Festival Theme: Past Forward

In response to this year’s theme of Past Forward, filmmaker Lisa Jackson asks the provocative question, “Has culture turned into style and entertainment?”

Not at the Margaret Mead Film Festival. Not that there’s anything wrong with style or entertainment—we have loads of that.  But each year, the filmmakers, scholars, and artists presented at the festival redefine and deepen our internal and external definition of culture.  An internet search defines culture as “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.”  A slew of other definitions follow but each of them seem to land on the notion of an activity that stimulates our hearts and minds because it  paradoxically unites us by presenting our inherent diversity.   We invite you to partake in the Mead as an activity in culture—dive deeply, provoke your intellect, find connections, revel in style and entertainment, and contribute to a contemporary definition of culture to share among our audiences and others you encounter along your own cultural journeys.

This year’s slate welcomes back some beloved Mead contributors, including Lisa Jackson, Alanis Obomsawin, and David MacDougall.  In keeping with our goal to present innovation in media and culture, we thank the Miyarrka Media Collective and Jennifer Deger for the mind-blowing installation of Aboriginal cellphone films, Gapuwiyak Calling, which will be enjoyed by thousands of Museum visitors throughout the festival.  We’ve also added a space to hang out, thanks to our generous partners and sponsors.

We hope that you will take in all that the Museum has to offer while you are here.  Make a beeline for the Astor Turret off the Hall of Primitive Mammals to see “Lonesome George,” the last survivor of the Pinta Island tortoises, who died in 2012 and is on display here temporarily before being returned to Ecuador.  Next month, please return for the Museum’s newest special exhibition, Nature’s Fury, tackling the complexities and misconceptions about natural disasters, striking weather patterns, and the nature of risk.  And throughout the year, enjoy the monthly SciCafes, adult learning courses capturing the most important topics in science today, and cultural engagements that welcome you and 4,999,999 other visitors to the American Museum of Natural History every year.

Bring your past forward, and enlarge your definition of culture at the 2014 Margaret Mead Film Festival!

-Ruth Cohen, Senior Director, Education Strategic Initiatives
Director, Center for Lifelong Learning


We asked our 2014 filmmakers,

Are traditional ways of life a guide or an obstacle in our modern connected world? Is it necessary to break with the past in order to embrace the future?

Here is the response from Lacey Schwatz, director, Little White LieLook for more throughout the website.

"I come from a long line of NY Jews.  I am the great-granddaughter of Eastern European immigrants who brought their culture and traditions to Brooklyn. I am the daughter of a nice Jewish girl and a nice Jewish boy. I grew up in a world with Synagogue, Hebrew School and Bar Mitzvahs.  My family knew who they were and they defined who I was.

At the age of 17 I went away to college and lived on my own for the first time.  Like many young people, at that point I started to really question who I was. At 18 I found out my biological father was not the man who raised me but a black man with whom my mother had an affair. Rather than feeling like I continued to be an extension of who my family was I felt like I was who I was in spite of them. I didn't understand at the time how I could be both Black and Jewish. I struggled to integrate my own sense of self.  For the next 10 years I developed an identity almost in opposition to the one my family had given me.

It took me until I was 30 years old to realize that I am who I am both because of the history and traditions I come from and also despite them. My personal documentary “Little White Lie” traces my experience of pulling back the curtain on matters of race and family secrets and learning to live with a dual identity. It raises the questions of what factors—race, religion, family, upbringing—make us who we are. And what happens when we are forced to redefine ourselves.

The experience of having a dual identity is not uncommon in our modern connected world - many people embody many different identities. It would be too careless to reject the traditions we come from because they don’t embody the full sense of who we are.  Instead we must be willing to help our families, cultures and societies evolve and expand their understanding of themselves and therefore become more inclusive. Likewise, our families and communities must be willing to evolve because any society or culture whose ways are rigid and unbending will not survive as we move forward."

Lacey Schwartz | Little White Lie