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Virtual Reality: Bright Lights Returns, Online and Focused on Social Justice

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A still from Through the Night, one of 12 social justice documentaries being screened online this semester as part of the Bright Lights Film Series.

By Zenebou Sylla ’22

The Bright Lights Film Series will resume its screenings online for Fall 2020 with a wide range of documentaries focused on tackling different, intersecting social justice issues. 

The first film in the series, The Dilemma of Desire, will premiere on Thursday, September 17, at 7:00 pm. The film focuses on female desire and the denial of female desire within gender politics.

See: Bright Lights Film Series Fall 2020 Program

In addition to being fully online this semester, the films, all of which are followed by discussions with filmmakers and/or subjects, also will be more accessible.

Anna Feder, director of programming for the Visual and Media Arts Department and founder and curator of the Bright Lights Film Series, said a new feature will provide audiences with captioning, not only for the films themselves, but for the conversations, as well as a new interactive mode that provides direct communication for questions and/or responses.  

“In the end, it’s about having conversations around cinema. While it’s not ideal … it’s important that I find a new way to fill that mission of the series,” said Feder. 

Watch the Fall Season Trailer

Screenings, normally held in the Paramount Center’s Bright Family Screening Room, will be held synchronously this fall on Thursdays at 7:00 pm, on a platform called Cinesend, followed by a live moderated conversation with filmmakers and subjects. This semester, capacity is capped at 175, however it will still be free and open to the public. 

“Certainly, when it is safe to do we will be back in the physical space and not before then,” Feder said. “We’re waiting until it is really safe because access to me is more important than anything else… I would rather have 150 people be able to access the film from their homes and safely.”

How to Access Bright Lights Films

As the pandemic forced theaters to shut down in March, Feder was forced to reimagine the Spring 2020 lineup as a virtual series. Most scheduled films were dropped, and a new roster (and speaker list) was quickly developed; audiences watched films on their own time on streaming services, then joined together virtually for the talks.

With large gatherings still restricted, but with more time to plan, Feder has assembled a series of films that speak to some of the most pressing social issues facing the nation and world today.

The dozen documentaries will center around issues like immigration, environmental justice, the economy, race, gender sexuality, mental health, and disability.

Ultimately, Feder said, she wants to make sure that important discussions are taking place surrounding these topics. She hopes that these screenings will prompt tough conversations, allow more people the opportunity to be a part of those conversations, and highlight the topics through the lens of COVID-19 and anti-racism movements.

“This is really important, this series, these conversations, especially now,” Feder said.  “Not just with what’s going on in the world; what’s going on at Emerson?

“A lot of things are scaled back, things aren’t just happening…and so I feel like the series is more important under these circumstances… us sort of making the campus as rich as we possibly can,” said Feder.   

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