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Struggling in school, seeing your childhood pet pass away, falling in love for the first time, feeling betrayed or triumphant, surviving family drama — there are certain experiences that people undergo no matter their geographical location.
In that respect, Washingtonians may have more in common with the Native Americans of ancient tribes in South America or the Bedouins of the Middle East than they realize. At least, that’s the premise of National Geographic’s 2010 All Roads Film Festival.
With more than 30 documentaries, narratives and avant-garde films highlighting 55 cultures from 21 countries, the six-day festival, which starts today and runs through Sunday, highlights the similarities among people of different cultures.
In “Up Heartbreak Hill,” three teenagers — a strong athlete, a gifted photographer and a star student — stand at a crossroads and must decide whether to leave their small Navajo reservations in pursuit of their dreams or forsake their passions and stick with family traditions.
“A lot of these films have universal aspects that people can relate to,” said Francene Blythe, director of the project. “Visitors will learn about various cultures around the world and notice that the human race has many commonalities and connections. Certain situations occur in other places around the world besides in our own neighborhoods.”
“Boy,” for example, centers on an 11-year-old Maori boy’s coming of age and his struggle to accept the reality of his father’s carelessness. After an eight-year absence, the boy’s dad — whom he idolized — returns home.
Sensing his father’s greed, recalling his unkept promises and witnessing his addictive habits, the boy realizes his dad is less of a hero than he imagined. In the midst of his story, viewers see the everyday life of the New Zealand’s indigenous tribe.
“The life experiences shown in these films reflect our own stories,” Blythe said. “It’s enlightening — seeing the same things happening and the similar circumstances that come up in all cultures.”
In “Dear Lemon Lima,” a part-Alaskan Eskimo teen wavers between assimilating into high school’s brutal caste system of cliques or accepting her unique heritage and individuality at the risk of being labeled a “loser.”
“What kid isn’t in school trying to fit in or is infatuated with a classmate who has no interest in him or her?” Blythe asked.
Blythe said the festival zeroes in on individuals’ stories in hopes that viewers half a globe away will empathize, recognize people’s daily challenges and appreciate their triumphs.
“A lot of people, when they think of National Geographic films, tend to think of documentaries on environmental, political or sociological conflicts, but that is not at what dominates in this film festival,” she said. “We focus on personal stories. A lot of the films have an upbeat, inspirational, triumph-over-tragedy tone.”
The festival is part of the All Roads Film Project, a program that provides grants to filmmakers and photographers who promote awareness of ingenious and minority cultures. The project started in 2004 and has since featured a selection of films each year.