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FLEFF Intern Voices

The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view

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Posted by Zachary Jabine at 12:33PM

Written by Zach Jabine, Cinema and Photography ‘20, Blogging Intern, Buffalo, New York


The first time I see Dr. Stewart Auyash, I’m reminded vaguely of a lion. With a flowing gray mane, serious expression, and sharp glasses, Dr. Auyash cuts a distinguished figure in his Hill Center office. I met him there on a rainy Thursday afternoon to discuss his role in this year’s FLEFF activities.


Dr. Auyash, Associate Professor and Chair for the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education by day, collaborates with FLEFF as a programming consultant and member of the Faculty Advisory Board. The FAB pulls from every school on IC’s campus; as Dr. Auyash notes, “interdisciplinary collaboration is key” in developing and sustaining the meaningful dialogue crucial to FLEFF’s culture.


In his capacity as programming consultant, Dr. Auyash serves in many ways as FLEFF’s Swiss army knife; from pre-festival promotion to facilitating post-screening discussions, Dr. Auyash, in his own words, does “whatever needs to get done.” Specifically, Dr. Auyash coordinates and secures the opening night speaker; this year, two members of NYC-based activist organization Witness, Palika Makam and Diana Rosa, will be opening the festival with a discussion on human rights abuses at the US-Mexico border. Witness promotes media production skills worldwide in order to better document human rights abuses, working “side-by-side with local communities to harness the power of video and technology in the fight for justice.” Dr. Auyash is well aware of the role media plays in stimulating discussion, particularly around health; in his classes, he devotes the week of FLEFF strictly to showing films, exposing his students to a different approach towards addressing public health policy.


Beyond behind-the-scenes logistics, Dr. Auyush also teaches one of this year’s FLEFF mini-courses, Whitewashing The Overdose Epidemic - Disrupting Racial Assumptions. The course works to examine the underlying narratives surrounding drug policy, drug addiction, and drug addicts - an especially volatile subject in the current climate. An active critic of the war on drugs, Dr. Auyush hopes to interrogate our preconceptions, challenging the effectiveness of current drug policy and even the nature of the epidemic itself. “I prefer to call it an overdose epidemic, and not an opioid epidemic, because that’s really the problem - the overdoses. Not that people are using opioids.”


Dr. Auyush is a fierce advocate for harm reduction; while many people may view addicts or drug users as selfish, lazy, and destructive, Dr. Auyush strives to dismantle those preconceptions, avoiding passing judgment or using pejorative terms like “junkie”. “All people are drug users, we just don’t like to admit it,” Dr. Auyush notes. At the heart of the course is a disruption of the idea that the opiate epidemic has affected solely rural, predominantly white areas. Dr. Auyush notes that this is not accurate - drugs have been a major issue in inner cities and among people of color for decades, but only now is the issue being labelled as a “public health crisis” instead of a criminal one, as white people are increasingly affected. Ultimately, Dr. Auyush seeks to attack and dismantle mainstream ideas of recovery from drug addiction, creating a dialogue on how, in the context of a larger societal issue, we end up marginalizing and minimizing the lived experiences of users and addicts.


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