I’m not sure if I would identify my younger self as an advocate before entering college. Sure, there were specific causes and charities that I supported, and I volunteered often because I enjoyed giving back to my local community, but it was not until my sophomore year of college when I realized that I, too, have the power to create change.
In my sophomore year of college, a mentor and friend of mine inspired a group of students and three professors to organize a film festival in order to create a space for Asian American and Pacific Islander filmmakers and artists. Based off of our goal to create a supportive outlet for Asian American films and artists in both the upstate New York region and across the country, the birth of the first ever Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival (IPAAFF) in Ithaca, New York occured.
In short, the film festival promoted media that was written, directed, and performed by Asian American and Pacific Islanders with the idea of engaging audiences in a conversation about the need for more diversity in mainstream media. It was able to bring more awareness to Asian American media and art.
I can say that one of the hardest parts of organizing the festival was getting sponsorships and funding, primarily because it was the first year of this event, so there was little to no funding from the college. For the most part, we were on our own. We reached out to local colleges and universities, as well as various cultural organizations, small businesses, and local restaurants seeking sponsorships, or any type of donation that we could receive. Through all the tedious work, I learned the importance of creating relationships, not to mention the overall lasting effects of community outreach.
Establishing these relationships and connections with local partners launched the support system that I didn’t realize the festival truly needed in order to thrive. In the second and third years of the festival, I quickly realized how important those contacts were, as they became involved in the growth of both the festival size and programming. Small businesses downtown, for example, donated their goods to give away through a raffle or silent auction, while cultural organizations performed dances and other acts as a part of the festival’s programming.
The organizers behind the film festival were all very dedicated students and professors. From organizing the fundraising and film selections to the marketing and promotions to the logistics and programming, the team became closer over the course of the semester. Festival planning brought the team together and it encouraged each of us to stay committed to the goals of the festival while bringing awareness to the lack of diversity in the media. We’re all advocates, and the impacts of our work and passion have set a precedent for the next group of students.
My involvement with the film festival carried through until graduation day. As I reflect on the grounds in which the festival was built, I think about the lingering effects that it will have not only on the community, but also on the college and the students. Going forward, the festival has undergone significant changes- mainly the fact that the festival gains more filmmakers and attention each year, and more community members are willing to help in the organization of the event. Logistically, there is a foundation for the festival and a team behind its planning. What started out as a passion for spreading awareness about more diversity in mainstream media grew into an annual festival that creates more spaces and opportunities for Asian American artists.
How have you created a lasting impact in your community and stepped up for a cause?
My name is Sara Kim, a recent graduate of the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College. I majored in journalism with a double minor in Health Policy & Management and Asian American Studies. In my free time, I enjoy working out, reading books, watching movies, and cooking. Fun fact: I am a foodie and love to try out new places and recipes.