Peninsula festival showcases 60 short and feature documentary films focusing on human rights issues.
How do you move millions of pounds of food to people who are hungry? Quicker than many thought possible when student-led project Farmlink is at the wheel. How do you tackle poverty both abroad and in our own backyard? For Peninsula resident Evelyne Keomian, it’s done fearlessly — and on two continents.
Groups led by individuals with local ties are addressing some of the world’s toughest questions. Their stories are among those captured in the 26th annual United Nations Association Film Festival.
This year, UNAFF screens a total of 60 short and feature documentaries that delve into a variety of topics, from war to equity in the workplace, but the films, as always, have a common focus: human rights issues. UNAFF takes place Oct. 19-29 at venues in Palo Alto, Stanford University and East Palo Alto, as well as San Francisco.
The festival highlights films from around the nation and the world and includes a number of films about locals matter-of-factly taking on issues that seem insurmountable.
“Abundance: The Farmlink Story”
Just weeks after the start of the pandemic shutdown in spring 2020, Stanford undergrads James Kanoff and Stella Delp were among the students who launched a grassroots effort to serve as a missing link in the food supply chain, according to Stanford News. The students made a connection with farmers so that, in the absence of restaurants and other businesses that typically bought their crops, they could donate their surplus to food banks instead of being forced to let it go to waste. The effort quickly came to encompass students from universities around the country and became the Farmlink Project.
Owen Dubeck, director of the short documentary “Abundance: The Farmlink Story” was in a unique position to document the project’s earliest days.
“It’s been a bit of an interesting project in that I’m both a founder who was there on day one helping drive the U-hauls in the beginning and then also I am a film director so I was able to document the whole journey,” he said.
Dubeck volunteered with Farmlink and captured members of the group as they secured crops from farmers and transported them to food banks. The initial aim in documenting the work was to promote Farmlink and help spread the word just on a local level. But their efforts quickly grabbed national attention. The tons of food that the grassroots group was able to rescue and the sheer number of volunteers — about 600 college students and eventually 4,000 other volunteers, Dubeck estimated — was eye-opening.
“The amount of food that goes to waste every year shocks me. I didn’t know much about the terrible food system before taking on this documentary. … Seeing those visuals of 3 million bananas in a ditch or 5 million onions in a hangar, I thought it was really striking and surprising,” Dubeck said.
Jane Tovar, now a senior at University of California, Berkeley, was among the project’s early volunteers and she’s featured in “Abundance.” An environmental sciences major, Tovar was drawn to the organization’s missions of sustainability and addressing hunger. She grew up in Gilroy, where she and her family experienced food insecurity. Her mother, a farmworker, did not earn enough picking crops to feed their family, she said.
Tovar was a freshman when she first volunteered, cold-calling farmers before the project’s mission was widely known.
“It was difficult and there were a lot of noes and a lot of like ‘is this spam?’ — a lot of instant hangups when you start to explain. But then there were some promising things (people agreeing to call back),” she recalled.
After an initial stint with Farmlink in the U.S. Tovar also volunteered for a time with the program’s international arm. As a Spanish speaker, she was able to call farmers in Mexico.
Although the project’s founders have graduated, Farmlink continues on as a nonprofit.
“Our long-term goal is to set up infrastructure which will render our work obsolete,” the organization’s website says.
The short documentary “Fear Not” captures the work of Peninsula resident Evelyne Keomian, who’s working to address poverty and improve educational prospects for children in her home country of Côte d’Ivoire as well as in Silicon Valley. In Côte d’Ivoire, she founded the Karat School Project, to provide education to impoverished children, particularly girls, who may be left out of schooling in order to work for the family, according to the film.
In 2021, Keomian published a children’s book based on her own story of selling water to pay for school supplies — the aim was to inspire children to be resilient and to raise funds for her school.
“She’s been working on building schools and expanding the program to offer education to girls and the community where she grew up, and only boys were allowed to attend school. So she was really defying the odds,” said Annette King, who co-directed the film with Ivanovitch Ingabire.
The directors shared photography duties, with Ingabire filming in Côte d’Ivoire and King behind the camera in Silicon Valley during 2021 and 2022.
“Fear Not” finds Keomian reading to the young students, playing with them and even making food for them at the school she founded. Ingabire recalled the relaxed, friendly atmosphere among the students at the school, how hands-on with the students Keomian was and how welcoming the children were as he worked on the film.
Keeping up with Keomian’s schedule was not easy, the filmmakers said: in addition to her time at the school, we see her visiting families of Karat School students and opening a library for the patients at a pediatric hospital.
In 2022, the school building was destroyed by a storm, and undaunted, Keomian embarked on a fundraising campaign to rebuild and secured a new site for the school.
In addition to leading the Karat School Project, Keomian has also organized projects in the Bay Area to help families dealing with poverty.
Beginning in early 2020, she gathered donations and distributed care packages of school supplies and books to children of low-income families on the Peninsula and also organized a holiday drive for families living in RVs.
When “Fear Not” screened recently at the North Hollywood CineFest, Keomian was recognized with a humanitarian award for her work.
“She said that’s the first time she’s won an award, and I was shocked,” King recalled. “But I think that she wins an award every day with these kids just really admiring her and wanting to follow in her footsteps.”
“Abundance: The Farmlink Story” screens Oct. 21 at 2:30 p.m. and “Fear Not” screens Oct. 28 at 1:30 p.m. For more information and a full schedule, visit unaff.org.