A strange thing happened to the reviewers assigned to preview films from the Global Peace Film Festival: No matter the up-and-down production values, the content hit its target, soliciting an overwhelming sense of compassion from the seen-it-all writers — and it came as a big surprise. One by one, reports came back with comments like, "I never even knew about this, but it really got to me." A bunch of liberal softies? Nah, just humans feeling connected to other humans in distress.

This is exactly what Nina Streich, the festival's executive director, wants to hear. The New Yorker, who makes her home in Orlando for part of the year, is behind the programming, picking up the 30 feature films (mostly documentaries) and almost 20 shorts from around the globe that offer differing interpretations and perspectives on the subject of "peace." And amazing as it is that these films can deliver a punch to even the most jaded among us, ask Streich to tell the amazing stories of how she hunted down films she just had to have, as others fell her way serendipitously, or how she grew out this fourth annual event, as always on a shoestring budget. Her passion and tenacity serve as an inspiration, both to the filmmakers and the festival audience. It's astounding what one strong-minded person can achieve in the quest for global communication.

That the festival hops around to different venues each year has made it more difficult to track than, say, in 2005, when most films were show at the now closed DMAC downtown. Notable in this year's venue lineup is the addition of the Winter Park Public Library, near the two auditoriums used at Rollins College. Then there's the Gallery at Avalon Island (in the former DMAC building) and the Orlando Science Center.

Also new this year, according to Streich, is Maxine's Diner at Avalon Island, which opened in time to claim status as "the hangout place." Expect music, entertainment, light bites plus beer and wine. Festivities at the Sunday finale are new, too. There's the Winter Park Street Fair (10 a.m.-3 p.m. at Morse Boulevard and Park Avenue) and the International Pet Parade for Peace (meet 11 a.m. at Hannibal Square and end up at the Street Fair), plus there's Streich's own pet project, the Orange County Public Schools K-12 Art Show (open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday at the Orlando City Hall Rotunda).

Streich gave us her special pick of films to preview, so no wonder all earned an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Find more reviews at www.orlandoweekly.com.

Lindy T. Shepherd

All of Us

What begins as a young doctor following her lifelong calling to assist in the public health of residents of the South Bronx unravels into a candid, painfully frank discussion about the gender power struggles that creep into the bedroom. Dr. Mehret Mandefro embarks on a research project to disprove — or at least evolve — the Bush administration's ABC program for AIDS prevention, pointing out that the abbreviated "Abstinence, Being faithful, Condom use" initiative does not translate into the intricacies of urban black relationships, where abuse, incarceration, drugs, prostitution and the affects they have on self-esteem are largely undocumented. Mandefro follows two case studies — Chevelle and Tara — through their personal relationships and finds that there is far more to the AIDS epidemic in Black America (and, later, Ethiopia) than meets the eye. In the process, Mandefro finds her own bedside judgment to be lacking, and wakes up. Amazing. (4 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 17 at AVL; 2:30 p.m. Sunday at RST) — Billy Manes

The Calling

In this youthful exploration, Stuart Kershaw, a 25-year-old filmmaker from the U.K., explores the call of the wild that's imbedded in the brain of the male species. His logic is scattershot, but he entertainingly (using music and graphics) threads together an explanation of sorts as to why men go to war, or in the absence of war pursue other life-challenging adventures. Purely at play, we find, is the primal instinct to protect and secure, whether it be for themselves, their families or their homelands. Too bad the ceaseless drive easily can be perverted into violent, seemingly irrational behaviors in the absence of a true purpose. None of Kershaw's reporting is groundbreaking, but audiences of his age group may learn something about their own restlessness. The basics of anthropology support the fact that men — and women by extension, though the film doesn't go there — are programmed for survival, though each sex's approach is different: men fight, women plan. (with The Kolaborator; 8:45 p.m. Thursday at AVL; 7 p.m. Friday at RST)

Lindy T. Shepherd

Come Walk in My Shoes

With so many citizens so anxious to vote for Barack Obama as our first African-American president, it's especially poignant to be reminded that the civil rights legislation guaranteeing the right to vote regardless of race was passed within many of our lifetimes (1965). That's a shocking realization, making it the perfect time for Come Walk in My Shoes.

The documentary retraces the steps of the civil rights movement through the experience of Congressman John Lewis who, with many others in the film, worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to bring about civil rights legislation. The bravery of men, women and children facing attack dogs, fire hoses and the terrorism of the KKK is a humbling reminder of how prized our freedoms and our votes are (and makes it even more galling that too many people don't bother to vote). It's an important and well-timed history lesson and one that heartens us that, even when you think it can't, change can come. Big time. (with Get on Board: Freedom Ride 2004; 2 p.m. Thursday at WPL)

Liz Langley

Donkey in Lahore

Love, Shakespeare said, "is an ever-fixed mark/That looks on tempests and is never shaken." It better be as fixed as Uluru in Australia for Aamir and Amber, who met when Aamir, an ex-Goth Aussie puppeteer, came to Lahore, Pakistan on tour and have had romantic trials ever since.

Donkey in Lahore (a show Aamir pitches to Pakistani television) is a story that follows a romantic but grueling five years of this romance; years that include Aamir's conversion to Islam (he starts out as Brian), plans that change more frequently than Aamir's hair color and delays that drive Amber to illness. We see customs of love and courtship in an Islamic country and how starkly different they are from the loose West. It's a bit long, but one is compelled to find out: What will cause the next setback? Will Amber accept Aamir's lesbian sister? And are these two crazy kids going to make it? Semi-hint: Pakistani formal wear is fabulous. (8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 17, at AVL; 4 p.m. Saturday at RST) — Liz Langley

Everest: A Climb for Peace

Here's an idea: Let's get some people who really hate each other — say, a Palestinian and two Israelis — and send them into a situation where they have to work together, or die! Maybe then we can all learn to just get along.

That's Everest: A Climb for Peace in a (somewhat snarky) nutshell. But that's not to say the film doesn't work. It does. It's beautifully shot, and benefits from the naturally compelling man-versus-wild narrative inherent in all mountain-climbing films. Not to mention that it's oddly fascinating to watch mortal enemies come to the realization that people are people. Pass the granola. (7 p.m. Thursday at AVL; 4:30 p.m. Sunday at RB) — Bob Whitby

La Americana

The numbers are somewhere around 14 million. That's how many illegal immigrants live and work in this country under a system that neither allows them to return to their native lands without barring them from re-entry, nor grants them the opportunity to pursue the American Dream in a lasting and meaningful way. La Americana puts a human face on this dilemma, as it follows the travails of Carmen, a beautiful and intelligent illegal from Bolivia, who smuggled herself into the U.S. in order to earn enough money to pay her daughter's medical bills.

Unfortunately the people who should be watching Carmen struggle with her heart-rending choices probably won't come to see this moving and compassionate study of very real people caught up in the cruel circus of our country's immigration policies. They'll be too busy shouting about building giant walls on our southern border, or shipping millions of hard-working, decent people back home. A pity. (9 p.m. Thursday at RST; 8:45 p.m. Friday at RST)

Al Krulick

A Million Bullets in October

Moish Goldberg's compelling (if visually constricted) documentary on the bloody 2000 Palestinian uprising, could have been an apologia for the Israelis, or an outright attack on them. Instead, it's an evenhanded insider analysis that, while not absolving Arafat for the Al-Aqsa Intifada, recontextualizes his responsibility in light of the pissing match that waged between Israel's political and military wings. Former members of Ehud Barak's administration tell shocking tales of the politically weak prime minister having his peace-seeking directives blatantly disregarded by chief of staff Shaul Mofaz; the IDF commander was allegedly inspired by his ruach ("fighting spirit") to violently undermine diplomatic negotiations. It's chilling yet comforting to see that militaristic mendacity, abetted by a lazy media bodysurfing a tide of unquestioning patriotism, isn't solely an American phenomenon. (Hebrew with English subtitles; 7 p.m. Thursday at RST)

Seth Kubersky

One Water

Aside input from leaders the likes of the Dalai Lama, Donna Shalala, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and others, One Water is largely carried by its incredibly stirring imagery — the way the precious element of water is transported, sold, polluted, abused and prized the world over. Its contamination, privatization and wrangling are examined alongside footage that runs from breathtaking to heartbreaking. The Japanese prayer for rain, including the creation and destruction of an enormous water dragon, is the former. The sight of sick children in Africa, hideous parasites in the water and carpenters making undersized coffins are the latter.

The soundtrack sometimes distracts when silence would have deafened, and some issues, like desalination and fog harvesting got only a mention, leaving us wanting more. It's still a compelling world portrait. We are 70 percent water, after all. (1:30 p.m. Saturday at WPL; 6 p.m. Sunday at RB)

Liz Langley

Playing for Change: Peace Through Music

The money shot in co-directors Mark Johnson and Jonathan Walls' portrait of buskers at play hits early on. Santa Monica street performer Roger Ridley's stirring rendition of Ben E. King's "Stand by Me" merges in perfect harmony with similar versions from villagers in India, South Africa, Israel and a handful of other countries. The impact is overpowering and the next hour of Playing for Change: Peace Through Music is filled in with the filmmakers' efforts to capture the high-minded reasons why musicians sing for quarters, including a spellbinding clip from Manu Chao on a sidewalk in Barcelona. The platitudes shared are all on the same wavelength: Music is freedom. At first, the beatnik mentality merits cynical eye-rolling, but as Johnson and Walls penetrate the oppressed nomads of Tibet and the third-world desperation of South Africa and Nepal, the urgency for global unity in the subjects' voices gains resonance. By the finale — Bob Marley's "One Love" hummed by three-dozen international musicians who never met one another — the film overcomes its vague message and delivers a powerful call for humanism. (8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 17, at Mills Lawn, Rollins College; 6:30 p.m. Saturday at AVL) — Justin Strout

A Powerful Noise

A Powerful Noise doesn't have any of the gimmicks or cheeky narration movie-goers may have come to expect from documentaries in the Moore-Spurlock era. It's a quiet film about women helping others in regions torn by war, disease and poverty. And that's plenty. Hanh is an HIV-positive woman in Vietnam who, after losing her husband and child, fights the stigma of the disease in a country where positive status can cost your job. Nada works toward a multiethnic women's farming co-op in Bosnia-Herzegovina (where we see the uncovering of a mass grave). Madame Urbain from Mali, West Africa runs a program to educate poor young women so they can protect themselves from the dangers of urban life. (One mother comes to her after her child was burned with a hot knife by the mother's employer). These women carry others when just carrying on is a courageous act. (7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 17, at; 6:30 p.m. Thursday at WPL; 7:30 p.m. Saturday at RB)

Liz Langley

Pray the Devil Back to Hell

While the film The Calling explores the instincts of men to fight, Pray the Devil Back to Hell shows the more pragmatic approach of women to threatening situations. A chronicle of the civil wars in Liberia in early 2000 that led to the ousting of dictator Charles Taylor, the movie documents how the Christian Women's Peace Initiative fearlessly stood up to the corrupt powers that be in order to stop the senseless murder of their people, as well as the forced recruitment of their young sons into the militia. This is the most powerful film ever personally experienced because the women of Liberia win! Inspired by one of their own, the brave, intelligent and articulate Leymah Gbowee, they risk their lives by locking arms together and blocking the departure of the men attending the peace talks, until they come up with a solution. In 2005, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected president of a democratic Liberia, making her Africa's first elected female head of state. (6 p.m. Friday at AVL; 5:30 p.m. Saturday at RB) — Lindy T. Shepherd

Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections

With the big McCain-Obama challenge around the corner, it's time for a refresher course on how things shouldn't proceed. Uncounted steers clear of soap-box conspiracy theorizing and goes for the numbers: two voting machines for 1,300 people in Ohio's 2004 general elections, thousands of uncounted provisional ballots, thousands of undervotes (where candidates were reportedly unchecked by voters on the ballots) in Pennsylvania and New Mexico, Republican-funded Diebold's untraceable voting machine fiasco. So many aberrations are presented that it's difficult to keep an even head about their veracity. That is, until perennial congressional hopeful Clint Curtis arrives with his own computer programming conspiracy and requisite smirk. If you're not already fired-up about making things right this time, Uncounted should do the trick. (6:30 p.m. Saturday at WPL; 5:30 p.m. Friday at RB) — Billy Manes



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