Celebrating the gift of storytelling

The first Fulbright Film Festival gathers gifted filmmakers at UCLA

Larrie Wanberg
Features Editor

“Everyone is given a gift,” said the keynote speaker, Vic Bulluck, at the first Fulbright Film Festival at UCLA on May 3. “You are talented storytellers, and with it comes responsibility.”

“As Fulbrighters,” he said, “You have a unique opportunity to contribute to the dream,” referring to the American Dream and the human relationship of the “movie experience and dreams.”

“The Mission of Fulbright—it’s in my DNA,” Bulluck said, as he related his personal story of an inter-cultural upbringing that led to his becoming Executive Director of the Hollywood Bureau office of the NAACP. Currently, he is Managing Director, Outreach and Strategic Initiatives, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

“The film industry is global,” Bulluck said. “You remind people around the world of our universal belief—family first, if you work hard you will succeed, and good will triumph over evil.”

Registered participants from a half-dozen countries viewed a dozen selected films at the James Bridges Theater on the UCLA campus. Thomas Burns, Festival Director, introduced the keynoter and the festival staff that organized the pilot event through a grant. (The late Senator Fulbright’s name is honored for his work in developing the international educational exchange program in 1946 that today offers merit scholarships in 155 countries.)

In his talk, Bulluck emphasized that, “Everyone is the star of their own movie. The rest of us are guest stars, play supportive roles, or are extras.”

“What we respond to is character and what it represents. Character is simply ‘Who we are.’ We respond to the content of one’s character… Your voice matters and it will make a difference.”

Professor Glenn Gebhard, award-winning producer and director of documentary films and former Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, greeted attendees. He served as Festival Panel Coordinator and Moderator.

  Photo: Larrie Wanberg Professor Glenn Gebhard greeting UCLA student volunteers at the registration table.

Photo: Larrie Wanberg
Professor Glenn Gebhard greeting UCLA student volunteers at the registration table.

I introduced myself as a new member of the Association and a Fulbrighter from my Norway experience 57 years ago. I mentioned my recent reunion in North Dakota with a Fulbright classmate, Jack Harrison Schmitt, the first scientist-astronaut on the moon. In response to his inquires, I described myself as an aspiring digital storyteller in retirement from academia, fulfilling a grant to capture and preserve digital stories of pioneers and patriots.

I relayed my intention to start an Association Chapter in N.D. The University of ND registers more native Norwegian students than any other state university.

As an example of the networking that went on during the event, I met a Norwegian filmmaker, Mad Larsen, from Kirkenes, one of the northernmost towns in the world far above the arctic circle.

As a Fulbrighter in 1957-58, I proposed to my Norwegian-born wife in Kirkenes on mid-summer night in 1958. We met through her photos as a guide to an editor of National Geographic Magazine. Bjørg, my wife, became a Fulbrighter to the U.S. that fall, and our family of four are as close to Norway today as to their current homes in California. My son Lars, a filmmaker in Santa Barbara, and I showed three short films at the 4th International Conference on Digital Storytelling in Lillehammer, Norway, in 2011.

Thinking back, I related that I wrote a feature for Education World magazine (a journal for American teachers in DOD schools overseas) comparing my North Norway visit to the “Sami Institute” in Tromsø with my studies of American Indian values in my home state of North Dakota.

As Larsen is one-eighth Sami from his grandmother, we discussed diversity, with him telling his story and me telling mine. Although my ancestry is Norwegian, seven of my nine grandchildren have American Indian genes, dating back the “Trail of Tears” in 1837-38, when my two daughter-in-laws’ ancestors were on a forced march as children from Mississippi to Oklahoma. These stories of family genealogies need to be told and preserved.

We agreed to meet again and exchanged emails—fulfilling the ideal of the Fulbright Film Festival for networking.

Vic Bulluck set the stage for the day’s theme with his challenge of “responsibility” to express one’s voice to make a difference. He charged attendees as filmmakers to advance the “power of aspirational thinking” that drives the outreach and initiatives of the film industry to maximize cultural impact and “help develop the next generation of filmmakers and new audiences.”

This article originally appeared in the May 23, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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Larrie Wanberg

Larrie Wanberg, 1920–2021, contributed features to The Norwegian American for many years, drawing on eight decades of life experience highlighted by three career recognitions: as a researcher through a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway in 1957; as a health care provider in behavioral science through a 27-year military career and awarded upon retirement in 1981 the highest non-combat medal, the Legion of Merit medal; as an educator, through a 50-year career in college education, culminating in the 2010 Public Scholar award at the UND Center for Community Engagement. Wanberg passed away in May, 2021.