Some aspects of the world, however, have not changed all that much. The Vietnam War has given way to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; homosexuals continue to fight for equal rights; and the volatile economy has cost many hard-working Americans their jobs. It's clear that many of King's lessons are still important today; particularly apt was King's warning about the "triple evils," the dangers of war, racism and poverty. To King, these evils are intertwined and act as barriers to creating a peaceful society.
To celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Volunteer Center of Southern Arizona organized a film competition using the triple evils as a theme. The 2009 Martin Luther King Day Film Projét (pronounced pro-zhay) will screen the best of these short original films at the Loft Cinema.
"The point of (the competition) is to reflect on the work that was done then, and see how it is affecting you now," said Germar Townsend, program coordinator at the Volunteer Center of Southern Arizona. "What changes have made life better for you now? Or what changes still need to happen, and what problems still exist that maybe haven't quite been corrected yet?"
Townsend and several of his co-workers have backgrounds in filmmaking, so when they were thinking of a way to honor Dr. King, it was natural for them to think of cinema. They used the French word "projét" rather than "project" to tip their hats to independent and art-house cinema produced in France.
Each film is supposed to be no more than five minutes long, and the competition is divided into adult and youth categories. Prizes will be awarded for Best Film, Best Director, Best Theme Integration and Best Sound, Townsend said.
Many of the submissions--which were due earlier this month--deal with the Iraq War. Other variations of the theme have dealt with gender and sexuality matters, Townsend said.
Submissions came in from both professional filmmakers and first-timers. Many of the youth who entered took classes about filmmaking to learn how to put a film together for the competition.
One participant is 13-year-old Zoe Brennan, who got her first shot behind the camera when her group of about 10 people created a film examining poverty.
"I was really excited about getting behind the camera and trying it out," Brennan said. "I also did a little bit of help with people's acting--not a lot, because they were great--but it was really fun just to be a part of it."
Their film, "A Common Problem," is about a boy named Toby whose father has lost his job. After playing basketball, Toby's friends head home for dinner. Toby, however, digs through the trash for his meal, Brennan said. The next night, Toby again searches through the garbage for something to eat, but instead of food, Toby finds a knife. Driven by hunger and armed with the knife, Toby decides to rob a passer-by.
Upon seeing the fear in the person's eyes, Brennan said, Toby stops, knowing what he's doing is wrong. Toby's friends find him crying on the ground, help him up and buy him something to eat.
Brennan is both excited and nervous to see the premiere of her film, but mostly, she hopes it will inspire people.
"For the people that do get something from this film, I hope they see the compassion, and that they can apply it to their daily lives like Martin Luther King did," Brennan said. "I know that if it were happening to me, I'd want the support of my friends and the support of people around me. Compassion is key."
The response to the film competition has been strong, Townsend said. The Volunteer Center hopes to make the competition an annual event. But this year especially, the competition offers a way to celebrate and meditate on where the nation is and how far we've come since King's death.
"We have the economy; we have the war; then also, yeah, we do have a first African-American president," Townsend said. "This time in our country is a time to reflect."
The 2009 Martin Luther King Jr. Day Film Projét will take place at the Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd., at 5:30 p.m., Monday, Jan. 19. Admission is free. For more information, call 881-3300, ext. 119, or visit the Volunteer Center Web site.