Eradicating Linguistic & Cultural Bias at North American Film Festivals

Asghar Farhadi at Berlinale as Iranian Cinema thrives.

This is an unspoken rule — not all languages are judged equally. As much as we’ve focused on representation and diversity on the lines of gender and race, we’ve often glossed over age, culture and language in our quest for an even playing field.

This has been our mission at the Pendance Film Festival — that a film be judged without consideration for the director’s age, gender, race, cultural background or the spoken languages in the film.

Film is an audio-visual medium, and it would be hard to argue that films in Farsi, Dutch, or Turkish are viewed by English-speaking programmers the same way that English language films are.

How does one judge an acting performance if half the attention is on the subtitles? This is specifically true for languages which aren’t rooted in Latin. Some languages simply don’t convert well to English— subtext and meaning is lost in translation.

North American film festivals may opt against an Albanian or Serbian film for a Spanish or French one of lesser merit citing demographics. This is rooted in the thinking that North American audiences tend to prefer not reading subtitles to begin with, and would be even less likely to do so in a language they’re completely unfamiliar with.

And as a festival that programmed a Dutch feature last year which had our lowest attendence among thirteen screening blocks, we’re not going to argue that it makes a lot of sense financially.

But if a film festival exists predominantly as a cultural event, it must be about more than dollars and cents.

Where would Iranian cinema be on the world stage without the Berlinale? If we merely reduce our concept of diversity to include race and gender, we’re missing the larger picture.

As an English-speaking filmmaker, I hardly realized this problem until we started the Pendance Film Festival in 2017.

Filmmakers from the Netherlands, Austria, Serbia, Greece, Turkey, the Middle East and South Asia have all referenced that they feel they face a significant disadvantage with international film festivals — and looking at the programming of most small-to-mid-sized North American Film Festivals, they certainly aren’t wrong.

Austrian Director Peter Brunner wins Best Director for ‘To the Night’


The Trickle-Down Effect

Some countries are severely underrepresented on the world stage and the trickle-down effect this has on the funding available to filmmakers in these countries is worth noting.

Major film festivals are hunting grounds for distributors searching for content, and if films from Uruguay, Poland, Sri Lanka, or Greece face a barrier to entry, then filmmakers from these countries face barriers to funding within their own countries because of it.

We urge film festival directors and programmers to re-think diversity. We believe the world is absolutely full of stories worth sharing. To know that a filmmaker in Sudan or Turkey can’t make their film in their native language because their governing bodies believes the film won’t find a place on the world stage is pathetic.

The world is bigger than North America and Western Europe. Large festivals like TIFF, Berlin and Cannes have broadened their horizons to give a serious platform to world cinema. It’s time for everyone else to do the same.

Pendance Announces Short Film Jury for 2020

The Pendance Film Festival is proud to welcome eight wonderful additions to the Short Film Jury for 2020.

The Jury is comprised of Robyn Citizen (TIFF Short Cuts Programmer), Alexandra Mitchell (Austin Film Festival Programmer) and Pendance alums; Mauro Mueller, Myrsini Aristidou, Carlota Pereda, Marija Apcevska, Cam Be, and Clara Lezama.

Robyn Citizen is a film and media scholar on ethno-racial and national identity, and the horror and sci-fi genres. In 2018, she joined the programming teams for the Toronto International Film Festival and the Human Rights Film Festival. From 2012 to 2017 she was a lecturer in the Department of Asian Studies and the Department of Theatre and Film at the University of British Columbia. Recently, Citizen was a featured writer and panelist at the Emergence Symposium’s Black to the Future program, on the themes and cultural impact of Afrofuturism.

Mauro Mueller is an independent Swiss-Mexican narrative filmmaker and a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. He is best known for directing the short films A World for Raúl which won the Student Academy Award for 2013, Dear Chickens (which had its Canadian premiere at Pendance 2019) and producing the feature film Copenhagen, and the Mexican feature In Times of Rain. He co-founded Fidelio Films alongside Columbia University alums Mark Raso, David Figueroa García, and Mauricio Leiva-Cock in 2010.

Myrsini Aristidou is an award-winning filmmaker based between Paris and Cyprus. She graduated with an MFA in Film Directing from NYU Tisch School of the Arts in 2017, and holds a BFA in Film and History of Art from Pratt Institute in New York. Her short film Aria premiered at the the 74th Venice Film Festival, and continued to screen at Sundance. Her previous short film Semele premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015 and won the Berlinale Short Film Special Prize of the Generation Kplus International Jury.

Alexandra “Alex” Mitchell was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. After graduating from Washington University with a B.A. in Film & Media Studies, she made the trek down ‘south’ with the dream of working at Austin Film Festival. She made it! After serving as a Conference intern, Registration Director, and recently the Project Manager, Alex is honored to serve as the Shorts Programmer in the Film Department. When Alex is not watching films and reading up on the industry, she is eating brunch and playing board games.

Carlota Pereda is an award-winning Spanish director and screenwriter. She has worked on various television productions. She is known for directing Las Ninas Rubias (The Blonde Girls) in 2016 and Cerdita (Piggy) in 2018. Both films earned international acclaim, with the latter winning the Goya. Piggy won the Jury Award for Best Short Film at Pendance 2019.

Marija Apcevska is a Macedonian filmmaker. She graduated from the Academy of Dramatic Arts, Skopje. She continued her education at the New York Film Academy, LA, California with an MFA in filmmaking. Her short film Bardo premiered at Berlinale. Her short film Ambi was included in Cineuropa Shorts selection of Top Five European Shorts of 2017.


Cam Be studied at the New York Film Academy and Columbia College in Chicago. Cam has interviewed and documented iconic artists such as Maya Angelou, Lauryn Hill, Common, among others. He received an Emmy award as a producer for About Last Night in 2012. He’s best known for his feature-documentary The Exchange, and his short doc Where Flowers Bloom (2018).


Clara Lezama is a 25 year-old filmmaker from Montevideo, Uruguay. She graduated from Escuela de Cine del Uruguay in 2016 and has worked as a director, editor and AD. Her short film Emma won best short film at FIEC, the Festival Piriápolis de Película, and Pendance 2017. She participated in Cinemademare in 2017, and currently works for Cinemateca Uruguaya.