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International Film Festival Goes Virtual with the Theme of Resilience

Film Festival

An unlikely friendship between a professor and a stranded cosmonaut; the journey of a leprosy survivor and an orphan in search of family; the physical and political aftermath of Hurricane Maria; and the saga of five Turkish sisters defying the tradition of arranged marriage.

These thought-provoking scenarios are the subjects of four films that will be presented in April at Mercy’s 21st Annual International Film Festival, hosted by the School of Liberal Arts and spearheaded by the Modern Foreign Languages Program. The festival celebrates international cinema as a way to stimulate interest in foreign languages and foster a greater awareness of global cultures. This year’s festival will run from April 6 - 9 at 6:30 p.m. each night, taking place on a virtual platform for the first time in its history.

Dr. Elise Arnold-Levene, assistant professor of Spanish and the festival’s coordinator, will introduce the program and each guest speaker. She said that audiences from the festival’s prior years are eagerly awaiting its return after last year’s hiatus, a necessary consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Last year we had to cancel so close to the event date that we didn’t have time to put together a virtual program,” said Arnold-Levene. “But it was a relief to be able to keep everyone safe.”

The organizing committee chose Filmocracy, a media-viewing platform that allows participants to not only view the film but also to interact with the speakers and other audience members. “Many webinar platforms create an experience that tends to be impersonal,” added Arnold-Levene. “We wanted to allow people to really get a sense of being with a community of fellow enthusiasts as they experience each film.”

Each of the selected movies will explore different aspects of the theme of resilience. Films will be introduced by a guest speaker with expertise or a connection with the language, subject matter or setting.

Sergio and Sergei tells the story of a friendship that evolves over amateur radio between a Cuban professor and a Soviet cosmonaut stranded on the Mir space station. Dr. Arnold-Levene will introduce the film and guide the conversation afterward.

In Yomeddine, a leprosy survivor and his orphaned apprentice embark on a journey across Egypt in search of their families. Leading the discussion will be Egyptian Fulbright Fellow and Mercy Teaching Assistant Shaimaa Ragab.

The film Landfall offers glimpses of everyday life in Puerto Rico — and the nation’s fraught relationship with the U.S. — as the populace deals with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The film’s Associate Producer, Lale Namerrow Pastor, will lead the discussion.

In Mustang, five orphaned sisters in provincial Turkey find ways around the constraints that would force them into arranged marriages. The guest speaker and moderator for the film will be Dr. Bahar Otcu-Grillman.

The committee’s selections are tailored to appeal to a diverse audience with a balance of male and female, multi-lingual and multi-national filmmakers and subject matter. Arnold-Levene pointed out that since Mercy is a Hispanic Serving Institution, the committee always includes a Spanish-language film, as well as works in Arabic and from Europe, Asia and Africa, all of which are reflected in the Mercy community.

She added one final note about the film selection criteria: “They should be enjoyable. The films we most enjoy talking about are the ones we know will offer viewers a lively experience, both in the watching and the discussion afterward,” she said.

The International Film Festival is free and open to the public, but registration is required. For film and registration information, please visit