On a warm Wednesday evening, the Havens campus seemed like it always did at night, darkness and silence blanketing the playground and halls. No one would ever expect the hundreds of people crowded into the Ellen Driscoll Theater, eyes focused on the stage, where a projector screen cast a blue light over the faces in the crowd.
This crowd – children and grown ups alike – had gathered to see “And Then They Came For Us,” a film about the Japanese American internment camps during WWII.
For 20 years, the Appreciating Diversity Film Series has featured documentaries like “And Then They Came for Us” that center around diversity issues. The non-profit series is sponsored by the City of Piedmont, the Piedmont Adult School, the League of Women Voters, and the Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee.
“The point of the series is to let people know that issues of diversity are fascinating, and there are great ways to learn and to get engaged with what’s going on in the world,” said Appreciating Diversity Film Series committee member Maude Pervere.
At first, the series started out as a speaker series, and then the committee chose to feature documentaries accompanied by panel discussions, Pervere said.
“I think that today’s geniuses are often filmmakers,” Pervere said. “It’s hard to do a good job and if you make a successful film, you’ve usually put together some fairly nuanced ideas that are much easier to present when you can do it with pictures and words, not just words.”
In addition to “And Then They Came for Us”, the Appreciating Diversity Film Series will show the following films this year and into January: “CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap”, “Growing Up Trans”, and a double feature of “The Arc of Justice” and “The House We Live In”, Pervere said.
For a documentary to be shown by the series, it must examine issues of diversity and a committee of nine members must preview it, and then vote if it should be shown. When voting, the members look for certain qualities that makes a film cohesive with the rest of the series, said Appreciating Diversity Film Series committee member Janet Nexon.
“Diversity is pretty broadly defined in our case to include racial diversity, economic diversity, gender diversity, age diversity,” Nexon said.
The series also provides discussion platform for the topics shown in the films, Pervere said.
“To see a movie in a group makes a whole different experience rather than sitting at home and watching it on your computer or Netflix,” Nexon said. “You can get a more full experience of the film if you have an opportunity to talk about it right afterwards.”
Committee-organized guest speakers add to the experience of the viewing in after-screening panel discussions, Pervere said.
“I think we are able to tie the films to a local reality when we have speakers,” Pervere said.
For “And Then They Came for Us,” 97 year-old Yae Wada spoke about her experience in the internment camps.
“The audience was really moved by her story of the effect of the internment on her life even after she was released from the internment camp,” Nexon said when talking about Wada.
The film series strives to unite all members of the Bay Area community, Pervere said.
“They said ‘who’s from Piedmont’ and they raised their hands, then they said ‘who’s from Oakland’ and so many people raised their hands and then they said ‘who’s from Berkeley’ and everyone went ‘woop woop,’” math teacher Diana Miller said about the “And Then They Came For Us” screening at Ellen Driscoll.
To increase the accessibility of the series to a wider Bay Area audience, all of the documentaries feature both at The Ellen Driscoll Theater and The New Parkway Theater in Oakland, Pervere said.
“There is a lot of evidence that people help each other if they think that they are part of the same community, so I think it is in all of our best interests if we expand that sense of who’s in our community,” Pervere said.
Junior Niki Roseborough said going to “And Then They Came For Us” at The New Parkway made her experience unique.
“There’s a sense of community seeing it in a place like that, or the Ellen Driscoll, along with the speakers at the end makes it very different than seeing it at any movie theater,” Roseborough said.