Summer! Warmth, heat, sweat, late sunny evenings, ice-cream, world cup... Now that I got myself a hat, I'm not fearing a heat stroke every time I set foot on the sidewalk, so life is good!
A week ago, the Southside Film festival happened in Bethlehem. 4 days of film screenings, parties, talk-back sessions, and opportunities to appreciate the creative and entrepreunerial drive present in the Bethlehem community. There, I said it. Community. That's one of those words I don't like to use too much. Because it's so full of political precedent. Everyone believes in community building, everyone wants people to live happily ever after together in the same neighborhood, blah blah blah.
But I have to say that the South Side fest is true to the core of the word. It's organised by local volunteer leaders, it uses the spaces of the town, from the Lehigh University campus to the local shops and coffee-shops. The general quarters are located at Deja Brew, the late night parties happen at the Wild Flower cafe, the opening party was at the decor-shop Home and Planet. People from Bethlehem made sure to come, there were auditoriums full of people watching documentary films, shorts and feature-lenghts, all non-mainstream films, part of the festival circuit. And yet, no snobbiness whatsoever. Just a love of film and a passion to make such a large-scale grassroots event work out. This is the festival's 7th year, and it's stronger than ever.
Touchstone also engages with community, working in local schools, bringing shows to kids during the summer, opening its space to artistic groups. The word "community" comes up a lot in our work, and yet we try to use it sparingly. Because it can quickly become stale, dishonest, hypocritical. And we don't want that.
I find similarities between the use of the word "community" in the US, and the word "populaire" in France. Maybe it's because the shadow of the Revolution follows French culture even to this day, but something that is "populaire" is very often seen as something good: Front populaire, fête populaire, bal populaire, soupe populaire, secours populaire, rassemblement populaire, etc.
And that word has been used SO MUCH by the political elite in France that it really is hard to stomach. To the extent that anytime someone says something is "populaire", I glance at them with distrust in my eyes.
But then, when a real "populaire" community event is set up, you can forget about the word, and revel in the beauty of being together. When the audience about to see an Ariane Mnouchkine theatre production is eating delightful food served by the crew in a tent on the outskirts of Paris, that audience is involved in what could be called a "dîner populaire", but all we're thinking about is how good the food is, and how nice it is to be there.
Same for the film festival in Douarnenez. Queues of people waiting to get into the cinema, dinners of sardines and fries made outside in a school courtyard... it might be called "populaire", but it's just a bunch of people having fun together.
So my question is: have we gotten to the point in our societies where we need to use catch words like "community" and "populaire" to bring people together? We must be pretty disengaged from our neighbors if we constantly have to find excuses and schemes to look at each other in the eyes and engage in activities. But since that seems to be the case, then it's all the more important for local leaders everywhere to show how natural it is to engage in community, and to have fun in a "populaire" kind of way. With no political agenda, just for the sake of being human.