CMU International Film Festival features movies exploring the concept of change

By Shreya Singh, Senior Staff Writer

In the countryside of France is a quiet and residential neighborhood where a single mother, living with her two young children, must deal with a national transit strike in Paris to reach a life-changing job interview on time. These scenes are depicted in the 2021 French drama film, “Full Time.”

About 200 people attended the opening night reception of the CMU International Film Festival last Thursday in McConomy Auditorium to watch the screening of “Full Time.” Afterward, an exclusive Q&A session took place with the film’s director, Eric Gravel, and French bakery La Gourmandine provided guests with pastries, baguettes and refreshments. 

The Humanities Center at CMU started the CMU International Film Festival in 2006 to encourage further interest in the humanities. The festival’s programming booklet describes this year’s theme, “Faces of Change,” as a way to “explore the ways that change manifests.” The festival will continue through April 2.

Regis Curtis, a programming intern for the festival and a senior at Pitt majoring in German, French and West European studies, said the agenda behind the festival is nonlinear. 

“We’re not trying to push any single agenda,” Curtis said. “We’re not saying, ‘Here’s the theme and here’s the lesson.’ At the core of what we’re trying to do is really generate discourse and to have a conversation with everyone in the community and everyone else who’s sort of involved in those discourses. We want people to leave less with an answer and more with thoughts they can continue to think about.”

Curtis said the theme for this year’s festival was based on the daily changes people face and the unrest of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So much unrest is happening all over the world and everyday we wake up to a new headline and a new crisis,” Curtis said. “We realized we’re in this era of constant change and that we’re always able to bounce back. Even on the minute level, we’re always dealing with change. Maybe we missed a bus, maybe a meeting got pushed back, and it was incredible to recognize this change on every single level of our lives.” 

The festival also featured the Pakistani film “Joyland,” which explores the intersection of queerness, masculinity and family in Desi culture, this past Saturday. “Joyland” is the first Pakistani film to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, where director Saim Sadiq won the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard section — which seeks to award directors of non-traditional films.

Before the screening of the film, dancers Naina Roy and Pitt alum Jothika Gorur performed Kathak and Bharatanatyam — two of the eight classical Indian dance forms — respectively. Traditional Desi snacks like samosas, kheer and gulab jamun were provided during the screening. A Q&A session with the director and cast of the film took place after. 

During the Q&A session, actor Ali Junejo — who played the main role of Haider — said he spent a lot of time trying to understand his character’s relationships in order to play the role well.

“I think there were two relationships I was particularly interested in understanding, which were then the foundation that I needed to find, and I think those two relationships were with the father … and the other relationship was with Mumtaz,” Junejo said. “I think these were the two things that kind of gave me a way to Haider … at least a trajectory that I could follow.” 

Rasti Farooq, who played Mumtaz, said she spent a lot of time trying to understand the marriage between her and Junejo’s character.

“I think for me, what helped was spending a lot of time on the script and talking extensively with Saim and also Ali, who I spent a lot of time with in the film, and Mumtaz and Haider share a very particular relationship,” Farooq said. “We just spent a lot of time talking about the particularities and peculiarities in their relationship and their marriage … and what happens to them when they kind of fall out of that ‘togetherness.’”

Jolanta Lion, the festival’s director, said after managing the festival for 17 years now, it’s easier to recognize which films to feature. 

“I’ll be watching about 20 minutes of the film, or even less, and I just know if that film will be a good feature for the festival,” Lion said. “What’s important is what different elements are at play, like the language, the music, how the story and characters develop, the camera work. After so long, you just know.” 

Lion said the festival receives funding from a variety of sources, ranging from educational institutions to national consulates.

“The festival is well known on the national and the international level,” Lion said. “For example, we have two Polish films and we get support from the Slavic Department at the University of Pittsburgh, but also the Polish Consulate of the Republic of Poland in New York. The same thing happened with the Taiwanese film, where an intern secured funding from the Taiwanese Culture Center in New York.”

Curtis said the festival is lucky to have connections within the Pittsburgh community to gain traction and support.

“We have connections with the cultural communities that exist in Pittsburgh,” Curtis said. “Pittsburgh is home to a ton of immigrant communities and a ton of diversity that is often overlooked. Through that, there’s a really strong moral support to show what we’re doing has an impact and people are receiving that very well.”