Aaron Levy doesn’t want to start a revolution, he wants to spark conversation — preferably cross-institutional, cross-city conversation that continues long after people have walked out of the film screenings that form part of the No Mud, No Lotus series.
“Film has the capacity to be radically inclusive,” said Levy, the executive director and creative curator of Slought, the University of Pennsylvania-based nonprofit that, along with the School of Social Policy & Practice’s Social Justice and Arts Integration Initiative, hosts the series.
The name of the series, which kicked off in November, is a reference to Thich Nhat Hanh’s book “No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering.” Slought, a grassroots-like, volunteer-driven organization, conceived of the series as a way to use cinema to “help us acknowledge injustice and enable us to come together to lessen the world’s suffering through collective action,” Levy said. “Acknowledging suffering has to be the starting point, and transforming suffering has to be what follows.”
The films in the series uncover stories with dimension — from exploring the misunderstood beauty of a southern community to finding closure for wounds left by an older generation. Some of the films included were produced by Louverture Films, the company cofounded by Joslyn Barnes and Danny Glover that’s won a number of awards and produces independent films honoring themes of historical relevance and social purpose.
While the films engage the audience in identifying social and political issues, the dialogue is ignited through discussion with the filmmakers after the screening. Akin to a community meeting, the film discussions are informative in an informal way. The filmmakers break down the underlying themes of their works, talk about the different voices that emerge, and discuss their own strategies in using film as a tool for social justice.
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"We’re not trying to be the mediator, or to speak on behalf of a community."
The intimate setting encourages those in attendance to ask questions, provide commentary and reflect on how they fit within the “bigger picture” presented by the films — especially those that offer a peek into an alternate life-story and explode preconceived notions. The films call for each person within a community to contribute and learn. By participating, the discussion of social justice is made more whole.
Levy emphasized the need to “push past the first-person narrative.” As a commitment to see the world through another person’s eyes, the No Mud, No Lotus film series places value on “listening, care, love, and empathy,” he said.
Such themes run through in Slought’s other projects and initiatives, such as its currently running “The Image-Event: A Joint Struggle” exhibit, which showcases the work of a collective comprised of Palestinian, Israeli and other international activist-photographers.
“We’re not trying to be the mediator, or to speak on behalf of a community.” Levy said. The focus is on dialogue, collaboration, and listening differently. Slought isn’t there to represent, Levy added, but to be a resource.
No Mud, No Lotus screenings are held monthly, though occasionally multiple films are screened in one month. Check the No Mud, No Lotus film series schedule for upcoming screenings. Slought also archives the discussions afterward, so those who are interested but unable to attend a screening can listen to the recorded discussion from each film in the series.-30-
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