Emma Hibbert: Exploring Voices: How the World of Festivals Empower and Inspire

GMT 13:13 Monday ,17 March 2014

 Migrant Voice - Emma Hibbert: Exploring Voices: How the World of Festivals Empower and Inspire

Emma Hibbert

London, Barcelona, New York – just part of a handful of cities across the globe who fill their year with vibrant festivals and events drawing the attention of leading filmmakers, producers, musicians, artists, activists, and more. The festival circuit has become an intrinsic tradition for numerous communities, celebrating and embracing various aspects and perspectives of life and the cultures which enrich some of the world’s most diverse communities. Whether it is honouring age-old traditions or introducing fresh new voices, festivals in the past century have innovated the way in which people unite with their neighbours, providing a strong, empowering voice for generations to come. Making Connections, Healing Generations Uniting people across communities has always been a dominant function of the festival since the world expos of the early 20th century, providing a venue where people not only enjoy a sense of solidarity within their own community but open the door to other communities as well. Using the versatile mediums of art, music, dance, literature, theatre, film, and other genres, people are able to embrace new identities while re-inventing old ones. The London International Arts Festival is one among many such events, which festival compere DJ Ritu defined as “A grassroots multi-cultural festival with a face – a welcoming and generous spirit that everyone connected with regardless of age or background.” The freedom to showcase the talents and traditions of communities which are often hidden away or subjected to prejudice within the “mainstream” (or what is perceived as such by the media) expands the creative community, gives minorities and discriminated majorities a greater voice, and diversifies the understanding and perception of that community within the rest of the public sphere. This isn’t just about education, or subverting clichéd views of marginalised groups of people, but it is also about rediscovering identities. The process of creating art itself is one of the most effective ways which empowers an individual to heal personally as well as socially. Art therapy in particular is used as a technique for issues facing a person, gaining recognition as an effective measure against various anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and other problems. As well as helping to remedy these challenges, it also provides a strong counter to collective societal and cultural dilemmas, especially where conflict of identity or recovery from difficult historical consequences have occurred and are still being suffered. This form of therapy helps people within a community to once again return to their traditional customs as well as find ways in which to express these in the context of a contemporary society, and this in turn opens up neighbouring communities to share in these revelations. Having an acknowledged presence which is celebrated and revered is crucial to the healing process faced by these communities. Universal Language With this in mind, festivals that focus on a specific culture or region(s) of the world such as the Festival International Nuits d'Afrique de Montréal which celebrates Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America with “more than 90 concerts, workshops and activities presented at indoor and outdoor venues in the heart of downtown Montreal making it the largest North American gathering of major artists coming from 30 different countries” play a prevalent role in embodying the core of a society’s identity, as well as the societies it is associated with. This also carries for festivals which have a distinctly international feel such as the Cannes and Sundance Festivals, where the work of several filmmakers can enjoy an international presence which is easily received by audiences of various backgrounds. In film and especially in the other most popular festival genre, music – which is understood universally – common themes unite people; although the defining aspects and characteristics of a particular community is embraced, in an open and celebratory atmosphere people find common values which otherwise may have been neglected in an alternative environment. Propelling Activism Like the thousands of gay pride marches which take places around the world, festivals are also about forging a kind of resistance and solidarity which focuses on finding alternatives on the way in which topical issues are approached. While celebrating the reasons for the cause, the cause itself is propelled into the limelight. One example is the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL) and the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, a series of events showcasing film which focuses on the beauty of earth while promoting awareness about the challenges it faces. It combines “filmmaking, beautiful cinematography and first-rate storytelling to inform, inspire and ignite solutions and possibilities to restore the earth and human communities while creating a positive future for the next generation.  Festival-goers can expect to see Award winning films about nature, community activism, adventure, conservation, water, energy and climate change, wildlife, environmental justice, agriculture, Native American and indigenous cultures.” With so many festivals taking an active stance and providing a democratic venue where all voices are welcome, the festival format has evolved into something beyond the festivities which have attracted people around the world year after year to the charming rural towns and villages as well as cities. It has become one of the most defiant voices of the community, where people can share a common, collective sense of self, and where voices which have previously been oppressed can rise up and gather.  


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