The "Moving Forward with Music" summer series brings together music and filmmaking in free weekly screenings of documentaries about musicians who are breaking new ground, crossing borders and championing human rights.
The series takes place Thursdays through Aug. 4 with in-person screenings at Stanford Research Park or at the Stanford Golf Course.
"We are really happy to present these films because they're dealing with a beautiful way of presenting human rights issues through the music," said Jasmina Bojic, a Stanford University educator and founder and director of Stanford Arts' Camera as Witness program, which is presenting the film series. The Camera as Witness program uses documentary film as an educational tool to explore important topics such as the environment and human rights.
Bojic is also founder and executive director of the United Nations Association Film Festival (UNAFF), a documentary film festival focused on human rights that is presented annually in the fall by the Camera as Witness program. The festival, which is slated for Oct. 20-30, will be marking its 25th anniversary this year.
The "Moving Forward with Music" series offers a chance to catch up on a few of the films featured during the 2021 edition of UNAFF. The series' name is a riff on last year's theme, which was "Moving Forward."
The summer series' focus on films about music and musicians aims to offer audiences a lighter, more "cheerful" perspective on some challenging subjects, Bojic said.
"These are serious topics, but it's much easier to have a look and enjoy the music and then also (get a better understanding of) what's happening in the world," she said.
The series launched earlier this month with a film about Fanny, the first all-women band to release a full-length album on a major label ("FANNY: The Right to Rock").
It was followed by a screening on Thursday, July 21, of "The Conductor," directed by Stanford alum Bernadette Wegenstein, which chronicles the hard-fought achievements of conductor Marin Alsop, the first woman to be appointed as music director of a major symphony, and among other firsts, the first female music director of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, the first woman ever appointed as Chief Conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra (RSO) and the first — and only — conductor to receive a MacArthur Fellowship (better known as the MacArthur Genius Grant).
Alsop also has some ties to the greater Bay Area, serving for 25 years as director and conductor of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz. After stepping down in 2016, she is now the festival's Music Director Laureate.
Music, family and U.S. foreign policy come into play July 28 with "Los Hermanos (The Brothers)," by San Francisco filmmakers Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider. The film tells the story of two musician brothers, violinist Ilmar Gavilán and pianist Aldo López-Gavilán, who spent their childhoods together in their native Cuba but were separated in their early teens. Older brother Ilmar was sent out of the country for musical training and eventually settled in the U.S. while Aldo ultimately stayed in Havana, where he studied with Cuba's jazz and classical master musicians. Both brothers became virtuosos in their own right, but due to the limits on travel between the United States and Cuba were unable to reunite for years until U.S. policy on Cuba changed during the Obama Administration. They have since faced additional obstacles after a more restrictive policy was reinstated under the Trump Administration.
"Los Hermanos (The Brothers)" documents the brothers' parallel lives in the U.S. and Cuba, and of their reunion and first performances together.
"(The film tells) how they performed together after 30 years, how they succeeded and performed together, and it's actually telling this awesome story about the relationship between the United States and Cuba," Bojic said.
The film received an award for Best Cinematography at the 2021 UNAFF. Filmmakers Jarmel and Scheider will be on hand for the screening.
The series closes on Aug. 4 with "Sing Your Song," which was first shown as part of UNAFF about a decade ago and has become an important part of Bojic's curriculum as an educator.
"That's the one that I use also for my classes at Stanford, when I teach documentary filmmaking focusing on human rights issues," she said.
"Sing Your Song" explores the career of musician Harry Belafonte and his lifelong activism for human rights, including marching with Martin Luther King Jr., standing against apartheid in South Africa and fighting hunger in the United States.
At last year's UNAFF, the festival virtually honored Belafonte, along with Bay Area Rep. Barbara Lee, with its Visionary Award in recognition of their work for human rights.
The showing of "Sing Your Song" will be followed by a conversation with Clayborne Carson, founder of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.
Every screening will be preceded by a reception hosted by Coupa Cafe. Receptions start at 5:30 p.m., with screenings at 6 p.m.
The July 21 screening of "The Conductor" takes place at the Coupa Cafe at Stanford Research Park, 3215 Porter Drive, Palo Alto. "Los Hermanos (The Brothers)" shows July 28 and "Sing Your Song" shows Aug. 4. at the Coupa Cafe located at the Stanford Golf Course, 198 Junipero Serra Blvd., Stanford.
Screenings are free. For more information about the "Moving Forward with Music" film series, visit unaff.org.