Heartland was one of the first festivals to accept her film and helped pave the way for nearly 100 other festivals to accept Abuelas. Afarin praised Heartland for its careful curation of great films from all over the world and setting a bar so high that other film festivals have to take note.
While Afarin felt a connection to Heartland before she she even submitted her film, her love and appreciation of it grew once Abuelas was accepted to the Festival and she attended in 2011. From the moment she stepped off the plane she was overwhelmed by the generous spirit that permeated every aspect of the Festival. From being greeted and embraced by the volunteers (over 700 strong) and then seeing the names of national and community sponsors and donors connected to each film, she realized how dedicated Heartland’s supporters are to amplifying and encouraging the voice of independent filmmakers.
In our conversation with Afarin, her voice constantly underlined the word generosity. All of her Heartland experiences seemed to come back to that giving spirit. She emphasized that those who give their resources and time to the Festival produce waves of impact that promoting a cycle of positive feedback and energy among the filmmakers and audiences, making Heartland an experience that can’t be replicated anywhere else. It’s what we continually hear from Afarin and other filmmakers about Heartland’s impact — it’s more than simply a film festival, it truly is a an organization that has cultural impact through inspiring filmmakers and audiences through the transformative power of film.