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Social Justice Award

Documentary Filmmakers Lauded for Bringing Important Issues to the Big Screen

In the name of social justice, there were pleas — and people — aplenty.

On the evening of February 5, the Frameworks & Caruso-Woods Art Gallery in Santa Barbara hosted its fourth annual reception in honor of the nominees for the Social Justice Award. The prize — which has been given by The Fund for Santa Barbara (in alliance with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival) since 2000 — recognizes the films and the filmmakers that recognize important causes.

This year’s 11 nominated films deal with a wide array of topics, including cultural migration, ethical journalism, climate change, genocide, false imprisonment, dictatorship, sexuality, exile, and nuclear weapons.

Speaking on behalf of her film Two Spirits, which tells the tale of a transgender Navajo boy, director Lydia Nibley proclaimed her film a plea for greater public understanding. “As a culture, we don’t approach gender and sexuality with much sophistication.” By making her film, Nibley hoped to convey “the importance of the balance of masculine and feminine within every individual.”

Equally inspired was Patti Kenner, equal parts helping hand and best friend to the real-life star of Ahead of Time. Of her desire to tell of Ruth Gruber’s — Kenner’s best friend — remarkable rise to journalistic and ethical fame, Kenner made it clear … and simple. “Ruth is a role model for women,” she said.

When asked what prompted him to make Climate Refugees, a film about the many human migrations caused by climate change, director Michael Nash laid out the cold hard facts. “There are more environmental refugees than there are political or religious,” he said.

Such facts are, according to Geoff Green, executive director of The Fund for Santa Barbara, the bread and butter of the Social Justice Award. “It is about appreciating filmmakers and supporting activist work and political engagement,” he said.

Deciding which film receives the award is, according to juror Dr. Chuck Wolfe, “hard work.” A professor of Film & Media Studies at UCSB, Wolfe appreciates the importance of great films, this year’s nominees very much included, deeming them all “deserving of recognition.”

Among the grading criteria: the film’s clarity, the film’s relevance, the film’s quality, and, most importantly, according to Wolfe, “the capacity of the film to inspire.”

Other documentaries included in the contest are: 2501 Migrantes, Enemies of the People, In the Land of the Free, Kimjongilia, Last Train Home, The University of Nuclear Bombs, and When The Dragon Swallowed the Sun. The winning film will be announced February 14.

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