Through Sept. 21 | various times and locations | peacefilmfest.org | free-$199
Watch films. Get involved. Change things. That’s the mantra of the Global Peace Film Festival, which brings a slate of socially conscious documentaries and narrative features to Orlando every September. The goal, according to festival founder Nina Streich, is to use the power of filmmaking to change the world.
Established in 2003, the little festival shines a spotlight on independent films that don’t often see the light of day (or darkness of a theater, rather) because they’re too controversial, underfunded or simply not sexy enough to make it to your average chain movie theaters. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth watching.
Social revolution in Morocco, the coffee industry, disabilities, the ecology of the Ocala National Forest, solitary confinement for incarcerated teens, hospice care in prisons – those are just a few of the subjects tackled by the movies showing at this year’s festival. Not light viewing by any means, but despite the gravity of the subjects, it’s the type of material that fails to make headlines because it’s not reactionary enough to break through our daily news cycle’s “if it bleeds, it leads” culture.
The movies screened at this festival may not give you the two hours of escapism you’re often seeking when you go to the movies – but that’s not the point. According to Streich, the Global Peace Film Festival’s goal is for people to engage, not disengage. She founded the festival to create a local forum where people can discuss the causes – and solutions for – tragedies, revolutions and disasters.
Don’t worry that you won’t be entertained, though – while the films that show at the festival aren’t your usual dinner-and-a-movie fare, they tell very human stories you won’t hear anywhere else.
This year’s festival also features panel discussions with filmmakers, activists and film subjects that talk about projects they’re working on now – and ways you can get involved to make a difference in the world. You can also stream a selection of short movies online during the festival for free. Visit peacefilmfest.org for the full schedule, a list of films and events, and to see festival details.
Below are reviews of some of our favorite films showing at this year’s festival. – Erin Sullivan
5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 19 | Rollins College, Bush Auditorium, Fairbanks Avenue and S. Interlachen Avenue, Winter Park; 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20 | Rollins College, SunTrust Auditorium, 1000 Holt Ave., Winter Park
Everyone knows about Wikileaks, the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate revelations; but almost no one remembers the night in 1971 that eight ordinary Americans broke into an FBI office and stole hundreds of files. The documents they shared with journalists at newspapers around the country exposed J. Edgar Hoover’s obsession with crushing citizen dissent, to the point of illegal surveillance of anti-war protesters and activists. The files eventually revealed the existence of COINTELPRO, the decades-long smear campaign that threatened Martin Luther King Jr., among countless others. Johanna Hamilton’s documentary (based on Betty Medsger’s book The Burglary) shocks and engages. 1971 is essential viewing, covering privacy issues that are enormously relevant today. – Jessica Bryce Young
8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 18 | Cobb Plaza Cinema Café, 155 S. Orange Ave.
Some of the most memorable and acclaimed roles in Hollywood depict disabled characters, and CinemAbility opens by flashing these famous scenes from award winners like Rain Man and Avatar to prove a point. Most films create unacceptable stereotypes for those with disabilities, leaning on these token characters for drama or comedic effect. This compelling documentary intersperses commentary from key industry figures and the actors who played these roles, including Danny Woodburn (Seinfeld), Jamie Foxx (Ray), Gary Sinise (Forrest Gump) and Marlee Matlin (Children of a Lesser God), to address the issue head-on. Between debates over miscasting, disputed plotlines and a shocking history of controversy, it offers a fresh perspective on many films otherwise considered untouchable. – Ashley Belanger
Connected by Coffee
2:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20 | Winter Park Public Library, 460 E. New England Ave., Winter Park; 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 21 | Rollins College, Bush Auditorium, Fairbanks Avenue and S. Interlachen Avenue, Winter Park
This winning documentary by Aaron and Chelsea Dennis explores the labor practices of the other “black gold.” Coffee is one of the world’s most traded commodities – 1.6 billion cups are consumed daily – yet most coffee beans are picked by hand, and the 25 million workers who do the picking mostly live in grinding poverty. Shot on location in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, Connected by Coffee offers a clear-eyed first-person look at the Fair Trade movement, using coffee as the lens through which to focus discussion of global trade, environmental issues and social justice. – JBY
Every Three Seconds
4:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20 | Winter Park Public Library, 460 E. New England Ave., Winter Park; 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 21 | Rollins College Bush Auditorium, Fairbanks Avenue and S. Interlachen Avenue, Winter Park
Every three seconds, this film tells us as it begins, somebody in the world dies because of complications related to poverty. That’s 28,800 people every day, all year long – and a lot of those deaths were preventable if those people had adequate access to clean water, food, medical care and safer living conditions.
Rather than overwhelm you with depressing statistics, this movie tells the story of five ordinary individuals – including an elderly woman and a 7-year-old boy – who decided to do something about it. From Ingrid Munro, who created the largest microfinance institution in Kenya to Gloria Henderson who, frustrated by the amount of food wasted in the United States, formed a program that takes leftovers from local farms and distributes it to food pantries, the film profiles the moments of inspiration that led people to act to make a difference. It also documents the very real impact these regular people had on other human beings.
Yes, the goal of this movie is to inspire you to get off your ass and do something – it even ends with a bit of info to help you get started if you want to make a difference in the world. – Erin Sullivan
I’m Not Leaving
6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 18 | Valencia College West Campus, 1800 S. Kirkman Road; 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 19 | Rollins College, SunTrust Auditorium, 1000 Holt Ave., Winter Park
In 1990, humanitarian aid worker Carl Wilkens moved his family to Rwanda – he and his wife, Theresa, were adventurous idealists, and according to the early moments of the film, it was a happy decision for them, initially. But as the Rwandan Civil War raged on, things started changing, and Wilkens talks about how he made the decision in 1994 to evacuate his wife and children to safety while he remained behind to bear witness to the brutality that was being wreaked on the Tutsi people by Rwanda’s Hutu majority.
Wilkens was one of a select few Americans who chose to remain, and on at least one occasion, it was his mere presence that kept militiamen from slaughtering innocents – he tells the story of sleeping in a building full of Tutsi children living in an orphanage while a group of armed men waited outside for him to leave so they could kill the kids.
I’m Not Leaving doesn’t go too deep into the history of the massive Rwandan genocide, but it does offer a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a man who literally put his life on the line so that others might live. Carl and Theresa Wilkens travel the country speaking about their experiences in Rwanda, and they will both be at the Global Peace Film Festival this year to share their experience. – ES
Lessons of Basketball and War
8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20 | Cobb Plaza Cinema Café, 155 S. Orange Ave.; 7 p.m. Sunday Sept. 21 | Winter Park Public Library, 460 E. New England Ave., Winter Park
From their homeland in Somalia, tribal tensions have followed a group of teenage girls who find themselves pushed together when they flee their war-torn country and arrive in Portland, Oregon. As the girls struggle to assimilate and understand American culture, they also struggle to get along with one another – fights break out at school, and concerned adults finally decide that the best way to teach them to get along is to force them to work together. The school’s principal notices the girls playing basketball in the schoolyard, so he enlists them to form a team.
Bounding down the court dribbling the ball, these girls have more on their minds than just winning – their goal is to function as a real team and to learn to live together in peace. This inspiring rookie story will have you cheering on the girls as they struggle to overcome the tension. Although slow-moving at times, this movie can’t help but warm your heart a bit – and it’ll probably make you want a touch-up lesson on your mad slam-dunk skills. – Rock Kelly
Oil and Water
7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 19 | Rollins College, Bush Auditorium, Fairbanks Avenue and S. Interlachen Avenue, Winter Park; 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20 | Winter Park Public Library, 460 E. New England Ave., Winter Park
Oil is money and industrializing nations want that cash. The unfortunate side effect of said cash-making is a legacy of mismanaged resources and mistreated indigenous peoples. This isn’t anything new, but you’d think we’d know better in 2014. Rampant oil spills in areas of Ecuador have led to something of an “indirect genocide” due to skyrocketing cancer rates. But this is a story about more than “oil bad, nature good” – it’s a meditation on how the industry has shaped the lives of two young men and the people around them.
Hugo and David met on the side of the Amazon when David was stranded and trying to thumb a ride from the few boats that went puttering by. They had no way of knowing that their friendship was totally destiny. Hugo was the first Cofan (an Ecuadorian indigenous people) to ever graduate high school (which he did in SEATTLE, say what?!) and David was an eco-warrior who had been fighting against Big Oil since he was 12 years old. Cue world-changing friendship and annual ayahuasca-fueled vision quests, a la Father John Misty. Eight years of footage has been condensed into an intimate 78-minute glimpse into how two bi-national young men embrace their Lilliputian calling to revolutionize the dirtiest industry on the planet. Also, there’s a scene with a cute little kid towing a clubbed-to-death anaconda back home for lunch and another one with a pet baby ocelot. This film was surprisingly wonderful and we look forward to sharing its message with anyone who cares to listen. – Brendan O’Connor
One: a Story of Love and Equality
6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 19 | Cobb Plaza Cinema Café, 155 S. Orange Ave.; 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20 | Rollins College Bush Auditorium, Fairbanks Avenue and S. Interlachen Avenue, Winter Park
Saying “I do” isn’t so easy as people make it look. In addition to the cliché of cold feet, freaking out about last-minute details and dealing with overbearing mothers-in-law, a good portion of the population – that is, the LGBT community – also has to battle the law if they want to tie the knot. This moving documentary follows a young couple as they advocate for marriage equality in North Carolina as the state prepares for a vote on whether to define marriage as strictly between one man and one woman.
This movie doesn’t just illustrate one point of view – it takes a multifaceted approach to exploring a critical issue by talking to people on both sides of the argument. The goal of the lengthy feature is to help audiences better understand how or why people feel the way they do about gay marriage – and, as filmmaker Becca Roth says, she wanted to open a dialogue between them. It’s a well-done movie, and we hope that you like this move as much as “we do.” – RK
The Other One
6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16 | Cobb Plaza Cinema Café, 155 S. Orange Ave.; 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 18 | Rollins College Sun Trust Auditorium, 1000 Holt Ave., Winter Park
Amber, a schoolteacher, survives a school shooting that kills her husband. She then returns to her hometown to care for her mother, who is suffering from dementia. Quickly, family secrets start to fall into her lap, and she discovers that her whole life story might have been a lie. As she watches her mother slip away, Amber is forced to confront her ghosts. There is a point in the film where tension is released and a moment of redemption surfaces. Though it sounds heavy, the film is engaging and it’s ultimately more about recovery than it is about suffering. The Other One will leave audiences with the realization that we’re all haunted in a sense – we just need to learn to confront the ghosts that hold us back. – Lea Phillips
Pictures From a Hiroshima Schoolyard
8:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20 | Rollins College, Bush Auditorium, Fairbanks Avenue and S. Interlachen Avenue, Winter Park; 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 21 | Rollins College, SunTrust Auditorium, 1000 Holt Ave., Winter Park
In the basement of All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington, D.C. is a box containing 50 drawings created by Japanese schoolchildren in 1947. They were sent to the church following bombing of Hiroshima and end of World War II. The drawings were eventually forgotten, but they were rediscovered when a church elder pulled them out of storage to show them off to a visiting group of Hiroshima survivors who instantly recognized the scenes as Hiroshima in the years immediately following the bombing. The art was restored, and the church became a pilgrimage point for visiting Japanese families who wanted a glimpse into a shared national tragedy. The only thing is, the art isn’t what you’d expect. It’s alive with vibrant colors and idyllic scenes, completely devoid of any signs of trauma from the war.
This documentary, centered on the rediscovery of the artwork, pulls in many different narratives in an attempt to re-establish human connections following something as devastatingly divisive as war – and more specifically one as brutal as World War II – and it succeeds beautifully. – BO
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 17 | Rollins College Sun Trust Auditorium, 1000 Holt Ave., Winter Park; 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 18 | Winter Park Public Library, 460 E. New England Ave., Winter Park
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall goes behind bars at the Iowa State Penitentiary to tell the story of the final months in the life of George “Jack” Hall, a World War II vet and terminally ill prisoner. The 80-something-year-old Jack, who is serving a life sentence for shooting a drug dealer to death, is moved from his cell in the infirmary into a privately funded hospice unit at the prison, which is run by other inmates serving life sentences. The hospice program allows Jack to have some dignity in his final days, surrounded by an unlikely group of convicts who’ve found some peace in the maximum security facility providing comfort for the dying. The movie was shot over the course of six months, as life slowly ebbs away from Jack – who tells the camera that he’s served 21 years so far and that he will “get out of here one of these days – in a box.” This movie originally aired on HBO in March, and it’s no surprise that director and producer Edgar Barens was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary for it. – ES
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