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Writers Conference Film Festival

2017 Writers Conference Film Festival Schedule

All events are free and open to the public.

Although the UND Writers Conference has included a "Film Festival" since at least 1998, how the films were selected, and why, hasn't always been clear. This year we are happy to shed some light on this long-standing part of the Conference. Each year, we ask participating authors to select a film that they think speaks to the Conference's theme, that has influenced their work in some way, and/or that they want those in attendance to see.

Wednesday, March 22
1:30 pm Film: Journey from the Fall (Dir. Ham Tran, 2006, 135 min.) selected by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Lecture Bowl
6:00 pm Film: The Split Horn: The Life of A Hmong Shaman (Dir. Taggart Seigel, 2001, 56 min.) selected by Mai Der Vang
Lecture Bowl
Friday, March 24
2:00 pm Film: Reel Injun (Dir. Neil Diamond, 2009, 75 min.) selected by Layli Long Soldier
Lecture Bowl
6:00 pm Film: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Dir. John Cameron Mitchell, 2001, 95 min.) selected by Jennine Capó Crucet
Lecture Bowl

How were these films selected?

Journey from the Fall

For the 48th Annual UND Writers Conference, Viet Thanh Nguyen was asked to choose a movie for the film festival. He decided on two: Apocalypse Now (1979) directed by Francis Ford Coppola and Journey from the Fall (2006) directed by Tran Ham. Nguyen has frequently discussed how Apocalypse Now has influenced his writing, particularly The Sympathizer, where he reimagines the film. Since Apocalypse Now is relatively well known, we went with Nguyen’s other choice. As Nguyen explains, “[Journey from the Fall] is an epic account of the fall of Saigon from the southern Vietnamese and Vietnamese American point of view. It includes issues of citizenship as Vietnamese refugees face American life. My students respond well to it.”

Have you ever imagined what it would be like to leave your significant other for a better life in a different country? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to start over in search of freedom? Journey from the Fall sheds light on what it is like to flee to another country. This film not only demonstrates how emotionally, mentally, and physically difficult it can be to leave the past behind, but it also provides insight on how to integrate the past with the present. It depicts the struggle to balance an intergenerational family, while making enough money to survive. Journey from the Fall shows refugee life, American life, and the stereotypes that surround both, in a refreshing way that pop culture generally doesn’t.

The Split Horn: The Life of a Hmong Shaman

When asked to pick a movie for the 48th Annual UND Writers Conference, Mai Der Vang decided that The Split Horn: The Life of a Hmong Shaman directed by Taggart Seigel released in 2001would be a relatable film for the conference theme “Citizen.” Vang explains, The Split Horn: The Life of a Hmong Shaman is a film that is "important to my work”. The film is a seventeen-year documentary that follows Paja Thao and his family from the mountains of Laos to Appleton, Wisconsin from the point of view of twelve-year old, Chai Thao.

What would it be like to move across the world and have everything and everyone become foreign? How do you incorporate past culture with present culture? How does a family stay connected when two generations face the ultimatum: live in the past or live for the future?  These questions become apparent in The Split Horn: The Life of a Hmong Shaman. We follow the ceremonies that Shaman Paja Thao—a spiritual healer—instructs, the teenage life of Paja’s son and his pregnant girlfriend, as well as the family through the years of acclimating to American life. This film explores the religious and spiritual ceremonies of the Hmong culture, self-identity within oneself and within tradition. Split Horn depicts the struggle of starting over in a foreign country and how it influences one's self. This raises the question: will the love of a culture and the love of a family be enough to survive in America?

Reel Injun

For the 48th Annual Writers Conference, we asked Layli Long Soldier to pick movies for the film festival. Long Soldier’s top three selections were Fast Runner (2001) directed by Zacharius Kunuk, Dead Man (1995) directed by Jim Jarmusch, and Reel Injun (2009) directed by Neil Diamond “(not the singer Neil Diamond but the Canadian filmmaker),” Long Soldier jokes. Of these, we chose Reel Injun, because, as Long Soldier explains, it “is a documentary exploring ‘Hollywood’s fantasy with the Indian.’ And it sets the tone for conversation between all three films. I have used all three in film class at tribal college.”

With that in mind, did you know more often than not, Native Americans represented in film are made up of a mixture of Sioux (Lakota/Dakota/Nakota) and Apache tribal cultures? Did you know that white actors, like Peter Sellers, would paint red on their faces to portray themselves as Native Americans in film? Reel Injun is a Canadian documentary that focuses on the history of film and how Native Americans have been stereotyped throughout the years. It explores the understandings and misunderstandings that have influenced how non-Native Americans view Native Americans and their cultures. Reel Injun also points out stereotypes in the US beyond the film industry by visiting camps that encourage predominantly white camp-goers to act as if they are Native Americans themselves. Although “Native Americans” may be accepted in pop culture, as demonstrated by these summer camps, actual Native American actors and actresses have been blacklisted. Reel Injun demonstrates the struggle of being Native American in a country filled with Hollywood fantasies.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

With “Citizen” being the 48th Annual Writers Conference theme, we asked Jennine Capó  Crucet to suggest some movies for our film festival. Jennine Capó Crucet responded: “This is such a hard (but great!) question. My two suggestions are: "Saving Elian" (a PBS Frontline documentary—not sure if it’s what [they are] looking for, but it’s definitely something I watched many times as I wrote MYHAS [Make Your Home Among Strangers], and totally relates to this year’s conference theme) and… I struggled to come up with a second one, because my honest answer is either HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH or CINEMA PARADISO, but I’m not sure either relates to the conference theme in a clear way—though HEDWIG does center around how art is impacted by our sense of citizenship (not just geographical, but to our various identity categories, namely gender here)." A rock musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch released in 2001, was written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell.

How inspirational is art? How big of a role does gender identity play in the US? Hedwig and the Angry Inch is about a transgendered person who travels around the US so people can listen to her rock ballads. In these songs, Hedwig explains her life and how she came from East Germany to America. They also shed light on her transformation, past love, and everything in between. Through its portrayal of the life of a transgendered woman in America, and how difficult it is in more than one aspect, Hedwig shows what it takes to survive in a culture where one is living a life that isn’t considered the "norm." This film also creates an opportunity to discuss gender identity and how art can be a platform to express one’s self.