Ten years ago, in response to the United States' invasion of Iraq, students at the University of Montana began screening films on a weekly basis. The subjects of those films typically centered around war and iniquity and the group hosting the gatherings dubbed itself the Students for Peace and Justice. After a decade, however, attendance and student interest outside the core members started to dwindle.
"We had to scale back last semester because we didn't have enough funding and we didn't have enough human power to be able to show films every week anymore," says student organizer David Schaad. "So we started showing films every month. And our attendance has been kind of lackluster at times."
Schaad's hoping to use the 10-year anniversary of the Iraq invasion to change the recent downward trend. For the past two months, he's spent much of his free time organizing Peace Week at UMa five-day campus conference April 15-20 featuring a host of speakers. The event will cover everything from a look back on a decade of war and activism to the cost of war on military families, all with an eye to the effects on Montanans.
"My goal is not to depress people here but to say, 'Okay, that war is happening thousands of miles away, and it doesn't seem to exist anymore for most of us, but that's not really true,'" Schaad says. "To some degree, we're all connected with veterans, whether we realize it or not."
Peace Week will include a keynote speech from Army Capt. Paul Chappell, an Iraq vet and outspoken advocate for ending war, as well as a question-and-answer session with former drone pilot Brandon Bryant. Schaad says he's also working to have a hobby drone hover around the Oval during the lunch hour April 16 to highlight the "ubiquitousness of drones not only in the military now, but in civilian use."
Vicki Watson, faculty adviser for Students for Peace and Justice, says it's been increasingly difficult for the Peace and Justice Film Series to compete with other local film series over the years. The group's films have been "frankly pretty sad" in tone, making it hard to keep people interested.
Watson and Schaad hope the Peace Week can help renew interest in Students for Peace and Justice, and perhaps become a model for more conferences or activities outside the film series. At the very least, Schaad says, "I'd like to get back to the days of having a packed theater."
"That's definitely our goal," he continues. "To both use this as a heritage event to highlight this anniversary ... and bring student energy back into the group."