From the Honolulu Weekly 3/31/2010

Cities have a way of developing reputations based on subsets or personalities. If you ask people around the world about Chicago, many still cite Al Capone while sliding their arms back and forth like a tommy gun. You’d be hard pressed to bring up Philadelphia without someone raving about that Cheez Whiz laden steak sandwich. And let’s not even mention Detroit. Despite urban stereotypes, cities are a blend of continuously evolving neighborhoods and places. Each area and institution uniquely contributes to the creation of a city’s culture.

The University of Hawaii’s Urban and Regional Planning department offers a chance to explore these unique parts with the Diversity of Places Film Festival. The festival showcases a series of films that demonstrate how places are defined, and challenges us to re-evaluate how we experience our own communities.

“These films ask … who has the right to make or remake places and why?” said organizer Vera Zambonelli, who will be leading the event. “We want to promote awareness and critical outlook on how we, all of us, experience place.”

The festival is split into three parts, starting with a number of short films on topics ranging from the works of a non-profit bike shop in Philadelphia to a coming of age documentary on South Asian women living in Queens. The award winning film A Village Called Versailles follows, telling the story of a Vietnamese American community in New Orleans struggling not only to recover post-Katrina, but fighting to block the government’s efforts to place a toxic landfill next to their neighborhood. The evening culminates with a moderated discussion featuring filmmakers Leo Chiang, Brittney Shepherd, Eva Moss and Misa Tupou.

The ARTS At Marks Garage, 1159 Nuuanu Ave., Sun 4/4, 3PM, FREE, [www.diversityinplace.org], 521-2903

A diversity of places compounds our current urban realities. These include nourishing places as well as unsettling, even frightening, places.  Some places are inclusive civic spaces open to all; others are private, exclusive and controlled places. Places for children and places for adults; sacred places where we go for spiritual uplifting; restaurants and other places where we go to eat; places for women, and places where women may not feel too welcomed or simply “out of place” are also sites inscribed by social diversity.

Observing all such places raises the question of what creates the appropriateness of the use and social inscriptions of a place. More specifically, who has the right to (re-)make and use such places and why?   When does a place create/transmit sense of safety, or its opposite? For example, consider the idea of home, which usually evoke a sense of care, familiarity, and safety. Yet, it may also become a place of terror, as the too many incidents of domestic violence may suggest. In other words, place is embedded with a multiplicity of experiences, meanings and emotions. These may be experienced individually or shared among a group of people, who may vindicate ownership and use it in spatializing their identity.

Hence, given this mushrooming diversity of places, the main objective of this project and related film festivals is to promote awareness and a critical outlook on how we, all of us, experience place so as to have a better understanding of how it works, affects people’s lives and people intervene in its making.