The Greater Good
By Kimberly Johnson
The Whitehead International Film Festival—named after physicist turned philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead—boasts a mission of “celebrating films that promote the greater good.” Foraging through his theories on human interdependence, it becomes clear that the notion is a direct extension of Whitehead’s philosophy. In the early 20th century, Whitehead set out to examine the inner workings of human relations and how they affect the human experience. He theorized that interdependence is a definite key in how we function as societies in large scale complexes, as well as small. Essentially, he saw our interdependence as not only forcing us to be reliant upon one another, but by doing so, we are executing the greater good of the people as a whole.
The Whitehead International Film Festival is now on its thirteenth year of presenting evocative films from varying regional and cultural backgrounds, each exemplifying this message. In promoting the greater good, the films chosen are given the duty of illustrating plots and storylines that show an acknowledgment for others and their physical and mental well-being through empathy, strength, sensitivity and sacrifice. Among being sensitive to the human experience, they are also given the task of being ecologically responsible in their production process and (let us not forget) creatively gratifying to the inquiring eye.
Artistic excellence is among the top criteria next to the objective of promoting the philosophical ethics of “the greater good.” Each film chosen for the 2014 international fest have been selected not only because they adhere to this goal, but also because they have excelled in executing captivating scripts, evocative music scores as well as filmography and directorial techniques that supplement the art of contemporary filmmaking.
Among the feature length films on the festival’s agenda, Shun Li and the Poet reflects exemplary traits of the aforementioned criteria. It is an honest and endearing look into the contrasting lives, yet highly comparable emotions, of two not so likely friends. The Italian film, set in the Venetian Lagoon of Rome, follows Shun Li, a Chinese immigrant, as she maneuvers through depression and despair. Over time, she grows an unlikely, albeit powerful, friendship with Bepi, a retired Yugoslavian fisherman who has a knack for poetry. The pair uses their lonely and often defeatist feelings to jointly make the best of their complicated situations.
Shun Li and Bepi’s interconnected story is just one of the varying tales depicted in the twenty feature length and short films offered by the festival—several of which happen to be inspired by true events. Aside from Hannah Arendt, a film adaptation of the life and works of the celebrated German political theorist and philosopher, the Whitehead International Film Festival offers Touch of the Light, a film based on Huang Yu Siang, a seeing-impaired piano prodigy from rural Taiwan who goes on to provoke mouth-gaping awe as a top tier pianist.
Amidst the portrayal of emotionally-gripping films with synopsis comparable to a Lifetime movie gone right, the festival manages to further their service to the community by offering these amenities on an appreciated bargain. With the lovely price of $5 per film, any run-of-the-mill obscure movie fan can spend an afternoon enjoying the fest’s archive on the cheap—all Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB approved.
While these are still merely films we are speaking of—all set in motion by written scripts and teams of casts and crews—they are two hour glimpses into unknown territories, two hours of exposure to tongues dancing to different dialects and two hours offering the chance to engage, to feel and to examine. So yes, in a sense, they are bigger than just films alone. By our exposure to them, we are furthering Whitehead’s notion of interconnectedness and honoring the not-so-faulty notion that it just may be okay to simply care for one another as beneficial act to not only others, but to ourselves.
13th Annual Whitehead International Film Festival at the Mudd Theater, 1325 North College Ave., Claremont. (909) 621-5330; whiteheadfilmfestival.org. Passes are $5-$100. All ages.