One wo­man’s im­pact

The Mercury News - - Local News - Scott Her­hold Columnist

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.

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