Roberta Panjwani, Ridgewood’s supervising librarian, has been handpicking the screenings for the Reel Voices Film Festival since it began 11 years ago, carefully selecting five films each fall that highlight a broad range of domestic and international social issues.
“We’re looking at the large issues through the lens of one person or a small group, because in my opinion in resonates differently,” she said.
The power of that perspective, available uniquely through the medium of the documentary, Panjwani says, is evident in one of the festival’s standouts, The Central Park Five. Produced and directed by acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns, his daughter, Sarah, and her husband David McMahon, the film tells the story of five African American and Latino men who, after a rush to judgment by the media and police, were wrongly convicted of the rape of a female jogger in 1989.
The film, shown Nov. 1, tells the story of the injustice the men faced, and will be followed by a question and answer session with Sarah Burns.
The Q&As, Panjwani said, will last 20-40 minutes, and offer a chance for viewers to dissect the heavy topics presented with those that produced the films or have personal experience with the issues involved.
“You can’t watch films like these and just go home,” she said. “You kind of need someone to walk you through the issues.”
Most held on Friday nights, Panjwani hopes that the films provide a point of departure for viewers to discuss on their own the issues presented in the documentaries.
The festival begins on Wednesday, Oct. 23 with a free screening of Stories We Tell, an imaginative film by Oscar-nominated director Sarah Polley about her own family, exploring among other things the ways people choose to remember their past.
The Invisible War, shown on Oct. 25, explores the history and institutional perpetuation of rape in the military. The film will be followed by a discussion with retired Brigadier Gen. Loree Sutton, whose work since leaving the military has focused on the psychological support of other soldiers.
For the younger audience, Panjwani recommends Blood Brother, on Nov. 15, the festival’s most uplifting story about an American man who relocates to India on a humanitarian mission and finds familial bonds in his work with an orphanage for children with HIV.
The festival concludes on Nov. 22 with Big Men, which examines the international politics of oil that surround an American company that discovers it underneath the ground in Ghana.
The films, Panjwani said, are all meant to provide action points on the topics at hand, and to enlighten viewers with a powerful experience.
“The whole point is art changes lives,” she said. “We want you to experience these issues through film.”
Tickets for each screening, which all begin at 7:30 p.m., will be available at the door, but space is limited and viewers can register at the library or its website.