Public health festival to play films, prompt discussion

The five-day event will feature Al Gore's documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth."

Mike Enright

In recognition of National Public Health Week, the University’s School of Public Health is hosting its third annual film festival this week, beginning tonight.

The five-day movie marathon will showcase a new film every night, each highlighting a different population health issue, such as HIV/AIDS and global warming.

where to go

National Public Health Week Film Festival
where: Mayo Auditorium

Living Old
Aging: Growing old and caring for the elderly
when: 5:30 p.m. Monday

State of Denial
HIV/AIDS: HIV in South Africa and political smokescreens
when: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday

An Inconvenient Truth
Climate change: Global warming’s deadly progress
when: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday

The Split Horn: Life of a Hmong Shaman in America
Immigrant health
when: 5:30 p.m. Thursday

It’s Wonderful Being a Girl

Abstinence Comes to Albuquerque

Think MTV: Campus Guide to Safer Sex

Vintage Sex Hygiene Scare film #2: VD

Know for Sure

The Talk
Sex education
when: 5:30 p.m. Friday

For more information, go to: SPH website
To view the submissions, go to: The SPH Contestant entries page.

Michelle Lian-Anderson, the school’s director of alumni relations who also oversees the festival, said the point of the project is to get more people talking about important topics by presenting them in a fun and engaging way.

“What these films do is they kind of help define what (public health) is, and how pervasive it is in your life,” she said. “Whether it’s the air you breathe, the car you ride in or the road you drive on, it’s all part of public health.”

And though all the festival’s flicks are meant to promote discussion, one in particular may be entering the event with a bit of a head start.

On Wednesday, organizers plan to show former Vice President Al Gore’s Academy Award-winning documentary on climate change, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Since its debut, the 2006 film has re-energized the national debate about the environment, creating talking points for pundits from both sides of the aisle.

Lian-Anderson said the festival’s planning committee chose Gore’s movie because of its thought-provoking nature, but that is the case with all the week’s features.

“Our goal is to present the topic, and our hope then is that people will take the information or knowledge they have gained from it and do something about it,” she said.

“If people are moved to become advocates for an issue based on seeing a film from our film festival, then we have really succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.”

Biology junior Gita Byraiah said she is glad to be part of the event because it is a great way to bring attention to health issues that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Byraiah is president of the Public Health Association, a University student group assisting in running the festival.

She’s also looking forward to watching the former vice president’s documentary.

“I’m definitely interested in seeing why it’s created such a buzz and how it’s related to public health,” she said. “I guess I hadn’t really considered global warming as an issue, but that again goes along with the fact that public health is such a broad field.”

Despite the clamorous atmosphere surrounding “An Inconvenient Truth,” William Toscano Jr., environmental health sciences professor and division head, said the movie itself is not political.

“The issue is nonpartisan,” he said. “It can become partisan, but it shouldn’t because we all live in the same world.”

Toscano said he will be at the film’s screening to provide a short introduction before it plays and help lead any discussion following.

Biostatistics professor James Neaton, who is presenting the Tuesday night feature about the HIV/AIDS epidemic, said the debate that arises from movies like Gore’s and the others shown at this festival is a positive thing.

“So much of what we do in public health sort of has political sides to it,” he said. “Because they’re such important worldwide issues, there’s politics associated with it that probably brings out a lot of discussion that would otherwise not happen. I think it helps it rather than hurts it.”

In general, though, he said he is just excited for this year’s event.

“I actually would have gone if they hadn’t asked me to say anything,” he said.

Besides the five feature films being shown, this year’s event has an added twist.

Along with the main screenings, organizers created a contest inviting filmmakers nationwide to submit their own 30-second public service announcements, highlighting a public health issue of their choosing.

The 17 entries will be shown throughout the week in the lobby of the festival’s auditorium as a preview to the feature presentations, said Toya Stewart, a University fellow for the School of Public Health.

Additionally, all the short films will be played Thursday night and awards will be handed out, she said.

Admission to the film festival is free, and complimentary snacks are provided. The movies will be shown in the Mayo Memorial Auditorium with each screening beginning at 5:30 p.m.