One woman’s impact
One of the greatest things about our corner of America is that a single person can have a huge impact. It doesn’t take wealth or lineage or fame to change the way we look at the world.
Consider the story of Jasmina Bojic, a veteran lecturer at Stanford who two decades ago founded the United Nations Association Film Festival on the midPeninsula.
Film festivals are common fare in the Bay Area: Bojic (pronounced BOYitch) recently counted 54. But few have the staying power or the influence of the UNAFF, which specializes in documentaries.
Over the years, documentaries shown at UNAFF have been nominated for 30 Academy Awards and won seven. Forget Cannes: We have Stanford, Palo Alto and East Palo Alto.
“We live in the golden age of
documentary filmmaking,” says Bojic, 58, a slender, dark-haired woman who came to the U.S. after a career in radio and television in the former Yugoslavia.
When we talked about all those other festivals, she added this: “They’re coming in and out. But we stayed. We have a very clear idea of what we want to do, and what our audience is.”
Bojic is reticent about talking about herself — she would much rather talk about the 60 films in the upcoming 20th UNAFF festival, which begins Oct. 19 — but this much is clear:
The popular Stanford lecturer, who studied law before she went into radio and television, sees documentary films as a way of conveying a larger political message.
Influenced by Barbara Trent, a filmmaker who came to Stanford to talk about her film on the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama, (“The Panama Deception”) Bojic founded the film festival in 1998.
It was the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document whose existence owes much to Eleanor Roosevelt, a woman Bojic reveres.
So what films will be shown this year? The theme of the year’s festival is “respect,” another chapter in the veneration of human rights that is at the core of the festival.
You can get the full list of screenings at www.unaff.org, as well as a useful video interview with Bojic and several of the filmmakers. (Bojic continues to work as a journalist, reviewing films for newspapers in Europe.) The festival will also have a series of panel discussions.
Among the documentaries is the 74-minute “Mankiller,” about Wilma Mankiller, a charismatic native American leader who was relocated to California as a child. (Like this column, the film festival is happy to find a local angle.)
Another is called “The Secret Fatwa,” a 55-minute piece about the massacre of political prisoners in Iran in 1988, told through the eyes of five survivors.
“I’m always training my jury members that we have to look to something that is not talked about,” says Bojic, who uses the films at Stanford as part of a related program called “The Camera as Witness.” “We always look to an experience, or a story.”
This year, the festival is showing a film called “Remember Baghdad,” a 69-minute film by Fiona Murphy about the last Jews in Baghdad. In America, as Bojic points out, there are people who don’t realize Baghdad had Jews.
Although many people help to put on the festival — this year’s will be opened by Palo Alto Mayor Greg Scharff — at bottom it reflects the organizational skills and the judgment of one woman.
In 2007, then-Stanford President John Hennessy presented Bojic with the “Community Treasure Award.” He had it right. A visit to the film festival would vouch for his judgment.