REACT to FILM Brings to Light Relevant Social Themes


Courtesy of Run Rabbit Run Media

By Nicole Horton

What some people may not know is that Fordham University’s REACT to FILM is not another student-run club on campus, but rather a college chapter of a national non-profit organization based in New York City.

In addition to attending leadership conferences with filmmakers, the group meets weekly to discuss thought-provoking documentaries. The national organization selects documentaries for the college chapters to view and discuss. They host free screenings open to all students, serving both enticing conversations and pizza. REACT to FILM also looks to raise money for the causes featured in the films.

REACT to FILM’s goal is to inspire young people to engage in real issues through film. Its main goal is “leveraging the best issue-based filmmaking to promote social responsibility and spark civic engagement.”

Club president Marlessa Stivala, FCRH ’16 discusses what the club is about, and how film can bring various groups of people together.

“At the REACT to FILM yearly leadership conferences, one of the main things that they talk about is ‘What’s your favorite issue you’re passionate about?’” said Stivala. “Because I think everyone, whatever their political or religious affiliation is, has a certain issue that they really care about, so I think it’s nice that every time we have a film we have a certain club or group of people that could get on board.”

Stivala recalls a particularly stimulating discussion and debate about The Internet’s Own Boy, where filmmaker Brian Knappenberger explores the life and work of programming and information activist Aaron Swartz.

“One of my favorite post-screenings discussions was last year when we did The Internet’s Own Boy,” said Stivala. We had a very lively discussion [regarding] Aaron Swartz. It was interesting because there wasn’t an even split per say: where some people were saying, ‘It’s really awesome what he did,’ but other people were saying, ‘Actually, I understand why the government did what they did.’”

For Grant Bolles, FCRH ’16, relatable films are an important aspect for REACT to FILM’s discussions.

“Especially with The Internet’s Own Boy, we’re all part of that generation that grew up with the Internet and is going to live with the Internet for the rest of our lives,” said Bolles. “I think the issues that get more discussion are the ones that pertain to our lives the most.”

REACT to FILM is always looking to expand its membership and collaborate with other student clubs that are proponents of the issues explored in these films.

“The more that the events are related to things that people on Fordham’s campus are interested in, whether academically if they’re tied into a core class, or generally,” said Caitlin Hufnagle, FCRH ’16. “Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine is something that a lot of people are interested in at Fordham — LGBT relations is an important topic, especially with a lot of things going on with Women’s Empowerment and PRIDE. Also the fact that they’re so broad, like to have done Virunga and now we’re doing Matt Shepard: they’re two extremely different issues, but I think that means we get to touch more people.”

Matt Shepard was a gay student at the University of Wyoming who was beaten and left to die in a large field on Oct. 6, 1998. Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson were arrested shortly after the attack, charged with murder and received two consecutive life sentences. Significant media coverage was given to what role Shepard’s sexual orientation played in the killing, and his murder brought national and international attention to hate crime legislation.

“The more we have things that pique people’s interests, the more people will come out and get interested in our club,” said Hufnagle.

In addition to discussing documentaries, REACT to FILM members weighs in on Academy Award nominations, like Virunga which won Best Documentary. They also discussed the recent controversy that minority filmmakers have not received proper accolades. Hufnagle said that they went to an event that gave women filmmakers a platform to discuss their experiences and projects.

REACT to FILM’s next event on April 9 at 8 p.m. is a screening of Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine. The event is supported by PRIDE and Women’s Studies. There will be free food and a panel discussion afterwards.


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