The inaugural edition of
Rated SR Socially Relevant Film Festival New York (March 14-20 at New York's
Quad Cinema) assembles 55 films from 18 countries, offering an uplifting,
enlightening, and artistically satisfying experience that celebrates life. Many
of the talented filmmakers -- 40% of whom are women -- will be present at this
inaugural edition, some having traveled all the way from Armenia, Canada, Cuba,
France, Germany, Israel, Norway, Serbia, South Korea, Switzerland, and The
This is the story of the festival's origin.
I went to the London School of Economics to study sociology while pursuing an acting career. It was there that I learned to become more socially aware, socially proactive, even socially rebellious. Those were the times when we were swinging to the tune of "Free Nelson Mandela" and gender equality seemed de rigueur.
I grew up in the Middle East, but I did not feel particularly objectified or discriminated against until I arrived in Hollywood. Suddenly, my beliefs, my degrees, and my social conscience were in the way of my acting career. I was the opposite of what Hollywood expected of women. And even though at 23 we are all somewhat pretty little things, this pretty little thing was asking too many questions, even when she decided to shut up and just do as she was told.
But I didn't give up. After identifying the problem, I tried to remedy it. In an effort to be accepted, I tried to dumb down, to be silly and superficial, frivolous and mindless. But I soon realized that by adopting that persona, I was actually losing something very important -- the essence of who I really was. And I was also growing older. At 30, I was too old for Hollywood. It was time to leave.
Paris is where I landed next. That is where I produced films, some of which went on to become official selections at such festivals as Cannes, Rotterdam, Berlin. I was finally happy, having found my professional niche as actor and producer.
But life is full of surprises, and the hand that was dealt to me had NYC written all over it. It was time to move once again.
As my new life was about to take shape in the Big Apple, I had the misfortune of losing my cousin and my uncle to a hate crime. To heal the pain of the loss, I set out to learn about other people's tragedies. I wanted to know how others coped, how they lived. I needed to share their pain, their laughter, and their humanity.
Tragedy suddenly gave way to new opportunity, one where all that I had done and become would work in total synergy. That was how the Rated SR Socially Relevant Film Festival was born: as a platform for filmmakers with human-interest stories and for women filmmakers who focused on socially relevant content.
It is not a new idea. Many have advocated for a socially relevant film culture -- one dedicated to human-interest stories that are told responsibly but don't preach. Many others have done it and continue to do it. But the proliferation of gratuitous violence on our screens and the glamorization of crime and criminals -- not to mention the ongoing absence of women filmmakers -- prove that these efforts are never enough and that there is always room for more.
As an actor, filmmaker and curator, I had organized many film programs and series, but creating an essentially unfunded film festival from the ground up was no small feat. However, I am convinced that if you truly believe in something and defend it with all your might, it is bound to take shape in a positive way.
I strongly believe in the power of the film medium in bringing about positive social change, or at least in raising awareness about important issues though the medium of cinema. That is our job and our responsibility.
Nora Armani is the Founding Artistic Director of the Rated SR Film Festival.