Watching movies doesn't have to be an idle pastime. In fact, the organizers of the Global Peace Film Festival want it to be a revolutionary one. This annual festival of short films, features and documentaries hopes to inspire audiences to action, using movies as a catalyst for change. Whether it's the tale of a community coming together to build a mosque in a tiny Arctic town or autistic adults trying to find intimacy despite a disorder that defies it, the movies in this festival connect viewers to worlds and ideas they never even knew existed. The goal is to leave people feeling inspired rather than indifferent, so they'll use these movies as a jumping-off point for actions that could change the world. Visit peacefilmfest.org for the full schedule of events, film screenings and locations, as well as links to short films that will be screening online for free while the festival is underway. Following are reviews of some of our favorite films showing at this year's festival.
(documentary, 75 minutes)
This film, directed by Bruce Donnelly, illustrates life in Cuba through interviews with 12 Cuban artists of various ages and backgrounds. Each artist's work, process, medium and perspective is influenced by experiences following the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s when the Cuban economy collapsed. That troubled period set a tone for visual arts in Cuba that is still prominent today. The beautifully shot film, with an incredible soundtrack, captures everyday life in the country at a time of significant transformation. In spite of a lack of resources, and uncertainty about the future, these artists find that their work is more than a way to make money. It's part of the Cuban way of life. Their struggle is the source of their artistry, and they submerge themselves in it to forget their problems. Their hope is that their audiences can find a similar escape. (1:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 3, SunTrust Auditorium, Rollins College, Winter Park and Sunday, 12:30 p.m, Oct. 4, Premiere Cinema, Fashion Square Mall) – Justin Braun
(documentary, 79 minutes)
In 2010, the Muslim residents of Inuvik, a tiny town in Arctic Canada, were granted a fervent wish: A Winnipeg businessman, distressed that the 100 or so of them had to worship in a trailer that barely held them all, donated a prefab house to be repurposed as a mosque. Cue the small-town freakouts, right? Well, either this doc was heavily selectively edited by directors Nilufer Rahman and Saira Rahman, or it's true – Canadians really are the nicest people in the world. I can't imagine an American film set in a town of 3,000 finding not one person with a racist comment to make, but Arctic Mosque offers a stream of residents of Inuit, First Nations and European extraction, expressing their respect and affection for their Muslim neighbors, who come from many countries: Syria, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Sudan and more. The directors chose not to include any kind of voice-over or text inserts to guide the story, simply stringing together interviews with Inuvik's citizens as they consider the ramifications of being the home of the northernmost mosque in the Western hemisphere. The lack of conflict might have made for a dull first 40 minutes, but in truth, as we in the U.S. live through a horrible cultural moment in which even some of our elected officials feel free to spew racism and bigotry ... it was nice. It was a nice feeling to witness people being considerate, welcoming and reasonably able to integrate other viewpoints into their own community. And never fear, the directors do introduce drama – the mosque must be moved 2,500 miles by highway and river barge and there are some genuine nail-biting moments in that process. No spoilers here, but who knew the Arctic North could be so warm? (3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, Winter Park Public Library and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4, Premiere Cinema, Fashion Square Mall) – Jessica Bryce Young
The Armor of Light
(documentary, 90 minutes)
How can someone be pro-life and pro-gun? It's a question that comes to haunt Rob Schenck, an evangelical minister whose conservative politics are challenged by the epidemic of firearm-related violence he sees sweeping our nation. To his chagrin, a great many of his comrades on the abortion-averse religious right are just fine with the idea of all God's children packing a concealed piece – in fact, many of them consider it their spiritual duty. That ghastly disconnect prods Schenck to examine all of the reasons for, and the consequences of, our 21st-century gun love. Along the way, he forms an alliance with Lucy McBath, mother of the slain Florida teen Jordan Davis. Director Abigail Disney can't decide if McBath and her lawyer, John Phillips, are Schenck's co-stars in the film or just supporting players; as a result, the closest thing we get to a narrative climax – the conviction of Davis' killer, Michael Dunn, in a court of law – doesn't carry the heft it should. But Schenck is a fascinating character, the relevant issues are explored with an unsparing honesty, and the picture itself is beautifully yet unobtrusively photographed and edited. If, at its conclusion, you still feel as if you've been left hanging, it might just be because an end to the madness that's radicalized Schenck seems so far off. (3:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, at Premiere Cinema. Fashion Square Mall and 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4, at Bush Auditorium, Rollins College, Winter Park) – Steve Schneider
Autism in Love
(documentary, 75 minutes)
Autism is a little word that people have learned to dread. It conjures images of the "idiot savant," a la Rain Man – of people unable to connect and relate to others to the point of complete disability. How can love exist in the midst of a disorder whose defining symptom is difficulty forming connection with others? But as you watch the three subjects of the movie deal with rejection, loneliness and fear of being outed as different, you begin to see that some experiences are universal. This is a deeply affecting and sympathetic portrayal of the struggles faced by autistic individuals trying to express and maintain intimacy. (6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 30 at Premiere Cinema, Fashion Square Mall and 6 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 1, SunTrust Auditorium, Rollins College, Winter Park) – Bernard Wilchusky
The Ballad of Holland House
(short, 5 minutes)
Part documentary, part anthropomorphic allegory, part Irish folk tune, The Ballad of Holland Island House is an emotionally involving, stunningly animated tale of a real Chesapeake Bay building slowly succumbing to rising seas. Created by Lynn Tomlinson in an Impressionistic, clay-on-glass, stop-motion style – with soulful music by Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle – the four-minute film combines the imagery of Winslow Homer and Vincent Van Gogh with the urgency of climate-change awareness. (3 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 3, Bush Auditorium, Rollins College, Winter Park and 1 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 4, Premiere Cinema, Fashion Square Mall) – Cameron Meier
(documentary, 104 minutes)
The Diplomat is an informative and occasionally emotional portrait of Richard Holbrooke, a man described as the diplomatic hope for a generation. Arguably the most influential negotiator and foreign-policy wonk never to have achieved Cabinet status, Holbrooke died unexpectedly five years ago, leaving behind a legacy stretching from Vietnam to Bosnia to Afghanistan.
Though it focuses heavily on interviews with Bill and Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, Henry Kissinger, Bob Woodward and others, the documentary is almost as personal as it is political. After all, it's directed by Holbrooke's son, David, who is just now coming to terms with his father. Though the film is still more of a talking-heads history lesson than compelling cinema, it's a solid piece of journalism and an important epilogue to the Dayton Accords of 1995 and the failed negotiations with the Taliban in 2010. (6 p.m., Sept. 30, Bush Auditorium, Rollins College, Winter Park and 5:30 p.m., Premiere Cinema, Fashion Square Mall) – Cameron Meier
Finding Jenn's Voice
(documentary, 73 minutes)
Director Tracy Schott begins this cautionary tale with the story of a 27-year-old woman who was pregnant with her married lover's baby. Through testimony from Jenn's family, we learn the details of her tragic end. Then comes the kicker: "Homicide is the leading cause of death in pregnant women." Profiles of other women who found themselves in controlling, abusive relationships are also included in the film, which helps point out red flags in relationships so women can avoid trouble before it is too late. (8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 2, Premiere Cinema, Fashion Square Mall and 5:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 3, Bush Auditorium, Rollins College, Winter Park) – Leona B. Braun
Parables of War
(documentary, 32 minutes)
Though it's being presented as a stand-alone feature, Parables of War is actually a short. It's an odd attempt to document choreographer Liz Lerman's Healing Wars, a theatrical project that interprets, through dance, the American war experience. And in a greater sense, both the dance project and the film provide a unique commentary on the artist's relationship to the art.
Despite a noble effort by director Nina Gilden Seavey and actor Bull Pullman, Parables works as neither a feature nor a short. Not only is it awkwardly conceived and executed but, despite its obviously heartrending subject, it feels pretentious. It might work as live theater, but as a film, it has more in common with Christopher Guest's Waiting for Guffman than inspirational or artistically challenging cinema. (6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 30, SunTrust Auditorium, Rollins College, Winter Park and 6 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 1, Premiere Cinema, Fashion Square Mall) – CM
Human Rights: The Unfinished Journey
(short, 27 minutes)
This is a concise overview of the history and challenges facing the global movement to preserve and uphold the human rights of all. Beginning with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1946, the film follows humanity's struggles with events and groups that contest the human rights of others. Ranging from Boko Haram's abduction of 200 schoolgirls to the warrantless wiretapping of American's phones through the Patriot Act, infringements on human security are widespread and not exclusively prevalent in developing countries. The documentary's overarching message is that women continue to be extended fewer rights than others, and the key to overcoming human-rights abuses stems from the empowerment of women across the world. In the 20th century, it was acts of destruction and inhumanity that led the world on its quest to achieve universal human rights. Now, as we witness the erosion of these rights, it is up to us to renew that quest and put forward the best of humanity. (8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 2, Winter Park Public Library and 8:30 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 4, Premiere Cinema, Fashion Square Mall) – JB
Just Breathe ★★
(short, 4 minutes)
Just Breathe will probably be one of the shortest and most relaxing films you'll see at the Global Peace Film Fest. Directed by Julie Bayer and Josh Salzman, the film is literally 3.5 minutes of little kids telling you how they chill while ambient music plays in the background. "When I need to calm down I take deep breaths," says one kid. To be fair, mindful breathing is really the crux of this short film. It starts off with kids speaking directly to the camera about what makes them upset, how it makes them feel, and of course, how they use breathing to cope with anger. Gradually the film transitions to show adults also breathing, suggesting that if spazzy little kids can relax, so can you. (2 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 3, at Premiere Cinema, Fashion Square Mall) – Colin Wolf
Miss Tibet: Beauty in Exile
(documentary, 70 minutes)
A journey that began in Tibet nearly two decades ago comes full circle when six women, the daughters of the Tibetan diaspora, return home to represent the virtues of their nation in the Miss Tibet Pageant. They hail from India, Switzerland, Australia and the United States, but many of them have never set foot in the land of their ancestors. But what makes a good Tibetan? It's the question that dogs the mind of our narrator, Tenzin Khecheo, a 19-year-old from Minnesota who travels to Dharamsala, India, the home of the Tibetan government-in-exile, to compete in the pageant. As Khecheo discovers the traditions that link her people in a shared culture across the four corners of the Earth, she must find a way to synthesize her Western upbringing with the values of a land that exists, in some ways, only as an idea. (5 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 3, Premiere Cinema, Fashion Square Mall and 3 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 4, Bush Auditorium, Rollins College, Winter Park) – BW
On the Banks of the Tigris
(documentary, 83 minutes)
Majid Shokor, who escaped from Iraq, is reacquainting himself from the music of childhood in Baghdad when he makes a surprising discovery. Much of the folk music he and other people from Iraq still enjoy was created by Iraqi Jewish musicians. The history of this music and the musicians who created it was erased after most of the Jewish community was forced to leave Iraq in the 1950s and immigrate to Israel. The musicians resettled and went on with their lives, but could not forget the unique sounds of their home country. At times, the film feels stretched as Shokor travels around the world looking for the remaining Jewish musicians, but ends on a high note with a concert that reunites a culture was torn apart. (8:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct.3, at SunTrust Auditorium, Rollins College | 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4 at Premiere Cinemas 1) – Monivette Cordeiro
Out of Focus
(documentary, 51 minutes)
Out of Focus, directed by Shahriar Siami Shal, tells the story of Iranian painter Afshin Naghouni, who has made his way to London after a tragic accident has left him paralyzed from the waist down. The incident, occurring in Iran, marks a turning point in his artistic career. This film does a lot of telling, but not enough showing. There's plenty of testimony about Naghouni's history and the art he creates, but we rarely ever get to spend a decent amount of time with the man himself as he works on his paintings. The moments of actual creation are mere glimpses. Aside from this, Out of Focus does well to highlight an artist from a land that is not well known for its cultural indulgences. Viewers be warned: This baby is all subtitled. (5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 30, Winter Park Public Library and 6 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 4, Premiere Cinema, Fashion Square Mall) – Marissa Mahoney
(documentary, 58 minutes)
At a time when the Common Core ethos of teaching to the test is coming under fire from the left and the right, and even President Obama needs to be reminded that kids deserve to learn more than math and science, a film like Spiral Bound has an inherent usefulness. Filmmaker Jason Winn takes us behind the walls of Studio 345, a North Carolina arts-education project that's meant to compensate for the modern public-school system's failings by cultivating students' passions for music, photography, moviemaking and related disciplines. The doc makes a persuasive case for the importance of such study, using impassioned teacher testimonials and sobering statistics to prove that arts curricula are integral to a healthy society. Would that the film were as compelling on a personal level: It tries to incorporate too many of the kids in the program, with the end result that we don't get to know any of them as well as we'd like. (The cautionary tale of a young rapper whose participation in Studio 345 was interrupted by a stint in jail is glossed over so lightly that we never even learn just what he did to get sent there in the first place.) There's something ironic about a film that preaches the nurturing of artistic identity but that itself values volume over personality – and it makes Spiral Bound more effective as a position paper than a portrait. (8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2, Bush Auditorium, Rollins College, Winter Park and 12:30 pm Saturday, Oct. 3, Premiere Cinema, Fashion Square Mall) – SS
The Trials of Constance Baker Motley
(documentary, 25 minutes)
This harrowing documentary profiles one of the Civil Rights Movement unsung heroes, Constance Baker Motley. Motley, an African-American lawyer, worked with the NAACP to argue 10 civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including Brown v. Board of Education and other major school desegregation cases. Motley became the first black woman to sit in the New York State Senate and was later appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson as a federal judge, another African-American first. Produced by her son Joel Motley, the film interviews Motley’s clients and relies heavily on old footage to recreate the fear felt by the black community at the time. At times, the documentary seemed too short to cover Motley’s extensive and important career. (8:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct.1, at Premiere Cinema 3 | 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2 at Winter Park Public Library) – Monivette Cordeiro
(feature, 98 minutes)
When 14-year-old Mackenzie's mom goes into rehab, she's sent from Seattle to Alaska to stay with her uncle for a summer. What seems at first like a sullen teen/eager-to-please adult scenario soon morphs into a situation surely worse than whatever was happening when she lived with her mom.
As the creepily unnamed "Uncle," Brian Geraghty (the priggish co-pilot in Flight; the by-the-book bomb specialist in The Hurt Locker) ably builds on his repertoire of straitlaced guys who come unhinged. Newcomer Ella Purnell, as Mackenzie, doesn't act so much as point her Clara Bow face at things, but the Alaskan wilderness in which much of the film is set is as heartbreakingly gorgeous as her mug, so it's a good match. Bruce Greenwood, the reluctant father figure she turns to when she runs away from Uncle, could do this role in his sleep, but luckily, he doesn't – he is fully present in each scene, his intense focus sometimes filling in for Purnell's lack of articulacy. That deficit can't be blamed completely on her; she may not yet have the screen presence of her more seasoned co-stars, but she's given very little coherent dialogue, reduced to sucking on her sleeve to demonstrate her agitation.
Rounding out the cast, the marvelous Ann Dowd (The Leftovers) is underutilized but magical in her brief on-screen time. Cinematographer Hillary Spera renders the landscapes and the actor's faces with equally lucid beauty, and composers Daniel Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans provide a haunting underpinning. Any flaws in this, writer-producer-director Frank Hall Green's debut feature, are wiped away by the intermittent moments of loveliness Wildlike strings together. (7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, Premiere Cinema, Fashion Square Mall and 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4, at SunTrust Auditorium, Rollins College, Winter Park) – JBY
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.