When the National Geographic All Roads Film Festival begins Friday with a mix of film, live music and art by indigenous and minority-culture artists from around the world, its director hopes to have lighted a "sort of virtual fire around which we can all gather to hear each other's stories." Presented by the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, the three-day festival includes spotlights on Islam and Africa, and animated shorts from around the world.
Mark Bauman, the All Roads Film Project and Festival director, says the festival grew "a big cultures push" at National Geographic. "Over the last few decades, 3,000 languages have disappeared from the planet," he says, "meaning huge bodies of song, language, poetry and great, great old stories are lost pretty much forever."
Cinema, he adds, seemed like the most powerful venue for encouraging cultural exploration. "I come from the news business," he says, "and after 20 years of doing pieces for magazines and newspapers around the world, I am starting to believe that one great feature film can make a much bigger difference than a thousand news stories in terms of engaging the heart and imagination and getting people to think of another culture."
Bauman says that in programming All Roads, he attended various film festivals as well as approached indigenous and tribal groups around the world. "We printed a lot of literature and mailed it to anyone who would listen. We went to embassies. We got out as much as we could."
About 300 films were submitted, and more than 50 were chosen. "We were thrilled with the range of the films," he says. "They are everything from sort of traditional epics that have survived for thousands of years to hip, ultra-modern takes on urban aboriginal life."
Among the films are the 2003 Iranian documentary "The Ladies' Room" by Iranian actress Mahnaz Afzali, which chronicles a diverse group of women who smoke, let down their hair and talk about their problems in a restroom at a park in Tehran, and "Two Cars, One Night," a sweet short film by Maori director Taika Waititi about a young girl and boy who meet while waiting for their parents to come out of a local bar.
"I think Taika is as sophisticated a filmmaker than anyone in this business," Bauman says. "He's just in his mid-20s and is a stand-up comedian. We funded his third film, 'Tamu Tu,' as part of our grants programs."
Among the American films represented is the 2003 documentary "The Ghost Riders" by Blackfoot/Lakota/Mexican director Vincent Blackhawk Aamodt. Narrated by Benjamin Bratt, the poignant documentary chronicles a two-week ride on horseback by Lakota community members honoring ancestors who had been massacred at the Battle of Wounded Knee
Aamodt says he's thrilled that "Ghost Riders," which has screened at a few festivals in North America, was selected to be part of the festival. The film was a labor of love for the commercial director, who financed the film himself. "I didn't want to sit around and wait for people," Aamodt says. "I didn't want any other hands involved in it. I feel like it is my project. I didn't want anybody else to say, 'We are going to retrain the rights for this.' It was easy for me to say yes to myself to fund the project."
Bauman says National Geographic is hoping that Hollywood will notice such directors as Aamodt and the stories they have to tell.
"We want to engage the entertainment community around the idea that there are indigenous minority culture voices out there with unique perspectives," he says.
"We hope by engaging the major studios and directors and others that we will get more of these stories told in the mainstream," he says.
The festival will travel to the National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C., from Oct. 28 to 30.
All Roads Film Festival
Where: American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theater, 6712 Hollywood Blvd.
When: Friday through Sunday at various times.
Ends: Oct. 24
Price: $9 for general admission, $8 for seniors over 65 and students with valid ID, $6 for Cinematheque members.
Contact: (323) 466-3456 or go to www.egyptiantheatre.com or www.nationalgeographic.com/allroads