Film festival will bring awareness, inspiring stories to Chico

Jake Hutchison

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Festival Director Mary Ann Weston and public relations interns and Chico State students Anne Stanley and James O'Hagan have helped organize the 10th annual FOCUS Film Festival, which celebrates diversity and awareness of disabilities through film. Photo credit: Nnamdi Johnson-Kanu

At first, blind mountain bike racer Bobby McMullen was hesitant about being the subject of a documentary about his life. But once the film was complete, he was moved by the result.

“I thought maybe I wasn’t worthy of a film,” he said. “(I am) in awe … It was a privilege.”

This year’s 10th annual FOCUS Film Festival will begin 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.’s Big Room with a screening of “The Way Bobby Sees It,” a product of North State filmmakers Jason Watkins and Wendy Todd of Poison Oak Productions. The event will continue with screenings and Q&A;’s with filmmakers all day Friday and Saturday at Colusa Hall.

The three-day event, a project of Far Northern Regional Center, has become an exceptional way of spreading awareness about disabilities and diversity and helping local filmmakers gain exposure. This year it will feature almost 30 films.

Festival Director Mary Ann Weston founded the event using grant money given to the center.

Originally, she wanted to utilize the funds in a way that would educate the community about disability, she said. But in the last five years or so, the festival has also been able to incorporate films about diversity.

The event remains fresh every year with new films, sponsors and guests. This year, FOCUS will implement more Skype Q&A;’s to build audience connection with filmmakers who can’t attend screenings.

If the last nine years are anything to go by, this year is sure to highlight plenty of illuminating cinematic works of art and offer surprising experiences for attendees, along with its timeless message of inclusion and acceptance.

“The message is that no matter what differences — whether it be cultural, sexuality or a disability — you should be welcomed and included in the community, just like everyone else,” Weston said. “The more we truly learn about people, the more we realize that we are not so different.”

Jake Hutchison can be reached at [email protected] or @poserpunk on Twitter.

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