If you’re surprised that an event like the Global Peace Film Festival is being held in Orlando and not in, say, New York City, you’re not alone. The festival’s executive director is surprised, too.
“It was not my idea to do it in Orlando,” Nina Streich admits. “The person whose idea it was is ... a New Yorker who had business interests down here, and when the [Iraq] War started [in 2003], he wanted to do something to express his opposition to the war. ... I still live in New York, but I’ve really come to enjoy being here and enjoy the community.”
Streich says the festival, which she’s been involved with since its inception, is unique here. “There isn’t anything like it [in Orlando]. In fact, if I did this film festival in New York, the programming would be very much different,” she says. “The programming that we put together here, which I really like, does stand out here. And the other thing I like about [Orlando] is that we’re not preaching to the choir here. A lot of the people who come to the festival are ... not peace activists. They’re not activists of any kind. They’re people who like the arts.”
Speaking of programming, what can audiences see at this year’s event?
“We want to create a kind of arc of a story within the range of films … not just a festival about war,” Streich says. “[Expect films] that show a lot of different issues, that show a lot of different things that people are doing to make a difference, personally, community-wide, nationwide, worldwide.”
Streich’s arc for the 11th annual festival, which runs Sept. 17-22, includes 40 films: three narrative features, 26 documentary features and 11 shorts, although two of the documentary features are less than 40 minutes, technically making them shorts. In addition, the festival website will show another dozen or so shorts. Films are both handpicked and selected from the roughly 200 submissions, and several screenings will feature Q&A sessions with the filmmakers.
If the event sounds documentary-heavy, Streich cautions, “I’d rather see a good doc than a mediocre narrative. … If a narrative isn’t really good, it just doesn’t get responded to the way a good documentary will.”
Because of the event’s unconventional format, which spreads the films across 10 venues in Orlando and Winter Park, it’s possible to see a featured movie without realizing you’ve attended the festival.
“I occasionally meet somebody who says, ‘I’ve never heard of the Global Peace Film Festival,’ and then … they’ll describe a film that was in the [previous year’s] festival.” Streich says. “I say, ‘Where did you see it?’ And they’ll tell me, ‘I saw it at the Bush Auditorium at Rollins College,’ and it’s the only time it’s ever been shown. Well, actually, [that means] you went to the festival.”
One documentary that our readers are already likely familiar with is Billy & Alan: In Life, Love & Death, Equality Matters, a 37-minute film based on Billy Manes’ April 2013 story about his struggles to claim his rights and property following the death of his long-term partner, Alan.
“I think Billy & Alan was selected this year because it puts a human face on the devastating consequences of anti-gay public policies, which still exist in the majority of states, including here in Florida,” says director Vicki Nantz. “Those discriminatory policies hurt people; they hurt families; they hurt adults and children alike. And when those policies are celebrated and condoned here in America, it sends a terrible message to the rest of the world.”
But if you’ve already read Manes’ article, what more can you learn from the short film? “The nature of documentary production required a slightly different telling of Billy’s written story, but it stays true to it and is no less compelling,” Nantz says. “It adds other voices to his, explores the issues, and it honors the relationship. I think friends and fans of Billy Manes will approve of Billy & Alan. … Billy is the face of this issue right now.”
For a schedule and descriptions of all the films, visit peacefilmfest.org. Tickets, which range from $8 for a single film to $199 for a priority-seating pass to all movies, are available both online and at each venue at the time of the screening.
(narrative feature, 80 minutes)
★★★ (out of 5 stars)
Daud, an 11-year-old Muslim boy (played well by Muatasem Mishal), is the son of the local imam in Brooklyn. After seeing some Jewish boys forget their Torah, Daud attempts to return it to their school, but accidentally leaves his own cherished Quran instead. Returning to reclaim it, he’s mistaken for a Jewish student. Unable to resist the temptation to learn about Judaism – and also still desperate to find his Quran – he keeps going back, eventually befriending a Jewish boy. Adopting the name David, he blends in, despite the warning of his strict father (effectively portrayed by Maz Jobrani) to “be careful. [Jews] don’t like Arabs.” Adding to the tension over whether Daud will be discovered are struggles with his sister, who wants to break tradition by moving away for college. Although the film by first-time director Joel Fendelman should be commended for its subtlety, cultural commentary and religious insight, it would have been better as a short (and actually was based on Fendelman’s 2009 short, Daud). At 80 minutes, the feature seems stretched and predictable. Still, the drama of David holds some emotional power.
(6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, at Mad Cow Theatre) – Cameron Meier
Four Days in Chicago
(documentary feature, 82 minutes)
★★ (out of 5 stars)
There’s a great documentary to be made about the Occupy phenomenon: how an ad hoc street movement came together to challenge the criminality of the ruling order, only to be shut down by pure Gestapo tactics. Four Days in Chicago plays like 82 minutes of raw footage out of which one might assemble the trailer to that movie. Legendary cinematographer and activist Haskell Wexler captures Occupy’s protest of the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago, and the results are as good-looking as you’d expect. Otherwise, the film is like Occupy itself: scattershot and unfocused; bereft of a concrete, coherent story; and refusing to prioritize any one participant over another – except for Wexler, who periodically trains his camera on himself so he can tell us what to think. Some pithy but fleeting deconstructions of concepts like “security” enliven a project that mostly preaches to the converted, and sometimes not even in complete sentences. (7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, at Mad Cow Theatre; 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, at Rollins College – Suntrust Auditorium) – Steve Schneider
The Iran Job
(documentary feature, 90 minutes)
★★★ (out of 5 stars)
Directed by Till Schauder, The Iran Job presents two worlds that rarely collide: basketball and politics. The film is an interesting glimpse at an international athlete struggling with a foreign culture. “I really thought I had a great shot at making it to the NBA, but I didn’t make it,” says Kevin Sheppard, who played college ball at Jacksonville University, in Jacksonville, Fla. “Once I finished college, I received many calls from overseas teams, wanting me to play for them. So now I’m what you call a journeyman.” That journey leads Sheppard to sign a lucrative contract with a new team in the Iranian Super League. He is tasked with leading the group to the playoffs, but his greater challenge turns out to be adapting to a misogynistic culture while learning not to get involved in American-Iranian tensions. It’s a learning experience for Sheppard, and us too, if you make it through the slow pacing and mediocre editing that often accompany “as they happen” documentaries. (6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, at Cobb Plaza Cinema Café; 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, at Rollins College – Suntrust Auditorium) – CM
Rafea: Solar Mama
(documentary feature, 76 minutes)
★★★ (out of 5 stars)
Rafea, a 30-year-old Jordanian mother of four, encounters the opportunity of a lifetime when she’s chosen to attend India’s Barefoot College. The school offers women in Third World countries the chance to learn engineering to bring solar power to their nations. “This is the only training program in the entire world where an illiterate woman can become an engineer,” skeptical villagers are told. Only Rafea, desperate to escape her gender-based subjugation, is sold. Directed by Mona Eldaief and Jehane Noujaim, the doc plods along, content to follow Rafea on her quest, in the style of a visual essay. But then, thanks to astonishing interviews with Rafea’s strict Muslim husband, the film comes alive. “If you don’t come back, I will divorce you and take your daughters away,” the husband tells Rafea and the Jordanian government minister sponsoring the project. Those brutally honest interviews lay bare the injustice and misogyny of Rafea’s culture. (6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, at Rollins College – Suntrust Auditorium; 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, at Winter Park Library) – CM
Too Cold Out There Without You
(documentary feature, 80 minutes)
★★★★ (out of 5 stars)
You might expect a documentary about a transgendered Episcopalian priest to be a marathon of soul-searching, with its subject obsessing painfully over the implications of his life’s path. Instead, this terrific bio fixes the identity of the Reverend Christopher Fike (formerly Sarah) in his efforts to take care of everybody else – from his two teenagers, who suffer from (respectively) bipolar disorder and a neurological imbalance, to the members of his congregation, many of whom have deep developmental disabilities. The Rev. Fike’s transition from female to male is depicted mostly as a hurdle he’s had to help others get over so he could concentrate on the business of loving them. Yet for all his boundless wisdom, filmmaker Amy Gattie doesn’t reduce him to some feel-good fantasy of the Magical Trans. She simply portrays him as smart, funny and compassionate – just the kind of outwardly unlikely but eminently qualified shepherd God loves to pick. Watch with great joy. (6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, at Cobb Plaza Cinema Café; 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, at Winter Park Library) – SS