Peggy Johnson

Peggy Johnson is the executive director of the Loft Cinema Foundation, which will be co-hosting the Sundance Institute's Film Forward Program. The festival will bring 10 multicultural and independent films, as well as workshops and discussions, to Tucson between Sunday, June 5, and Thursday, June 9. The films will be screened at the Loft Cinema, the Tucson Museum of Art, downtown's Cinema La Placita, the Joel Valdez Main Library, the Jewish Community Center and other locations. All showings are free. For details, visit www.loftcinema.com/FilmForward.

What is Film Forward all about?

Film Forward is a program that the Sundance Institute has put together in conjunction with the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The concept is to connect contemporary filmmakers and international films with global audiences, and to create a multicultural, cross-cultural dialogue. It's a pretty lofty mission, which is why, I guess, they picked the Loft. We're really excited about it, because the quality of these films is so great. There are only seven cities in the United States hosting this moving film festival, so we're really honored to be part of it.

Do you think film is particularly suited for cross-cultural exchanges?

Film is the most dynamic tool for cross-cultural dialogue, because it encompasses so much—visuals and sound and languages and different kinds of storytelling. I think it really provides an insight into other cultures that you can't get out of a magazine or a book or a play. The films are very intimate. A Small Act is just a tiny little story about the effect that a Swedish woman had on the education of a young man in Kenya who she never met, and he goes and founds his own scholarship program years later. It's just crazy wonderful. I think it's a great window into a culture.

I see that Winter's Bone, which played at the Loft last year, is part of this. Winter's Bone is a fascinating look at a different subculture right here in the United States.

Exactly. And imagine the impact that will have in different countries, like in Turkey, Uganda, Morocco and Tunisia.

It's not just the Loft doing this. You'll be showing films at the Jewish Community Center, the Tucson Museum of Art and other places.

The idea was to do a community-wide event that would introduce new audiences to the concept of seeing foreign films or indie films, in hopes of drawing in new audiences to see films they would not otherwise see. They are all free, and they are all wonderful, and we are hoping that people choose to go to films that speak to them. ... It's a way of experiencing a new culture. One of the most touching things was when they showed Freedom Riders in China, and they said that Chinese people were crying, because they totally got this experience of the civil rights movement in the United States. It just spoke to them.

And the entire thing is free.

Yes. The people from Sundance will be here to introduce the films. We have a wonderful relationship with Sundance, being a member of their Art House Project. Only 17 cinemas in the country have been invited to join that project, but I don't think that's why this program's coming to Tucson. They picked Tucson because they thought it was a kind of community that would embrace this kind of multicultural experience.

Talk a little bit about the Loft's upcoming expansion plans.

We're still in the early phases, but the idea is to add three screens, so we'll have a total of four, and to turn the upstairs theater into offices, and provide more parking. It will give us better capacity to serve the community. We have One-Hit Wonders, which are one-time showings of documentaries, because we don't have room to show them. A lot of films we have to let go, even though people are still coming to them, to make room for new films. We bring in five to 12 films a week, and that takes a lot of maneuvering, and it takes a lot of work on the public's part to figure out when what they want to see is showing. I am planning, if at all possible, to include an open-air space to have an outdoor, non-drive-in, drive-in. It is going to be an opportunity for every local organization to use the theater, because it will allow us to free up screens for other groups to raise funds and raise awareness.

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