Michigan Film Festival founder hopes to combine entertainment, activism

Courtesy Photo / gvsu.edu
Jen Pider

Courtesy Photo / gvsu.edu Jen Pider

Lauren Ringger

If the Michigan Film Festival sounds familiar, it is only because Grand Valley State University senior Jen Pider helped create it.

Scheduled to graduate from GVSU in August of this year, Pider is pursuing a liberal studies degree with an emphasis on international planning and social justice. Pider started the Michigan Film Festival in 2009. The festival finished its second successful year last November.

“The festival, as it stands today, is a collaborative effort between many individuals, though born from an idea which originated in me,” Pider said. “Because of my work with the Waterfront Film Festival, I was attracted to the idea of having a film festival in downtown Grand Rapids. Waterfront generally has a ‘Michigan Film House,’ a venue dedicated to showing Michigan-made films. Still, with the film incentives taking hold, the need for community building amongst Michigan filmmakers was growing. By bringing together university professors, filmmakers, entrepreneurs and institution representatives to plan the event, we were able to fill that need.”

The mission of the Michigan Film Festival is to promote the Michigan perspective in film and the Michigan filmmaking community by sustaining an event that includes educational workshops, panel discussions and lectures, exhibition venues displaying recently crafted Michigan-made works, and partnerships between local entities involved in supporting the Michigan film industry.

“I worked steadily toward the mission and relied heavily on those who believed in it,” Pider said. “Vision casting and asking for help definitely aided in assembling the right committee members.”

Pider’s goal is to work toward producing international festivals for social justice issues.

“Even more than this, lately I’ve been considering ways to use the funds raised from these festivals,” Pider said. “I’ve been considering graduate work in sustainable territorial development. With this, I could use the festivals as a way to create awareness and raise funds for refugees, using the money to develop sustainable practices in term of infrastructure, agriculture and economics. For me, a dream job would include the entertainment industry and creative people and working toward peace, justice and equality.”

Pider is fulfilling her theme requirement in a study abroad trip in Meknes, Morocco. This will be her third trip to Africa. In November of 2007 and 2008, she traveled to Algeria to visit the Saharawis, a refugee population of the Western Sahara (now occupied by Morocco).

“These visits to a Muslim people in desperation transformed my ideas about global justice,” Pider said. “My role was to support American musicians as they perform for and played with the Saharawi refugees. The experience taught me many cultural and logistical differences in our societies. Learning to discern what aspects of my thoughts and daily routines are cultural from those that are universally human has proven to be a great skill which I will carry forward in my studies in Morocco.”

The American dream is to make money and be wealthy, but Pider’s priority is following her dream. While Pider attended Lake Michigan College, she changed majors from business to computer information technology, but then graduated
with an Associate’s degree in general studies.

“It was difficult for me to follow my life’s vision of being an international festival planner when I was younger because there was a lot of pressure to make money, and my parents couldn’t see how I would do this in the entertainment industry,” Pider said. “Still, I’m glad I learned more administrative skills during my younger years as I heavily rely upon them. For my bachelor’s degree, I pursued the liberal studies program because of my brother’s advice to follow passions instead of the money.”

[email protected]