Orlando's Global Peace Film Festival returns for a landmark 20th year, running from Sept. 19-25, with a new slate of short and feature films serving as "a catalyst to inspire and educate people to initiate positive change." And it's not just the films showing at multiple venues in the Orlando area. There are presentations, some classical music and two art exhibits: Victor Bokas' Conflict at CityArts and the K-12 Peace Art Exhibit on display in both the Orange County Admin Building and the Ron Blocker Education Learning Center. Can art really inspire change? These fighting spirits make for a convincing case.
United States, 2021
Director Jamie Boyle turns the camera on her own family, as she explores her mother's and sister's opioid addictions and the medical industry's opioid negligence. Anonymous Sister documents a family's pain over a 30-year timeline through home videos, while questioning the medical community's role in sacrificing lives for big pharma. The film humanizes addiction and explores how a greedy, corrupted capitalist machine pushes opiates as a sister's dream collapses and a mother's heart breaks with grief.
Even while Boyle's sister and mom were sober, they had to learn to navigate a medical system that seemed desperate to let them fail in their sobriety and fall back into addiction. The inner workings of the family's dynamic are on full display, as Anonymous Sister gives a painfully honest peek into their struggle to overcome the deadliest man-made epidemic in the United States' history. — Melissa Perez-Carrillo
United States, 2022
This documentary follows two august improvisers and scholars, Allen Otte and John Lane, as they attempt to come to grips with our broken judicial system the only way they know how — through sound.
But it's not elegant classical or sturdy, Guthrie-esque folk music the duo employ, but rather, the tools of the trade more often used by noise musicians and industrial-music innovators. Otte and Lane work in an unintentionally similar way to junk-noise iconoclasts like Macronympha or industrial berserkers like Einsturzende Neubauten's F.M. Einheit, but whereas Rodger Stella and company focus on theater-of-cruelty nihilism, these two attempt a more compassionate catharsis and elegy.
It's compelling to watch them forcing rhythm and structure from piles of books, chains, buckets, random bits of discarded metal and a hand-cranked siren at music venues and university campuses. And if some of their vocal performances seem a tad overly earnest, maybe that's on my irony-twisted brain. You use the tools you have to try and help along change — a tenet literally demonstrated in a piece using hammers to rhythmically break rocks, a sound that reduces members of one audience to tears. Noise can be emotional. — Matthew Moyer
Inter-Continental Bunker Mission
A strange pamphlet from the government forces a pair of Swedish post-apocalyptic LARPers to consider the actual nuclear apocalypse in the surprisingly light-hearted documentary Inter-Continental Bunker Mission.
In a film that's equal parts Adam Curtis and American Movie, Zoomer protagonists Nils and Julian travel around the world chasing the idea of surviving a nuclear war and questioning whether anyone would want to. Along the way, they meet American bunker salesmen, government officials in charge of disaster response and survivors of the only nuclear attacks in human history. The duo contrast the American individualism and excess of survivalist experts in cozy, fully furnished bunkers with their own experiences in a basement-built simulation.
In a winking wash of Cold War-aping graphics, satirical music and cheeky subtitles, they prod at the empty heart of survivalism, noting that the end of most life on Earth is largely the end of any reason for living. — Alex Galbraith
Into the Canyon
United States, 2019
This stunningly photographed doc literally follows two men's journey to hike the entire Grand Canyon, with cameras trained on every step of the 750-mile hiking distance. After an ill-conceived and wisely abandoned first effort, writer Kevin Fedarko and photographer Pete McBride take some time to heal up and plot a more intelligent course.
As they plan their hike, they also research the history, geography and sociology of the Grand Canyon. The canyon is protected land that's constantly under attack, partly National Park and partly indigenous reserved land, and yet it's been monetized for tourism to a staggering and almost disgusting degree. (In one day while in the Western Canyon, they count 363 helicopters in eight hours.) The tribes must accept the reality of their sacred land being despoiled, while at the same time receiving no money from the despoliation. Besides the traffic and noise pollution, there's also pollution from poorly managed uranium mines all around the canyon.
As the two men (and their guides, who most definitely saved these men's lives more than once) fecklessly traverse the "roofless cathedral," marveling at the rock formations, the stars and the silence, Into the Canyon treats the audience to a view of a natural wonder that few have had or ever will have. — Jessica Bryce Young
The Long Break-Up
Ukrainian-American journalist Katya Soldak uses archival footage and family photos and videotape to document the decades-long cooling off between Russia and Ukraine — a cooling-off that recently heated up into a brutal and bloody war.
Soldak weaves her own story — her Kharkiv childhood as a Communist Young Pioneer who wrote poetry dedicated to Vladimir Lenin; her teen years, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the USSR; and her young adulthood witnessing two revolutions as Ukraine struggled to separate from Mother Russia — with the viewpoints of her family and her college friends, to often surprising effect. The human instinct to care more for the stomach than the spirit — what's for dinner rather than political philosophizing — leads many of her interlocutors to express preferences that will mystify Americans. Soldak teases out these strands of self-preservation, nostalgia, and the effects of Russian propaganda without editorializing.
Though the film ends in early 2020, it's still a good primer for anyone trying to make sense of the current conflict, which is anything but black-and-white, no matter how media (social and otherwise) try to flatten it out. — JBY
My So-Called Selfish Life
United States, 2021
The argument of My So Called Selfish Life rests on two pillars: one, that "everyone" assumes all women want children, and two, that "everyone" thinks if you don't, you are selfish. While these attitudes are certainly widespread, it's questionable whether they are as uniformly and intractably held as filmmaker Therese Shechter presents them. In this writer's experience, OB/GYNs are the stronghold of this frustrating bias, and even that may be changing, ever so gradually.
That said, Shechter's film is the most delightful journey into rage you'll ever experience. In a sprightly 78 minutes, she somehow manages to present not only a potted history of women's bodily autonomy but a stunning spectrum of women who've all decided to be child-free for different reasons.
The documentaries we see at GPFF always expose important issues, but that journalistic or crusading spirit aren't always accompanied by corresponding skills in the lighter parts of the art — visual appeal, smooth edits and sound design. The ease and assurance with which My So Called Selfish Life handles this visceral topic are a testament to Shechter's skill as a filmmaker. — JBY
One Pint at a Time
United States, 2021
It goes without saying that Central Florida's craft beer scene has expanded faster than the head on a hastily poured pint of pilsner, as it has in so many places. That's created a lot of jobs, and it's been directly influential in the renewal of key commercial districts throughout the state. Even the pandemic did zero to slow their growth; if anything, business boomed even more. There are currently around 300 breweries and taprooms in Florida, of which about 40 are based in the Orlando area.
One area of concern, though, has been diversity and representation. The whiskey industry, by contrast, has been very aggressive about monetizing minority influence within their industry, as embodied by the Black Bourbon Society and the phenomenal growth of Black distillers like Brough Brothers, Fresh, Majesty and, of course, Uncle Nearest, which is one of the most popular whiskey brands in the world. Black brewers, by contrast, are still fighting to build prominence, and their efforts are the focus of Aaron Hosé's excellent 2021 documentary One Pint at a Time. This film offers a glimpse into the lives of the one percent — that is, the 1 percent of America's brewery owners who are Black.
Hosé goes to the source, profiling Black brewers thriving in Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Brooklyn, Gary, Indiana, New Orleans, New Haven and even nearby Tampa Bay. Wherever you live, there are new chapters to this story being written, in real-time, somewhere near you. — Shelton Hull
United States, 2022
Ricochet delves into the story of an undocumented immigrant cornered into accepting responsibility for the death of a young woman after a bullet ricocheted off the ground and hit her. It was a tragic accident that was opportune fodder for former President Donald Trump's election campaign, which was already energized by Trump's "build the wall" crusade. Using inflammatory language and fearmongering, Trump ignited a political and media firestorm that further aided a false narrative depicting immigrants as criminals and monsters.
Scapegoated for a xenophobic lie, José Ines García Zaraté depended on two public defenders to reveal the truth. Ricochet brilliantly lays out Zaraté's innocence and displays this country's desperate need to reform its criminal justice system and dispel damaging stereotypes that continue to harm vulnerable communities. — MPC
Surviving Pulse: Life After a Mass Shooting
United States, 2021
Right off the bat, we need to state the obvious: This documentary is an extremely tough watch, but especially for Orlandoans, it's essential viewing.
Surviving Pulse re-creates the events of that fateful and horrific night in June 2016 when a gunman opened fire in Orlando LGBTQ nightspot Pulse, killing 49, and the immediate aftermath in which a reeling community tried to find some meaning and catharsis in the raw trauma. Surviving Pulse does this through the words of survivors of that night and their loved ones, as well as some very jarring archival footage. It's straightforwardly done and minimalist, letting the words propel a heartrending narrative.
The film then switches to five years later, and let's just say we still have so much more to reckon with as far as the legacy of Pulse, what we owe those who died to honor their memory and — crucially — to care for all the survivors, their families and communities at large. The task is monumental, but the bravery and honesty of the survivors interviewed and their advocates is amazing. — MM