Hearts and Minds Film Festival comes to the Schwartz Center for the Arts on Saturday, April 4, with showings of documentary fiilms.


    Documentary films are vivisections of societal issues, and filmmakers are the ones on the inside doing the cutting.
  
  “The greatest tool in the documentary toolmakers arsenal is unique access,” said Sharon Baker, founder and director of the Hearts and Minds Film Festival.
 
   Now in its third year in Dover, the festival will share that unique access with audiences Saturday, April 4. Viewers will see inside the home of a Seaford woman who considers her more than 1,000 dolls substitutes for her daughters in “Kid Collector.” Or they can find out what happened when leaders in a small southern town decided to integrate a school dance in “Prom Night in Mississippi.” And in “Fremont, USA” audiences might take a look at cultural diversity in one California city, where a mosque and a church stand side-by-side on a street named Peace Terrace.
 
   “I think we get more and better quality films every year,” Baker said.
 
   This year, if there is a trend, it’s to focus more on a domestic agenda. For instance, “Talkin’ Water” looks at four teenage girls and their questions about race, class and community following Hurricane Katrina. And “Concrete, Steel and Paint” is about a group of men in maximum-security prison who work with crime victims to design and paint a mural about healing. Filmmakers from “Talkin’ Water,” “Concrete, Steel and Paint” and “Hearing Everett: The Rancho Sordo Mudo Story” will be attending the festival to discuss their work.
 
   Although the directors of “Fremont, USA” will not be in attendance, they are thrilled to have their work screen at Hearts and Minds.
 
   Director Ellie Pierce became aware of Fremont in the early 1990s while researching the country’s changing religious landscape. That’s when she heard about Peace Terrace, where a mosque and church were being built next to each other.
 
   “It was an innovative and inspiring example of a new religious America,” she said. “We soon learned that Fremont had considerable diversity within the relatively small city. When we told others the story of Peace Terrace, it resonated. Among so many tales of division and difficulty in inter-religious relations, it seems critical to lift up examples of cooperation.”
 
   Fremont’s 50th birthday provided Pierce with the perfect backdrop for a film about the city. She and co-producer Rachel Antell wanted to highlight the area’s diversity, and what its challenges and inspirations were.
 
   Then, after filming began, Muslim mother of six Alia Ansari was murdered while walking with her 3-year-old daughter to pick up her other children from school. The film explores how what may have been a hate crime shook the city, and what civic and interfaith ties did to help heal.
 
   Baker said all the films chosen, whether humorous or dark, are put on screen to help explain something, to illuminate an issue. And the interest in doing that keeps growing.
 
   “I think there’s more interest than ever in documentary filmmaking, and in digital storytelling now that the technology is so accessible,” she said.
 
   So almost anybody can shoot a movie now, she said. It doesn’t mean it’s going to make the film festival.
 
   “It’s still about compelling, quality storytelling,” she said. “If you can’t do that then it becomes trivial gobbledygook.”

Email Sarika Jagtiani at sarika.jagtiani@doverpost.com