On Thursday, January 28, Emerson College’s Visual and Media Arts (VMA) Department kicks off its virtual Bright Lights Film Series for the Spring 2021 semester, screening 12 films highlighting social justice themes through April. Films will be available for a 25-hour window starting on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. EST, and the viewing period concludes with a live moderated conversation on Thursdays at 8 p.m. The lineup includes award-winning film by director and VMA professor John Gianvito, Her Socialist Smile, which won the 2020 Douglas Edwards Experimental Film Award from the Los Angeles Film Critics.

The series remains committed to crafting a diverse program including filmmakers of color, queer cinema, and films dealing with disability, and identifies those films with a special Bright Lights Series’ rating system. Ratings include W (made by women), F (feminist films), POC (produced by/featuring people of color), SJ (dealing with social justice themes), I (international), LGBTQ, D (by/featuring people with disabilities), and EC (made by a member of the Emerson community). New in 2020, all films and conversations will have closed captioning available for the deaf and hard of hearing.

The films are viewable in a virtual Bright Family Screening Room, free, open to the public, and feature a 45-minute post-film live discussion. The discussions are moderated and managed by the director of programming, Anna Feder, and will allow audience members to participate in crucial conversations and submit their own questions. Attendance is capped at 175.

Registration takes place through the ArtsEmerson website starting at noon on Wednesdays. All conversations will take place on Thursdays at 8 p.m. EST and will stream to Cinesend. In order to facilitate more engagement with these conversations, everyone will have the option to join via Zoom and interact with guests directly.

More information on how to access films and conversations can be viewed on the Bright Lights website.


9 to 5 Story of a Movement

Thursday, January 28
Co-presented with the Boston Women’s Film Festival, the Boston Asian American Film Festival and SEIU local 888. Directed by Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar, documentary, English, 89 minutes, USA, 2020.
Special screening, available Wednesday, January 27 at 7 p.m. EST and Thursday, January 28 at 6:30 p.m. EST.

In the early 1970s, a group of secretaries in Boston decided that they had suffered in silence long enough. They started fighting back, creating a movement to force changes in their workplaces. This movement became national, and is a largely forgotten story of U.S. twentieth century history. It encapsulates a unique intersection of the women’s movement with the labor movement. The awareness these secretaries brought to bear on women’s work reverberates even today. Clericals were the low-wage workers of their era. America now confronts the growing reality of deep income inequality. The stories and strategies of these bold, creative women resonate in contemporary America. Discussion with protagonists Ellen Cassedy and Mary Jung to follow. W, SJ

The Big Scary “S” Word

Thursday, February 4
Co-presented with the Boston Women’s Film Festival, Boston Jewish Film and SEIU local 888
Directed by Yael Bridge, documentary, English, 82 minutes, USA, 2020.

A former Marine and a public school teacher in two different states find themselves broke and unable to sustain their livelihoods through their jobs. Activated by the energy of the 2016 Sanders presidential campaign and the murmurs of a state-wide teacher strike, both turn to socialism, a once-fringe ideology, to tackle problems larger than themselves. The Big Scary “S” Word delves into the rich history of the American socialist movement and journeys with the people striving to build a socialist future today.With inequality growing, a climate catastrophe looming, and right-wing extremism ascending around the world, many Americans are wondering whether capitalism is to blame. Discussion with director Yael Bridge and protagonists to follow. W, SJ


Thursday, February 11
Co-presented with the Boston Women’s Film Festival, the Roxbury International Film Festival Living on Earth podcast and the Boston Latino International Film Festival
Directed by Cecilia Aldarondo, documentary, English and Spanish with English subtitles, 91 minutes, USA, 2020.

Through shard-like glimpses of everyday life in post-Hurricane María Puerto Rico, Landfall is a cautionary tale for our times. Set against the backdrop of protests that toppled the US colony’s governor in 2019, the film offers a prismatic portrait of collective trauma and resistance. While the devastation of María attracted a great deal of media coverage, the world has paid far less attention to the storm that preceded it: a 72 billion-dollar debt crisis crippling Puerto Rico well before the winds and waters hit.

Landfall examines the kinship of these two storms—one environmental, the other economic—juxtaposing competing utopian visions of recovery. Featuring intimate encounters with Puerto Ricans as well as the newcomers flooding the island, Landfall reflects on a question of contemporary global relevance: when the world falls apart, who do we become? Discussion with producer Ines Hofmann Kanna ‘96W, SJ, POC

Welcome to Chechnya

Thursday, February 18
Co-presented with Wicked Queer: The Boston LGBT Film Festival. Directed by David France, documentary, Russian, Chechen and English with English subtitles, 107 minutes, USA, 2020.

With searing urgency, Welcome to Chechnya shadows a group of activists who risk unimaginable peril to confront the ongoing anti-LGBTQ pogrom raging in the repressive and closed Russian republic. Since 2017, Chechnya’s tyrannical leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has waged a depraved operation to “cleanse the blood” of LGBTQ Chechens, overseeing a government-directed campaign to detain, torture and execute them. With no help from the Kremlin and only faint global condemnation, activists take matters into their own hands. In his new documentary, David France uses a remarkable approach to anonymity to expose this atrocity and to tell the story of an extraordinary group of people confronting evil. Discussion with director David France and producer Alice Henty to follow. LGBTQ, I, SJ

Coded Bias

Thursday, February 25
Co-presented with the Roxbury International Film Festival, SEIU local 888, the Boston Women’s Film Festival, Student Leadership and Engagement and Intercultural Student Affairs. Directed by Shalini Kantayya, documentary, English, 90 minutes, USA, 2020.

Modern society sits at the intersection of two crucial questions: What does it mean when artificial intelligence increasingly governs our liberties? And what are the consequences for the people AI is biased against? When MIT Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini discovers that most facial-recognition software does not accurately identify darker-skinned faces and the faces of women, she delves into an investigation of widespread bias in algorithms. As it turns out, artificial intelligence is not neutral, and women are leading the charge to ensure our civil rights are protected. Discussion with director Shalini Kantayya to follow. W, SJ, POC

Duty Free

Thursday, March 4
Co-presented with the Roxbury International Film Festival and SEIU local 888. Directed by Sian-Pierre Regis. Documentary, English, 73 minutes, USA, 2020.

After a 75-year-old mother gets fired from her job, her son takes her on a bucket-list adventure to reclaim her life. As she struggles to find work, he documents a journey that uncovers the betrayals plaguing her past and the economic insecurity soon to shape not only her future, but that of an entire generation. Discussion with director Sian-Pierre Regis and protagonist Rebecca Danigelis to follow. POC, SJ.

The Viewing Booth

Thursday, March 11
Co-presented with Boston Jewish Film. Directed by Ra'anan Alexandrowicz, documentary, English, Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles, 70 minutes, USA and Israel, 2019.

The Viewing Booth recounts a unique encounter between a filmmaker and a viewer -- exploring the way meaning is attributed to non-fiction images in today's day and age. In a lab-like location, Maia Levy, a young Jewish American woman, watches videos portraying life in the occupied West Bank, while verbalizing her thoughts and feelings in real time. Maia is an enthusiastic supporter of Israel, and the images in the videos, depicting Palestinian life under Israeli military rule, contradict some of her deep-seated beliefs. Empathy, anger, embarrassment, innate biases, and healthy curiosity -- all play out before our eyes as we watch her watch the images created by the Occupation. As Maia navigates and negotiates the images, which threaten her worldview, she also reflects on the way she sees them. Her candid and immediate reactions form a one-of-a-kind cinematic testimony to the psychology of the viewer in the digital era. Discussion with director Ra'anan Alexandrowicz to follow. I, SJ


Thursday, March 18
Co-presented with ReelAbilities Boston, Wicked Queer: The Boston LGBT Film Festival, the Boston Women’s Film Festival and the Boston Underground Film Festival
Directed by Josie Hess and Isabel Peppard, documentary, English, 71 minutes, Australia, 2019.

Morgana is an artistic character portrait of a 50-year-old housewife, who re-invents herself as a sex-positive feminist porn star. After 20 years as a dutiful housewife stuck in a loveless, sexless marriage, Morgana has had enough of her dreary life. Desperately lonely and starved of intimacy, she books a male escort for one last hurrah before ending it all. Her final night takes an unexpected turn when her relationship with the escort opens up a new world of personal and sexual freedom. After hearing about a competition for first time erotic filmmakers, Morgana directs and stars in a film about her own story, 'Duty-Bound.' Unexpectedly her film wins, catapulting her into the international Feminist Porn community. Life merges with art as Morgana uses erotic filmmaking as a tool for creative catharsis, while struggling with demons from her past. Discussion with directors Josie Hess and Isabel Peppard to follow. SJ, W, D, LGBTQ, I


Thursday, March 25
Co-presented with ReelAbilities Boston, the Boston Underground Film Festival and the Boston Women’s Film Festival
Directed by Sachi Cunningham and Chandler Evans, documentary, English, 98 minutes, USA, 2020.

Two decades of exclusive access, plus a lifetime of archival footage, depict Shannon from his early years, to his rise as an award-winning dancer and cutting-edge performance artist whose work finds outlet at prestigious venues worldwide. Crutch examines Shannon’s controversial street performances as he exposes the hidden world of assumptions people with disabilities encounter in public, on a daily basis. While the film questions his early exploitation of strangers’ good Samaritan impulses, it also marvels at Shannon's ability to create solutions and empower others to navigate similar challenges. From childhood “cripple” to international provocateur, Crutch is an emotional story of an artist’s struggle to be understood. Discussion with directors Sacchi Cunningham and Chandler Evans, protagonist Bill Shannon and Dance Umbrella co-founder Jeremy Alliger ‘75 to follow. W, POC, D, SJ

The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel

Thursday, April 1
Co-presented with the Boston Women’s Film Festival, Living on Earth podcast and SEIU local 888
Directed by Joel Bakan and Jennifer Abbott, documentary, English, 105 minutes, Canada, 2020.

The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel reveals how the corporate takeover of society is being justified by the sly rebranding of corporations as socially conscious entities. From gatherings of corporate elites in Davos, to climate change and spiraling inequality; the rise of ultra-right leaders to COVID-19 and racial injustice, the film looks at corporations’ devastating power. Countering this is a groundswell of resistance worldwide as people take to the streets in pursuit of justice and the planet’s future. In the face of spiraling inequality, climate change, and the hollowing out of democracy, The New Corporation is a cry for social justice, deeper democracy, and transformative solutions. Discussion with directors Joel Bakan and Jennifer Abbot to follow. W, SJ

Her Socialist Smile

Thursday, April 8
Co-presented with ReelAbilities Boston and SEIU local 888
Directed by John Gianvito, documentary, English, 93 minutes, USA, 2020.

In his new film, Gianvito meditates on a particular moment in early 20th-century history: when Helen Keller began speaking out passionately on behalf of progressive causes. Beginning in 1913, when, at age 32, Keller gave her first public talk before a general audience, Her Socialist Smile is constructed of onscreen text taken from Keller’s speeches, impressionistic images of nature, and newly recorded voiceover by poet Carolyn Forché. The film is a rousing reminder that Keller’s undaunted activism for labor rights, pacifism, and women’s suffrage was philosophically inseparable from her battles for the rights of people with disabilities. Discussion with director and VMA professor John Gianvito to follow. D, SJ

Generation Green New Deal

Thursday, April 15
Co-presented with Boston Jewish Film, Living on Earth podcast, and SEIU local 888
Directed by Sam Eilertsen, documentary, English, 45 minutes, USA, 2020.

For decades, the American political system has seemed incapable of taking on climate change at the scale necessary to address the growing crisis. In November 2018 the youth-led organization Sunrise Movement and the youngest Congresswoman-elect in history, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez occupied Nancy Pelosi’s office. Their demand: a “Green New Deal.” It set off a firestorm, birthing both an ascendent political movement and intense opposition. Generation Green New Deal looks at the revolutionary political idea and the people behind it, featuring Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Varshini Prakash, Rhiana Gunn-Wright, David Wallace-Wells, Abdul El-Sayed and more. Panel discussion with director Sam Eilertsen and activists to follow. SJ

About the College

Based in Boston, Massachusetts, opposite the historic Boston Common and in the heart of the city’s Theatre District, Emerson College educates individuals who will solve problems and change the world through engaged leadership in communication and the arts, a mission informed by liberal learning. The College has 3,780 undergraduates and 670 graduate students from across the United States and 50 countries. Supported by state-of-the-art facilities and a renowned faculty, students participate in more than 90 student organizations and performance groups. Emerson is known for its experiential learning programs in Los Angeles, Washington, DC, the Netherlands, London, China, and the Czech Republic as well as its new Global Portals, with the first opening last fall in Paris. The College has an active network of 51,000 alumni who hold leadership positions in communication and the arts. For more information, visit