Rima Hassouneh is the outreach coordinator at U-M’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) and at the Center for Middle Eastern & North African Studies (CMENAS). Since she began working at the centers, Hassouneh has spearheaded a number of K-12 initiatives in global education, most notably the MENA-SEA Teacher Program. Recently, Hassouneh’s support for the Michigan Theater was recognized in a video released by the Towsley Society, a multi-year giving society of the Michigan Theater Foundation, which was established to save the Michigan Theater from the wrecking ball in 1979, and in 2014 rallied, with community support, to save the State Theatre as well.
The video focused on the philanthropic efforts of the greater Ann Arbor community to ensure the continuation of the Michigan Theater and its legacy in the time of COVID. Since its opening in 1928, the Michigan Theater has provided Ann Arbor not only with film and music, but with broad intellectual, cultural, and artistic programming. However, during the pandemic, the Michigan Theater has been unable to fully offer its usual film screenings, concerts, or festivals, resulting in financial stress (since March it has lost over $1.1 million in revenue) and a call for community action and funding efforts. CSEAS and CMENAS, alongside other centers at the International Institute, have annually sponsored the hugely popular, international Cinetopia Film Festival put on by the two theaters, which was exceptionally canceled this year. When asked to lend her support on-screen, Hassouneh swiftly agreed. “I have loved the Michigan Theatre and all that it offers since 2001 when I moved to Ann Arbor,” she says. “I am honored to step up and give back.”
During her video feature for the Towsley Society, Hassouneh discussed the importance of supporting the Michigan Theater not only during the pandemic but also crucially in the ensuing years (every year the cost of general operations at both the Michigan and the State theaters grows, as does their economic value for downtown Ann Arbor). Referring to the Michigan Theater, Hassouneh urged that it “cannot do the amazing work it has been doing, and it cannot even begin to truly start breaking ground for programming now, in the near future, (nor) in five years if it does not have that [financial] commitment” from patrons and lovers.
Following the call for community support, the centers of the International Institute, including CSEAS, partnered with the Michigan Theater and sponsored film screenings. During September and October, CSEAS collaboratively hosted virtual and complimentary screenings of the documentary A Thousand Cuts (2020), which focuses on Filipina journalist Maria Ressa and her organization Rappler, an online news portal that has investigated and reported about Duterte’s administration's human rights record, controversial drug policies, and campaigns of misinformation. Attention to the plight of and support for the Michigan Theater was global: over 150 members of the general public and affiliates of educational institutions wrote from across the country—including Hawaii, California, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio, and New York—and the globe to request free viewing.
Inspired by CSEAS’ community partnership, CMENAS also sponsored free screenings at the Theater of the award-winning Afghan documentary, Midnight Traveler (2019), which dramatically tells the story of its director Hassan Fazili’s flight with his family from the Taliban. Capturing the journey of escape, Fazili shows the perils that refugees face and the enduring love that sustains families on the run.