The room was buzzing with anticipation for the entrance of world-renowned activists and musicians, Peter and Bethany Yarrow. The auditorium was filled with a mix of students, community members, and special guests from Embassy cultural organizations and the European Union Delegation. Sharon Metcalf, senior director of strategic partnerships and programs for American University School of Communication (AU SOC), opened the international film program. Her words struck a chord with me. “Stories from around the world that we imagined were about the lives of ‘others’ now have direct relevance in each of our lives ,” she said.
Films Across Borders, an annual film series that this year includes 30 films in venues across DC, is currently in its fifth cycle. AU SOC hosted the series’ opening event as a cross-campus initiative with the Center for Environmental Filmmaking and the School of International Service. Each fall, the University collaborates with dozens of embassies, arts institutions and environmental groups to explore an idea or theme through a series of films from filmmakers around the globe. This year, Films Across Borders: Stories of Water explores our relationship with water: how we are drawn to it, how we use it, and how this precious resource shapes human society and our daily lives.
The film series began with the documentary screening of “The River and the Wall.” The film team traveled by bikes, horses and canoes to explore the environmental and human consequence of a border wall along the 1,200 miles of the Texas Rio Grande and are confronted with the devastating reality of immigration.
Prior to the film screening, the audience was treated to a performance by the father-daughter duo of Peter (from Peter, Paul and Mary) and Bethany Yarrow. Metcalf said she met them this past summer when they were giving a concert at the Carter Center. After hearing them sing passionately about humanity and our planet, she invited them to perform during the opening night of Films Across Borders, and they generously accepted. Before the performance, I didn't know the extent of both musician’s activism for environmental justice, but as the night went on, I knew I was in the presence of prolific activists who, through song, share stories that span across generations and borders.
When they arrived on stage, Peter opened by telling his story about singing for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights movement, while Bethany spoke about her protests at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The event began with a somber air with songs about losing lives to war and to the neglect of leaders. As the performance went on, the songs became livelier and more centered on hope for the future. Interim Dean Laura DeNardis grabbed her guitar and performed alongside the two. As we sang "This Land Is Your Land" in unison, the room was filled with hope that the future will help bridge the divides we currently feel. The musicians ended the evening with a statement of love for everything we do, for the land and the water as an invitation to join in this movement.