“When it used to be held downtown…”
This phrase repeated by previous FLEFF attendees and Team members is the equivalent of someone starting off a memory by saying, “when I was your age”. They sit back in their chair, with their head slightly raised and a cheerful glint is in their eyes that is noticeable even through a Zoom call.
I talked with Stewart Auyash, Associate Professor for Health Professions and Physical Education at Ithaca College about his connection with FLEFF, as he has been involved ever since the beginning of the festival in 1997 when it was run through Cornell University.
Professor Auyash selects the opening speaker to create the first impression for the festival after Dr. Zimmermann and Professor Shevory announce the theme for the upcoming season. He mentioned that he looks to find the person who is interesting, smart, and has something to say on a topic that also grabs the audience’s attention and invites conversation.
Noting that everyone is interesting, it’s just a matter of finding the right candidate who will bring their energy and excitement on a topic to the audience. There’s a drive and passion in any topic that is addressed, which is what FLEFF wants to highlight and curate discussion around.
In previous years, Ithaca College ran The Fellows Program where Doctorate and Graduate Students in underrepresented groups would apply to come to FLEFF. Professor Auyash helped to mentor these students as they viewed films and talks, as well as, present their own panel.
He mentioned one time when a student shared with him that he felt a film had a racist quality to it, but the student wouldn’t go to the talkback to share his thoughts. He encouraged this student to attend the talkbacks, as they are a space for sharing different views and bouncing ideas between creators and the audience.
Professor Auyash recounted another aspect within his role, assisting with anything needed on the ground. He mentioned that Dr. Zimmermann and Dr. Shevory say “Conflict happens” and with that can come better solutions.
You could see the laughter in his eyes as he recounted of a time when a musical group that was performing forgot their keyboard. As a quick solution, Professor Auyash and other members of the FLEFF team quickly sourced an upright piano from The Kitchen Theater Company, a local theater establishment down the street. A small smile on his face appeared as we both were picturing how it must have looked to wheel such an instrument in the middle of downtown Ithaca.
This kind of support within the FLEFF community and the local area reveals the connections built from this festival. Where people are willing to help one another to share their views, or lend a hand. As Professor Auyash pointed out, everyone contributing to this festival is doing so because they choose to be there and are passionate about what it stands for.