Engaging with our Sustainable Futures at the SfAA Meetings in Philadelphia

Carla_Guerron-Montero.pngCarla Guerrón Montero
University of Delaware
2018 Program Chair

The Society for Applied Anthropology will convene at the Loews Hotel in Philadelphia for its 78th annual meeting. The program offers robust offerings with sessions, panels, roundtables, posters, workshops and films broadly addressing the meeting’s theme, “Sustainable Futures.” As is a tradition at SfAA, the Philadelphia meetings will offer the opportunity for practitioners and academics to engage in productive dialogue. Likewise, there will be significant international participation of social scientists from North America, Latin America, and Europe. A diversity of voices addressing issues of gender, race, ethnicity, class, and age will be prominently featured.

Student participation will be very strong throughout the meetings, with sessions, panels, roundtables and tours organized and led by undergraduate and graduate students, and with workshops designed specifically for them and for departments dedicated to anthropological education. This year, students will have the opportunity to celebrate at the Student Party on Thursday April 5th from 7:00 to 10:30 pm in Millennium Hall. Hors d’oeuvres will be served and beverages may be purchased. The Delaware-based band Travel Songs, led by anthropologist and filmmaker Zachary Humenik, will entertain students with its music inspired by sounds from around the world.

In this article, I would like to highlight this year’s film festival. As noted in a previous article, the call for film submissions for the festival received wide international response. The members of the Film Festival Committee and I reviewed 144 submissions from 45 different countries to select the films that will be shown at the meetings. Our initial plan was to hold a two-day festival. Due to the outstanding response and quality of the submissions, the festival will start on Tuesday, April 3 with films centered on our host city, and will continue until Friday April 7, 2018.

Participants at the meetings will have the opportunity to enjoy 24 films from 14 countries.  The films selected, both in short and feature formats, address topics as varied as the story of indigenous carbon makers in Mexico, the exploration of the lives of five Liberian women living in Philadelphia, the interpretation of Sufism through the eyes of three artists following Islamic and Hindu traditions, and the personal relationships that a laundromat worker develops with his customers in the United States. 


For instance, the award-winning Italian documentary “Handle with Care: The Story of an Object” (Maneggiare con Cura) by Francesco Clerici discusses the collaboration between the filmmaker and the renowned National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo da Vinci in Milan. The documentary follows, step by step, the restoration at the Museum of a particle accelerator made in 1950. In the process, the film details the transformation of a machine used in a laboratory into a museum object. As Simona Casonato, in charge of Exhibition Design at the Museum states, the film “has been a real experiment of hybrid museology, in the attempt to create a bridge between the science museum and the ethnographic museum.”

Some of the filmmakers will be at the meetings to discuss their work with their audiences. For example, anthropologist and filmmaker Frederico Oliveira from Lakehead University in Canada, will screen “Field School 2017: Lakehead University and Lac Seul First Nation.”  This documentary portrays an example of a community-based participatory research developed between Lakehead University and the Lac Seul Nation in Ontario, and focuses on narrating the territorial history of Lac Seul. In addition to Oliveira and Martha Dowsley from Lakehead University, the Chief of the Lac Seul First Nation, Clifford Bull, will be at the meetings to discuss the outcomes of their partnership.

These and many other stories will be featured at the film festival. There will be ballots available for attendees to select Best Feature Documentary, Best Short Documentary, and Audience Choice. Please do not miss the opportunity to voice your opinion about this impressive visual material.

You will find more information about the festival and the meetings at https://www.sfaa.net/annual-meeting/. As always, if you have any questions or recommendations, please feel free to contact me (cguerron@udel.edu). I truly look forward to seeing you all in Philadelphia in April!