Vital VoicesThe online chat room was already buzzing when Dean of Social Science & Creative Arts, Danni Redding Lapuz, and Vice President of Instruction, Jennifer Taylor-Mendoza, welcomed attendees to the 1st Annual Stories of Transformation Film Festival on Thursday, April 29th. The evening’s topic, Vital Voices: Transformative Stories of Middle Eastern Women, was uniquely relevant, and the organizers and participants were ready to spotlight the strength and spirit of a group and individuals who had experienced their own transformative journeys.


Funded through the generosity of the San Mateo Community College District EEOC Diversity Project Grant. The “Stories of Transformation” Film Festival provides a forum to celebrate through film our Skyline College community’s rich cultural diversity as well as our district’s diverse student enrollment and discuss important issues of diversity, equity and inclusion that promote a shared humanity.


To import the Stories of Transformation module into Canvas, search for Skyline Stories of Transformation Film Festival or Pia Walawalkar in Canvas Commons. Faculty who prefer to provide direct links to films can find the links to the Films in Panopto on the Canvas page along with a link to the panel discussion. Library resources on the two films and on related topics can be found at:


The organizing team behind the film festival are excited to share stories that reflect the ideas of discovery, innovation, and change that are integral to stories of transformation. All members of the Skyline College and greater district community are welcome to email organizing team members with any questions:


Tamara Perkins                               Film Instructor/Filmmaker

Danni Redding Lapuz                     Dean, Social Science & Creative Arts

Pia Walawalkar                               Associate Professor, Outreach and Equity Librarian

Chris Woo                                          Program Services Coordinator, SS/CA

Clair Yeo-Sugajski                           Interim Program Services Coordinator, International Student Program


Event attendance and participation spanned the district with 169 registered faculty, staff, and student attendees from all three district campuses as well as community members. The panel of all women included a renowned San Francisco Film Editor, the President of the CSM Muslim Student Association, Editor-in-Chief of Skyline View, an instructor from SVIEP the districtwide Intensive English Program, and Skyline College faculty in art and film.


The Films


Event Emcee Clair Yeo-Sugajski introduced the highly anticipated first film which offers a unique portrait of Judge Kholoud—the first female Shari’a Court Judge in the Palestinian territories. Depicting her brave journey as a lawyer and her tireless fight for justice for women, THE JUDGE presents an unfolding vérité legal drama, with rare insight into both Islamic law and gendered justice. In the process, the film illuminates some of the universal conflicts in the domestic life of Palestine.


Judge Kholoud’s statement about the origin of the idea to become a judge, “I should throw a rock to stir these stagnant waters”, resonated with attendees.


WE ARE NOT PRINCESSES is a documentary film about the incredible strength and spirit of four Syrian women living as refugees in Beirut as they come together to tell their stories of love, loss, pain, and hope through the ancient Greek play, Antigone. One attendee expressed “it’s just uncanny how well Antigone paired with their (the cast members) experience.”


The play is not included in the film as some cast members were restricted from appearing on camera. Animated sequences are used instead to represent these cast member’s stories and attendees noticed that the “animation has patterns and colors reminiscent of the (centuries old Palestinian) tatreez embroidery.”


The Filmmakers


Organizers were thrilled to have Sara Maamouri, Co-Producer and Editor of both films at both the event panel discussion and filmmaker reception. Sara is an Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker and editor who has explored a diverse range of topics for over 20 years. Her work touches on social, educational, and political issues. Her most recent films include We Are Not Princesses (2018) and the Peabody Award-winning film The Judge (2017). A multilingual Tunisian, Sara brings cultural sensitivity to her editing, production, and story development, creating impact-focused narratives to attract and engage rapidly evolving audiences.


Skyline College Film Instructor Tamara Perkins is an award-winning filmmaker and changemaker focused on documentaries that inspire transformative change through dialogue, healing and advocacy. Tamara’s film Life After Life (2018) began in her yoga class inside San Quentin State Prison when the men asked her to tell their story. Her upcoming films, Clarissa’s Battle and Rebound, are each similarly inspired by a personal connection to the subject matter.


As the panel moderator Tamara showed her expertise in documentary film, as she deftly directed panelists through a variety of questions and topics.


The Panelists


The amazingly articulate Umaima Ejaz is a Skyline College student and Editor-in-Chief, Skyline View whose “brilliant star” shined at the event. Umaima shared during the panel, “I think these films (The Judge and We Are Not Princesses) are so important. Highlighting the success of women and amplifying our voices”; and made even more impactful by the fact that they were directed and edited by women.


Hajer Mkawer is a student at College of San Mateo and President of CSM Muslim Student Association. Hajer took on the challenging topic of how to separate conservative traditional Muslim culture from Islamic religious values and the ignorance that exists around this subject. Her scholarship and critical thinking impressed attendees who said “Thanks for educating us, Hajer!”


Mahsa Tavakkoli, an ESL instructor for the Silicon Valley Intensive English Program (SVIEP), was born and raised in Iran, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in English-Farsi translation and a Master’s degree in TEFL. She’s enjoyed teaching language learners of all skills and backgrounds for 14 years.

Mahsa reminded everyone during the panel that “feminism or women’s rights are not an attack on men, we are all living on this earth . . . Women’s Rights are Human Rights” and connected the festival films to the importance of communication, education, and creating understanding.


Kathy Zarur, PhD, Associate Professor Art History at Skyline College, is an educator, curator, and conference organizer in the San Francisco Bay Area. Kathy’s curatorial work centers on place as both a lived and imagined subject to consider themes such as belonging, exile, landscape, and mutual care in collectivity.

During The Judge, Dr. Z pointed out that individuals could not “get past the checkpoints, so their case was dropped”, leading chat participants to make connections to voter suppression and red lining in the U.S.  Later during the panel, Dr. Z described how the roads dividing Palestine create the equivalent of the “Bantustans in South Africa.”


Sara Maamouri ended the panel by sharing the experience of traveling the world with both of these important films, reinforcing the mission of Stories of Transformation to share transformational stories from around the world. Attendees ended with a litany of thanks to the panelists including…


“Sara, Umaima, Kathy, Tamara, Mahsa, and Hajer…thank you for this wonderful conversation and for debunking all the stereotypes!”

Watch the panel discussion. View information about our panelists.


Want More Film?


Checkout these Film course offerings for summer and fall 2021.


Summer @ Skyline College

FILM 440 – Film Study and Appreciation


Fall @ Skyline College

FILM 100 – Introduction to Film


New this Summer @ CSM, Coming Soon to Skyline College

FILM 123 – Documentary Film: Studies & Practice


Library Films on Kanopy –


Article by Chris Burwell-Woo

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