Saint Louis Film Festival highlights culture and tradition

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A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to view a few documentaries playing at the Center for Global Citizenship that were featured as part of the Saint Louis Film Festival. These films included Welcome to Unity directed by Katharine Mahalic, Finding Bosnia directed by Ivana Horvat and My Life in China directed by Kenneth Eng – all of which I enjoyed very much. The films provided a personal viewpoint of their own culture in comparison to other cultures, which allowed me to see the struggles and the meaning of “culture shock” in a different way and appreciate various traditions while being amazed by them at the same time.

 

I enjoyed Mahalic’s Welcome to Unity because it focuses on a journey of many high school exchange students that came together under an American roof in the small town of Unity, Oregon. There, they learned about the culture and traditions of one other along with sharing their curiosity for the American culture. The film perfectly encompassed the meaning of diversity and compromise. We see each student (from Taiwan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, Germany, Serbia, and Kyrgyzstan) evolve and learn many valuable lessons as they go through their last years of high school in a city with a very small population.   The students attend events such as cattle branding, youth group retreats, prom, and graduation. The aspect which stood out to me the most was that the foster-mother had treated everyone equally—and the students were extremely mature enough to respect the strength and flaws of one another. The film was very comical as the students came to America thinking that they would be in a fast-paced urban setting; however, they end up in a completely opposite rural area, which brings them a huge culture shock.

 

Finding Bosnia is the personal journey of director  Ivana, as she goes back to Bosnia with only the knowledge that was passed down by her parents. She was very familiar of the war that went on, but didn’t understand the culture, traditions and the love that the Bosnians shared. Ivana filmed her visit to Bosnia, discovering everything she had missed while getting back all that she could. She also learned about the effects of the war and how her friends suffered from it. Ivana also grasped the idea of diversity within the country. Overall, this was a very sentimental film, and I highly recommend it.

 

Young’s My Life is China struck a chord with me the most. The film serves as a tribute to Kenneth’s father, which we learn at the end. Throughout the documentary, we learn about the troubles that Kenneth’s father faces at home, including the struggles of taking care of both his children and his mentally-ill wife. He takes a trip back to China — after a little less than twenty years – in hopes of figuring out whether or not his move to America was the best choice that he could have made. This film becomes increasingly emotional as Kenneth’s father confesses all of his problems without any hesitation — as he visits his childhood home, his wealthier relatives, and recalls events that took when his mother was alive. By taking notice of his sacrifices and choices, I began to appreciate him as a father and drew many similarities to my own father. One memorable quote by Kenneth’s father, as he spoke to his son, was “We had to make many sacrifices and decisions and we do that so that you can live a life with the least number of obstacles as possible. You don’t have to face struggles in your life and you must appreciate that.” I have actually heard those same words spoken to me numerous times, but never understood the meaning or truth until I visited India with my parents—in a similar experience that Kenneth had when he visited China with his father.

 

These films are very culturally eye-opening and may possibly provide audiences with different perspectives on various traditions. Every film was extremely personal, and that, was what made each one very special.