The Smithsonian Institution's Recovering Voices initiative offers global audiences a film festival online that centres around “language, culture and the power of storytelling” and features 45 films in 39 languages.
The Smithsonian’s Recovering Voices (RV) initiative was founded in 2009. It is “a collaborative program of the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of the American Indian, and the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage that partners with communities around the world to revitalise and sustain endangered languages and knowledge.”
The initiative will host a monthly film-screening series which, in its sixth annual presentation, will be screened virtually this year. The Mother Tongue Film Festival “celebrates the vital relationship between language, culture and the power of storytelling.”
Featuring 45 films in 39 languages from all over the world, the festival “opens on the United Nations’ International Mother Language Day, February 21, and runs through May.”
“The Mother Tongue Film Festival helps people to understand that language matters not just because it is how we express ourselves and understand each other, but because it helps us build and sustain relationships,” says Joshua A. Bell, curator of globalisation at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and co-director of the festival.
Amalia Cordova, festival co-director and Latinx digital curator at the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, adds that “Mother tongue has to do more with connection than expertise or language proficiency. ‘Mother’ is about affiliation—where you come from.”
In previous years, the festival was presented in the form of in-person screenings “across the Smithsonian, around Washington DC, and in venues at Indigenous events around the country.” The sixth iteration of the annual event “breaks with convention” and can be screened online by global audiences, giving them “access to films and filmmakers from over 25 regions”.
The festival films, which will be screened from February 21 through May, can be accessed at mothertongue.si.edu, the festival page which will be updated regularly to present the films on view.
Available between February 21 to 27 is the feature film Waikiki, “Hawai‘i’s first Native-written and-directed feature”, in English and olelo Hawai‘i languages.
The second feature film in the series is Teko Haxy (Being Imperfect), which is available between February 21 and March 31. It is an experimental documentary from Brazil, featuring the languages of Guarani and Portuguese.
The third feature film is Tote (Grandfather), a Mexican documentary which is the debut feature of filmmaker Maria Sojob (Tsotsil). The languages featured in the film are Tzotzil, the language of an Indigenous Maya people, and Spanish.
There are also numerous short films, some available until March 31, some available through May that can be viewed on the Smithsonian website. Not to mention special events such as the opening ceremony and conversations with filmmakers. Altogether, the festival aims to be an enriching and rewarding experience that enlightens global audiences beyond borders.
Thumbnail and headline stills: Waikiki, dir. Christopher Kahunahana, 2020