Courtney Chiappone, a local high school student, wanted to present police officers in a positive light after seeing them portrayed as “bad people” due to recent shootings.
In November, she began directing “Suspicion” – a film starring local dispatchers from the Town of Hamburg. She submitted the picture earlier this year for the Collective International Film Festival (CIFF) presented by WNY Muslims.
“Police have a life and family, too, and that shouldn’t be taken away from them because of what they do for a living,” Chiappone said.
After more than 200 works were submitted from around the globe, Chiappone’s work took to the Center for the Arts screening room on Sunday evening. “Suspicion” is just one film that appeared at the festival’s first screening in front of more than 30 people.
On Sunday, the festival showcased two films from each of its six categories. The CIFF presented films based on three categories: Living in Poverty, Identity and “Fear Me Not, I Mean Well.” Films were then judged based on the age group of directors – 13 to 18 year olds were judged separately from 19 years olds and older.
In each of the categories, first place wins $500 and the best film of the festival wins a grand prize of $1,000.
Chiappone is a junior at Buffalo’s Nardin Academy and heard about the opportunity from one of her teachers, Mrs. Healy. Her film is based on how police officers are unaware of what they could get themselves into on a day-to-day basis.
The film hits home for Chiappone, whose father is a Town of Hamburg dispatcher and assistant fire chief at Scranton Fire Department.
Jack Chiappone, Courtney’s father, said the film shows there is more than one side to every story. He said it’s an honor for his daughter to be involved in the festival, especially considering there are entries from around the world.
“To see people from all over the world – from Germany, Iran and Russia – and for my daughter to be included in that it’s great so I hope the festival grows bigger and bigger,” Jack Chiappone said.
At the festival’s first screening on Sunday, animated films like “Elephant’s Playmate” by Iranian director Hadi Tabasi and comedy pictures like “You Said That One” by British director George Velez Junior were on full display.
“We have to connect at a human level with those around us and only then can we tackle the world problems,” said Faizan Haq, founder of WNY Muslims. “Otherwise, everyone is alone and things look overwhelming. Through collectiveness, you know the person on the other side of the globe is thinking the same way that I am thinking and that is what was profound and powerful for me.”
Richard L. Polley II, the festival’s coordinator, said the festival could be a stepping stone as far as getting more people into the arts is concerned.
“With such an international community nowadays coming about and UB being a big hub bringing people from all over the world, we’re also trying to give people a voice,” Polley said. “We have everything that it takes to be an international hub – we’re on the rise but we’re trying to get to the top here, the Queen City that we once were.”
Haq, a UB alum and former lecturer with the Cora P. Maloney College, dreamed to present the festival for years and used the platform to present inclusivity to audiences.
“The more you get to know other people, the more you find out they’re like us. ‘Other’ is a made-up thing and we can undo it if we want to,” Haq said.
Haq, one of the early founders of Muslim Students Association (MSA) and Pakistani Student Association (PSA), has been part of the UB community since the ’80s. He said hosting events like the festival provide an opportunity of expression for younger people, especially in the age of Vimeo and YouTube.
“This very powerful tool is in our hands, where we can capture moments in history and our viewpoints, whatever that viewpoint may be,” Haq said. “The democratization of expression has taken in our lifetime and I like to give this platform to anyone that wants to participate. When I was a young student leader, I was very active and was always doing something, so the best I can do is empower people – that’s why I’m here.”
Finalists for CIFF will be announced at the festival’s awards ceremony later this year.
Benjamin Blanchet is the assistant arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org