Film festival encourages dialogue about Peace Corps, international issues

Saturday, February 4, 2012 | 7:14 p.m. CST; updated 10:01 p.m. CST, Saturday, February 4, 2012

COLUMBIA — Jake Wilson wants to help dispel the notion that volunteering in the Peace Corps is simply a "noble cause."

"I did it because there's issues out there, and I'm trying to follow my own values," he said.

Wilson, a Peace Corps volunteer, was involved in "Bush League," the feature film from the fifth annual Third Goal International Film Festival, hosted by the Central Missouri Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. The festival took place Saturday afternoon in Chamber Auditorium in the MU Student Center.

The festival included five films covering international issues that Peace Corps volunteers face throughout their experiences abroad.

The name Third Goal International Film Festival is derived from the third goal in John F. Kennedy's original Peace Corps' mission statement: "Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans." The festival aims to share returned Peace Corps members' experiences overseas with other Americans.

The films are limited to the 139 countries that the Peace Corps has volunteered in. Following each film, a panel of speakers who lived in that specific country answered questions.

"Our only goal here is to get people thinking and talking about other cultures and expose them to new ideas and learning," Michael Burden, film festival chair, said. "It's about providing a community dialogue."

"Bush League" portrays the intimate dramas of a small village in northern Malawi. It chronicles the individual challenges of Wilson and four villagers who are all members of a competitive soccer team.

Both Wilson and Cy Kuckenbaker, the film's director, are disturbed by the current dialogue about the Peace Corps in America and hope that films can help shed light on significant international issues. 

"I was a Peace Corps volunteer, and I'm still unsatisfied with what the narrative of the Peace Corps experience is in America. I think it lacks complexity," Kuckenbaker said. "It's an intensely human experience with lots of diversity, but there seems to be this monolithic story that you're a good person."

"You come home and people give you three minutes to explain three years," Wilson said. "I found it really challenging to express myself and tell stories. Even the people who were listening weren't visualizing. That's why that film's effective. That's a real story, and those are real challenges."

More than 100 people gathered to see the featured film, which started at 1 p.m. Burden expects about 400 people to attend the festival throughout the evening. The audience was diverse, including veteran Peace Corps volunteers from the Kennedy era, more recently returned Peace Corps volunteers, families and students.

Using the combination of films and dialogue, the Central Missouri Returned Peace Corps Volunteers aim to relay their experiences to others in a personal, influential way.

Burden explained that the overall goal of the Peace Corps is about developing relationships and understanding people better.

"This is a way for us to try to take what we gained and love about the Peace Corps and bring it back to people who haven't had the chance to do it," Burden said.

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