The PBS Online Film Festival launched back in 2012 as a way to showcase diverse films from member stations, producers and public media partners. This year is no different. Featuring 24 projects that range from raucous music docs to visually inventive dramas, the 2017 slate is tackling everything from gun control and the refugee crisis to racial tensions and monstrous taxidermy. Which is to say, there’s something for everyone. This year they’re not only handing out their usual Most Popular Film Award (voted via likes and shares on social media) but have recruited a stellar jury (which includes Senior Director of Programming and Development for PBS, Pamela A. Aguilar) to award a Juried Prize as well.
U.S. Latinos are amply represented in the lineup. Xicana lesbian filmmaker Adelina Anthony’s Amigas with Benefits, for example, tackles issues of same-sex desire not by focusing on a young couple in the throes of lust, but of an older lesbian couple hoping to finally commit to one another. When one of them has to confront her daughter, who doesn’t approve of her mother’s coming out — let alone her sharing a life with her lover — the short film gives audiences, as Anthony puts it, “A chance to reflect on our learned homophobia, and to think more about marginalized peoples in our Latina/o/x and LGBTQ communities. To see the ill effects of asking people not to live their truth.”
Telling another kind of story we don’t often see portrayed on screen is Dad. Directed by Oakland-born filmmaker Vincent Cortez, the simple short follows a single-parent household navigating the loss that haunts their family unit. The film was born, he told PBS, out of the kind of autobiographical anxiety that marks good storytelling. As a father of two daughters, he found himself wondering what it would be like were he to become a single father. “What challenges might my daughter(s) face? What would I be afraid of? And what would our lives be like?” Dad finds a way to turn those questions into a full-fledged story set against a graffiti-splashed colorful backdrop in sunny California.
Further exploring the strong familial bond found in many Latinx households, Philip Ashby’s animated flick Little Man may be a visual feast but it pulses with the beats and rhymes of Steven Rodriguez. While enrolled in the First Wave Hip Hop arts program at UW-Madison, Rodriguez came up with a poem inspired by his younger brother who struggled to stay out of trouble. And there’s also Michael Lowney and Vanessa Perez’s SunGhosts, a music doc about the Miami band of the same name. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the amazing array of other groundbreaking stories about minorities and social justice issues that litter this year’s PBS Online Film Festival. Remember to vote for your favorites and spread the word about any you enjoy.
You can watch these and many other shorts on the PBS Online Film Festival website.