Jessica Conte, 2016 Public Fellow

Jessica Conte connected her academic skills with the film industry as an intern with the Viet Film Fest.

I recently completed my work as a Humanities Out There Public Fellow with the 2016 Viet Film Fest. Organized by the Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association (VAALA), the Viet Film Fest started in 2003, and has since grown to be the largest Vietnamese international film festival in the world. This year, the festival opened at the AMC Theater at the Outlets in Orange, evidence of the festival’s growth and VAALA’s longstanding commitment to reaching communities through arts and culture programming.

I started working with VAALA at the beginning of the year, editing and drafting the festival screening guide with the Screening Committee. Unlike other editing work I had done before, I navigated the diverse visions of the committee, festival directors, and filmmakers. It was both challenging and enjoyable. While I focus on film in my academic research, I rarely have the opportunity to work so closely with those in the industry.

As I neared completing the screening guide, I began organizing a public panel for the festival’s Community Spotlight Film, Finding Phong. The 2015 documentary follows a twenty-three year old transwoman as she comes out to her family and prepares to undergo gender confirmation surgery. Le Ahn Phong, the subject of the documentary, flew out along with the film’s director and executive producer. They were joined by representatives of the Viet Rainbow Coalition of Orange County, and I moderated the panel’s public discussion on transgender justice, community allyship, and filmmaking.

The Viet Film Fest, like VAALA, is completely volunteer-run and relies on the volunteer labor and donations of people across the globe. It was an amazing experience to work with such a dedicated group of people. The committee and volunteer structure were incredibly strong, and attending meetings not only gave me insight into how a festival is run, but also how a non-profit like VAALA builds a strong network of volunteers and support.

Photo: Jessica Conte with several members of the screening committee at the Viet Film Fest Launch Party. Left to Right: David Goetz, Kory Ngo, Ethan Nguyen, Jessica Conte, and erin Khue Ninh.

Through the Humanities Out There Public Fellows program, six humanities graduate students interned one afternoon a week with a local cultural organization. These public fellows applied and expanded their humanities research, writing and analytical capacities – skills developed in a PhD program – in a non-profit setting. The 2016 Public Fellows were funded by individual donations to the Humanities Out There Program.  The Humanities Commons recently received a grant from the Luce Foundation to expand the Public Fellows Program in 2016-2017.