Greater goodness 

The Global Peace Film Festival is back and weirder than ever

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Global Peace Film Festival

Through Sunday, Sept. 25
407-224-6625
peacefilmfest.org
$8 per screening

Main Screening Venues: Cobb Plaza Cinema Café
155 S. Orange Ave.
First Congregational Church of Winter Park
225 S. Interlachen Ave., Winter Park
Gallery at Avalon Island
39 S. Magnolia Ave.
Orlando Science Center
777 E. Princeton St.
Rollins College
Several campus venues, Winter Park

Every year around this time, we take advantage of September’s post-summer/pre-holiday breather space to look around at the world, appreciate its natural beauty and wonder, “How’s that ‘world peace’ thing going? You know, that thing the Dalai Lama and Ron Artest are always talking about?”

Although we’re grateful for a disaster-free 10th anniversary of 9/11 and for the return of Glee, it’s difficult to take stock of things and not recall the villain Magneto’s line from this summer’s mega-hit X-Men: First Class: “Peace was never an option.”

Just this week, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, is under siege by the Taliban (oh yeah, we’re still duking it out there), pretty much all of Europe’s money is no good (join the club!) and a Tampa crowd at a Republican debate, when asked whether a hypothetical uninsured man should be left to die, responded with enthusiastic agreement. Peace? Did I mention Magneto totally wins in that movie?

Still, as evidenced by the grass-roots revolutions in the Middle East, and also Beyoncé’s baby, hope springs eternal. To that end, the ninth edition of the Global Peace Film Festival, executive director Nina Streich’s annual reminder that, yes, good things happen in the world sometimes (albeit usually in response to really, really bad things, but whatever), is back with a batch of films ranging from glorified infomercials (Project Happiness) to quirky indie comedies about Russian revolutionaries (The Trotsky) to bikers at military funerals (Patriot Guard Riders).

We got ahold of a few particularly interesting standouts and are happy to report that this year’s fest is weirder and more ambitious than GPFF has dared in the last few years. So come on, get happy, damn it!

The GPFF’s “Coffee Shorts Program” is a compendium of short films set in and around Israel, loosely connected by the device of coffee – whether being brewed, drunk, used to tell fortunes or simply waved about while philosophizing, coffee is present in each film. Of the seven shorts, two are documentary; both of those are set in Ramallah and fall squarely in the pro-Palestinian camp (so to speak). The films don’t attempt to explain the Middle East conflict – a wise choice for any filmmaker, no matter how much footage he or she has to burn – so viewers who aren’t already versed won’t be educated, though the weak-minded may be propagandized.

As a whole, the program shines when tacking toward the poetic and personal rather than the political; the better films are also the most universal and least geopolitically specific. One of the strongest, Eva Is Leaving, touches on the struggle between a café owner who’s becoming more religiously observant and his wife, who resists his increasingly stringent demands. Director Aya Somech does a nice job capturing the push-pull of resentments between longtime partners and the way that an expression of need on one part can look like an exertion of control on the other. The couple’s brief détente, elbows on the counter as they steal a coffee break, is the sweetest and most emotionally grounded moment of the entire program.

Is Eva Is Leaving an allegory for the wounds Israel and Palestine have inflicted on each other? Who knows, who cares. It doesn’t lean on a political crutch nor grind any philosophical ax, making for a much stronger piece of art than the other overtly metaphorical tales here. This program is likely to appeal to those who already have some grasp of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but won’t serve to further much understanding; it’s more likely to confirm opinions already held. – JBY

Fire in Babylon

This lively documentary chronicles the dominance of the West Indies cricket teams of the 1970s and ’80s that became a symbol for any number of social injustices – racism, classism, xenophobia – and inspired a nation long beaten down by colonialism. It’s a lot to bite off, and director Stevan Riley doesn’t always allow for proper audience chewing. For one thing, what the hell is cricket and do they do anything except pelt each other with a ball/bullet? (The doc skips the explanation in favor of shot after shot of doubled-over players in excruciating pain.) But whatever its failings as a sports film, Fire in Babylon more than makes up for it with fascinating, charming interviews with historians and former star players like Michael Holding, whose awesome nickname was “Whispering Death,” and long-view context, including a downright inspiring segment on the team’s boycott of a tournament in South Africa due to that country’s apartheid policy, and the self-admitted moral corruption of at least one star player who couldn’t resist the payday.

Even with its relatively short running time of 84 minutes, the narrative begins sagging toward the end and fills time with lengthy detours into the connection between the cricket team and Bob Marley and grudge match after grudge match with their archnemesis, the Australian team. But overall it’s a revealing look at the true dark-skinned masters of an otherwise all-too-white “gentlemen’s game.” – JS

Into Eternity

The premise of this 2010 doc sounds like science fiction: The nation of Finland is working with a private company on a secretive plan to construct an elaborate series of tunnels drilled into the earth’s bedrock into which it will entomb 250,000 tons of hazardous nuclear waste; there it must sit, hopefully undisturbed, for 100,000 years. If disturbed before then – by, say, an earthquake or an ice age or nosy humans who discover the radioactive vault thousands of years from now – it could cause a massive and tragic nuclear event.

The treatment of the subject matter in this film, though, is pure psychological thriller: Ghostlike images of men in hard hats working in dark tunnels on a mysterious project, a narrator who speaks in cryptic warnings about the dangers posed by the work being done here, emotionless men and women being interviewed about the moral and ethical obligations of how – or even whether – to explain to future generations the nature of the deadly substance that scientists buried beneath the earth’s surface.

It took Danish director Michael Madsen (not the same Madsen who appeared in Reservoir Dogs) nine months of negotiation with lawyers to gain access to the site where this project is actually underway (and has been since the 1970s). Called Onkalo – which means “hiding place” – the nuclear burial site is scheduled for completion in the 2100s, and it’s hoped that it will remain stable through any number of major catastrophes that will likely take place on the earth’s surface between now and, oh, the next 100,000 to one million years.

What’s most interesting about this documentary – aside from Madsen’s almost surreal and stylized treatment of the material and the very notion that a project like this exists at all – is that it takes no advocacy stance on the subject of nuclear energy. This treatment gives him the freedom to deal with the film artistically, rather than journalistically. It can be a little confounding to watch, at first. But in some ways, it also makes it possible to appreciate the ephemeral nature of our civilization. – ES

Passionate Politics: The Life & Work of Charlotte Bunch

The titular figure at the center of this effusive and bland documentary, women’s rights activist Charlotte Bunch, has bona fides up the wazoo: She founded the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers, was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and was picked by then-President Bill Clinton to receive the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights in 1999. Bunch protested segregation in the ’60s and is a major player in the GLBT fight. In other words, she’s a certified Good Person. The problem: That doesn’t exactly make for compelling drama, and director Tami Gold glosses over opportunity after opportunity to find the stuff. We only glimpse the pain behind her decision to leave her loving husband once she realized she was gay, and if she had a difficult childhood, she’s clearly not up to revealing it. What’s left is an hour of cinematic standing ovations as dull and glowing as the film’s title. – JS

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