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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘Acting Together on the World Stage’ reigns victorious

Published: September 7, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.

The Telly Award is a prestigious distinction given to videomakers of all kinds, ranging from independent directors to ad agencies, and it is a boon to Brandeis that Cynthia Cohen and Allison Lund have earned one for “Acting Together on the World Stage,” a documentary, sponsored by the Brandeis Peacebuilding and the Arts program, which examines the power of theater in conflict areas. The award is fortuitous, for the kind of work the documentary highlights is both novel and progressive, and could benefit from some time in the spotlight.

The film’s reception of a Telly Award is incredibly exciting. Founded in 1978 to honor excellence in TV commercials, the Tellys first expanded to non-broadcast materials and TV programs, and now encompass everything from long and short films to Internet video. The entries do not compete against each other; rather, a standard of merit is set, and each entry is scored by the judges. Entries receive either a silver or bronze Telly, depending on which of the benchmarks they pass. Recently, the Tellys have partnered with YouTube and Nvidia to branch out into the People’s Tellys, which are put on YouTube for all to rate. Whether decided by the public or by the judges, a Telly is something to celebrate.

Allison Lund, the film’s video director, was an integral aspect of the film’s quality. Since 1994, she has produced several award-winning documentaries and public service announcements on such varied topics as body issues, tobacco and civilian deaths. “Acting Together on the World Stage” won a Bronze Telly this year, which is invaluable for the kind of work the Peacebuilding program is doing. Of the film, Lund said, “As an individual, I often feel powerless, a single flame. But in producing this film, in bearing witness to both horrendous crime and stunning ingenuity, I become part of the ‘powerful fire’ that Polly Walker evokes at the film’s conclusion. Instead of casting my eye in resignation at the greed and rampant inequalities of my world, my gaze has been uplifted by the vitality that can craft responses to these problems …” There is power in this documentary, and the potential to open the eyes of the public to a new kind of peacemaking.

The Peacebuilding and the Arts project, part of Brandeis’ International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life, has been working extensively with Theatre Without Borders for the past several years, releasing the documentary in question one year ago. The principal investigator is Dr. Cohen, who had previously worked as a dialogue facilitator with communities in the Middle East, Sri Lanka, Central America and the United States before joining the Brandeis staff. Cohen is also writing essays for the project, and is the director of a non-profit organization called ReCAST, which is currently helping Brandeis and New Village Press in disseminating Acting Together resources. Over a period of seven years, the project has documented many important case studies, which will be instrumental in legitimizing and strengthening this new field; Brandeis is on the cutting edge of theater as peacemaking technique. The Peacebuilding and the Arts campaign also released two anthologies collecting the case studies and examining their findings. The anthologies are split up by level of violence, with volume one focusing on direct violence and volume two on structural violence and social exclusion. The studies are further broken down into differing performance types: artist-based, community-based and ritual. Another fruit of their research is a “toolkit” of 36 short videos and documents designed as a companion piece to the documentary. The data comes from a myriad of countries, including the United States, Australia, Israel, Palestine, Serbia and Cambodia. All told, the data-collection process surrounding the documentary has been very thorough, and will be of much use to those expanding this new and exciting field.

Since its completion in 2011, the film has made its way around various colleges and benefit screenings, receiving critical acclaim even before the acquisition of the Telly. At the Odyssey Theater in Los Angeles, Peter Spelman, a mediation lawyer, thought the film was “a wonderful, stirring, and very thought provoking presentation … [it] was deeply moving and really made me think about a lot of things, including my own life and place in this […] world of ours.” Though there is a lot of time between screenings, many people have already been exposed to the film, and come away from it with new ideas in their minds. Screenings will be continuing for the foreseeable future, and are likely to increase, given the film’s recent spurt of attention. With an award-winning documentary at their backs, it is hopeful that the attention it receives will draw more attention to this burgeoning field, and thusly more funding, legitimacy and data.

The Peacebuilding and the Arts program was conceived as a subversive means of expressing outcry in areas of conflict. If the results thus far are any indication, it is a step toward more fulfilling methods of creating peace.