; It's taken us awhile to get our our heads around the Global Peace Film Festival. What started o ut four years ago as a few films shown out at the Universal Cineplex has grown into a multivenue, crosstown affair, with attendant events increasing its profile. Still organized by founder Nina Streich (who has also put together a sister festival in Japan), the festival gained some corporate sponsorship — the quite apropos Peace cereal, among others — which has allowed her to put together a large and stunning slate of features, documentaries and shorts.
;;Global Peace 2006 is poised to be an exceptional event, and the bill of fare is so big, we had trouble deciding what to say about it. So, given the weeklong schedule and variety of screening spaces — Room 145 of the UCF Communication Building, Tiedtke Hall at Rollins College, Ying Academic Center (at UCF Downtown, 36 W. Pine St.) — we thought we'd cherry-pick the best films from each day and share those recommendations. Keep in mind, these selections cover less than half of the festival's programming; find the full schedule at www.peacefilmfest.org.
Schnitzel Paradise If Romeo and Juliet were set in the gross, dysfunctional kitchen of a drab Dutch hotel, it would resemble Schnitzel Paradise, albeit with considerably less humor. The light touch of director Martin Koolhoven allows him to confront head-on some uncomfortable issues. Racism, classism and, more interestingly, the various subdivisions within those realms of animosity are dealt with, along with those of familial expectations and, of course, young love. Were such subjects approached with dour moralism, Schnitzel Paradise would be an unwatchable parade of cliché. However, the antics of the kitchen's drunken, belligerent chef and the various stereotypes of the other kitchen staff (the spacey Turk, the blood-loving Slav, the viciously racist embittered local), allows the predictable love story between slumming Moroccan whiz-kid Nordip and über-Dutch hottie/hotel heiress Agnes to easily unfold. There are few surprises but lots of smiles, thanks mainly to Koolhoven's compassionate drawing of his characters. (with At Dawning; 6:30 p.m. at Ying Academic Center, UCF Downtown)
— Jason Ferguson;;
Vito After Not all victims of Sept. 11, 2001, perished that day. As Vito After goes to show, others continue to suffer. Vito Friscia is a Brooklyn homicide detective in his 30s, one of thousands of cops who sorted through the debris of Sept. 11 at a Staten Island landfill. Like a lot of those cops, he is plagued by lingering respiratory and psychological problems. Directed by his sister-in-law, Maria Pusateri, this documentary is understated and affecting, if also somewhat earnest and familiar.
;;Offering a totally different take on Sept. 11 is Live From Shiva's Dance Floor, a terrific short doc directed by Richard Linklater (School of Rock). At its center is Timothy "Speed" Levitch, the eccentric and hyper-intelligent New York tour guide who was featured in 1998's The Cruise. "This might look to you like a hole in the ground," says Speed of Ground Zero, "but what it actually is, is a delightful, benevolent opportunity for rebirth." In his own mysterious way, he means it. (with Date, Live From Shiva's Dance Floor; 7 p.m. at UCF Communication Building, Room 145) — J.B. Mitchell;;
;The Idealist While a documentary about a documentarian may call to mind a postmodern exercise involving losing one's head up one's own backside, Nina Beveridge's The Idealist sets its observational sights on something more resonant: the discovery of her own neglectful father by following the trails of film and travel that he left behind. James Beveridge's 50-year career saw him rise from a Canadian propagandist pawn to a cultural visionary educating the white-bread imperialists of India about their indigenous population. It also saw him willfully neglecting his wife and children, the former being his uncredited film editor throughout his career (he claimed to be too old-fashioned to allow her name to be attached). One of his sons even resorted to suicide. Beveridge's fair-handed cinematic journey opts to focus mostly on his body of work and the peers who moved in his far-off circles, but keeps one eye on the personal tension of being an outsider to her own father's legacy. Her mother, thankfully, finally gets her due. (9 p.m. at UCF Communication Building, Room 145) — Billy Manes;
Refugee All Stars The upbeat rhythm and poetic lyrics in the opening song capture the essence of what's to come in this no-frills documentary about a collective of musicians displaced by the civil war in their home country of Sierra Leone in Western Africa. "A Weapons Conflict for the sake of power/When two elephants are fighting/the grass will suffer/Which is the position of the civilian, Lord I cry/Them a big fool us/Have no mercy for the old ones/Have no mercy for the children/Have no mercy for the women/Them a big fool us/Oh, we a go suffer." Roving from one miserable refugee camp to another in the Republic of Guinea, the group transcends the horror of murder, mutilation and destruction through their art, which sounds like roots reggae (though a more accurate description would be a fusion of West African highlife and contemporary Afro-pop). Over time, the band finds its way home — what's left of it — as well as world recognition. (5:30 p.m. at Tiedtke Hall, Rollins College) — Lindy T. Shepherd
;;A Peck on the Cheek The term "Bollywood" is frequently used as shorthand for the entire cinematic output of India, but it's important to note that in addition to Bombay (the "B" in Bollywood), there are many other major, and remarkably different, film industries in the country. Whether Kollywood (Tamil-language films from Chennai), Tollywood (the highly literate and deeply dramatic Bengali-language films — such as those of Satyajit Ray — that emerge from the Tollygunge area of Calcutta) or, er, Tollywood (Telugu-language films of south India that are simultaneously more ridiculous and more relevant than the fare churned out of Bombay), Indian cinema is far more diverse than hokey song-and-dance numbers. A Peck on the Cheek is from the latter Tollywood, and therefore is capable of that peculiarly southern feat of weaving a couple of choreographed numbers into a tale about Sri Lankan terrorism, guerrilla warfare, refugees' identity crises, adoption and heart-wrenching separations. Made in 2002 by acclaimed director Mani Ratnam (who also directed Bombay, a film equally schizophrenic and affecting), A Peck on the Cheek is as dizzyingly didactic as it is patently emotional. (9 p.m. at UCF Communication Building, Room 145) — Jason Ferguson;;
The Greatest Commandment Is to Love Near the start of The Greatest Commandment Is to Love, we're told about a Christian mission to Kosovo in which there will be "no proselytizing." Near the end of the film, one of the missionaries says to a group that he is trying to help, "We are going to leave you a video and a book that explains more about what Jesus said and also some of the things that God had him do." So much for sincerity. Directed by first-time filmmaker Amy Gattie, this documentary feature is technically amateurish but thematically very much to the point. Presented with Greatest Commandment are two short docs, Freaks Like Me and Holy Warriors. The former is an amusing take on the Parliament of the World's Religions, an interfaith gathering at which more than 7,000 people representing a wide range of beliefs gathered in Barcelona in July 2004. The latter, a haphazard Russian film, explores the relationship between military service and religion by following the lives of a priest, a spy, a shaman and a saint. (with Holy Warriors, Freaks Like Me, 5 p.m. at UCF Communication Building, Room 145) — J.B. Mitchell
;;In Debt We Trust: America Before the Bubble Bursts Hey kids, need another lecture on the evils of credit cards, complete with funny '60s-era footage of fresh-faced young'uns learning how to spend responsibly? Have we got the movie for you! In Debt We Trust is a sort of economics lesson-meets-Super Size Me, without the latter's sense of joyous self-destruction. Not to downplay the importance of the topic, however, as the facts producer Danny Schechter sprinkles throughout are mind-boggling. Here's a favorite: Credit card companies spent $2 billion on advertising and marketing in 2005, each and every dollar scientifically designed to get you further in debt. And another good one: If you pay off your credit card balance every month, your company considers you a "deadbeat"; they'd much rather you be a "revolver." Come to think of it, Schechter has created about a sexy a film as possible on the topic of consumer debt. Nothing in it is new, but you really can't be told what a house of cards the American economy is often enough. (9 p.m. at UCF Communication Building, Room 145) — Bob Whitby;;
;;Arts Shorts Program Too bad that Repetition Compulsion, an unremarkable charcoal-sketch cartoon about abuse, has been included in this collection of "Art Film Shorts." If it hadn't, the program could be recommended for family viewing. The brightly colored Linear Progression is a very funny cartoon about two grunting, grass-chomping monsters who come face-to-face and don't know how proceed. In The Mantis Parable, a messagey movie with sophisticated animation, a caterpillar and a praying mantis learn about captivity and freedom. The live-action Wood Diary is the treacly tale of a woodcarver whose life exemplifies "devotion," "honor," "compassion" and "faith." The longest of these shorts is The Olympic Project, a live-action doc about the children of a Connecticut elementary school who learn about different countries in preparation for a kiddie Olympics. The kids are hilarious, especially when they try to puzzle out why it's a good idea to study other countries. ("It's cool," is the best that most of them can do.) Often, the film is unintentionally revealing, as when a tug-of-war is called, in insane PC lingo, a "tug-of-peace." (In the Box, a short about a puppet trapped in a box, was unavailable for preview.) (4 p.m. at Tiedtke Hall, Rollins College) — J.B. Mitchell;;
;Le Grand Voyage Simultaneously mysterious and mundane, the debut film from French-Moroccan director Ismael Ferroukhi holds up a mirror to the American road movie. Le Grand Voyage, though formulaic, subverts viewers' expectations at every turn. French teenager Reda (Nicolas Cazalé), the Adidas-wearing, fully assimilated son of Moroccan immigrants, is horrified when his father demands that Reda drive him to Mecca, brushing aside his objections (missing crucial school exams, leaving his girlfriend without explanation). Their 3,000-mile journey is marked by passionate generation-gap bickering. In an American movie, the brusque patriarch would open up to his son, stop to smell the roses; there'd be learning and hugging all around. Not here. Despite its unsubtle recounting of the ways families make peace, the film succeeds on the strength of its stars. Cazalé's baby-Brando looks are perfectly suited to his role as the sulky son, and his father (Mohamed Majid) is a master of the exasperated slow burn. Whether or not viewers are moved by Reda's story, the final scenes at Mecca — the roiling sea of pilgrims, the ancient sacred spaces — pack an emotional punch. (9 p.m. at Ying Academic Center, UCF Downtown) — Jessica Bryce Young
The Chances of the World Changing Richard Ogust was eating at a restaurant in Chinatown when he purchased his first turtle. It was bound for his plate, but he took it home alive instead. Soon he shared his Manhattan apartment with 1,200 turtles. The writer had turned into a collector whose entire life was devoted to saving endangered turtles, many of which he bought from the food markets of Asia. The Chances of the World Changing is a surprisingly intimate documentary that follows Ogust as he and his turtles get kicked out of one place after another. Even if you care not a whit for turtles, or the extinction of certain species thereof, you'd have to possess a cold, reptilian heart indeed not to be moved by the image of a man crying over a freezer full of a dead turtles in Ziploc bags as he empties out his apartment for yet another forced move. Think Grizzly Man with a protagonist you don't want to see disemboweled. (5 p.m. at Tiedtke Hall, Rollins College) — Bob Whitby
;;The Last Atomic Bomb A harrowing documentary about the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, The Last Atomic Bomb tells its story through the eyes a few of the remaining survivors. Unflinchingly direct in its premise — that the bombing was a wholly unnecessary cataclysm that was more about domestic U.S. politics than war-ending military strategy — the film succeeds in personalizing the annihilation and in framing the propaganda-driven complicity of the American public. That complicity is the core horror of the movie. With images of the unimaginable destruction intertwined with rah-rah "Kill the Japs" news footage, the film makes the point that if citizens accept governmental rationales for large-scale murder, it's likely those citizens will allow such a tragic event to happen again. Further personalizing the effect of atomic warfare, the 5-minute short Sadako's Cranes tells the story of the Hiroshima schoolgirl whose dying wish for peace (said to be made possible by the folding of 1,000 paper cranes) continues on. (with Sadako's Cranes; 7 p.m. at Ying Academic Center, UCF Downtown) — Jason Ferguson;;
The Federation of Black Cowboys Dark-skinned cowboys working a stable of horses in east Brooklyn? It's true. The rough documentary footage captures the street life and bustling interstates that surround Cedar Lane Stables in the tough Howard Beach area of the borough. To its credit, the film thoroughly engages the viewer with interviews and background on the old and young who work together there. Since 1998, the Federation of Black Cowboys has camped on 25 acres of what's left of an old farm, including a 50-year-old barn. The Federation itself was formed in 1994 partly to preserve what's left of the disappeared history of black Americans in the Wild West. "Cowhands" was what whites were called, we learn from the rough riders; "cowboys" was the term for blacks, who developed their own distinctive styles and competed in rodeos until racist rules drove them underground. The other part of the mission of the financially strapped organization is to mentor at-risk teens in the honorable ways of the self-sufficient cowboy code. Opener 4Real Kenya is a short doc about the passion and compassion of hip-hop artist K'naan, a Somali-born Canadian refugee who returns to his war-torn homeland to make a music video. (with 4Real Kenya; 5 p.m. at Ying Academic Center, UCF Downtown) — Lindy T. Shepherd;;
;The Trials of Darryl Hunt Nominated for the Jury Grand Prize at 2006 Sundance, this well-researched documentary fills you with frustration beyond measure, as a young black man from Winston-Salem, N.C., is sent to prison for life for the brutal rape and murder of a white woman (Brenda Sykes) that he did not commit. Headed by the skilled director-producer team of Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, Break Thru Films worked in conjunction with HBO Documentary Films to develop the painstaking coverage of the 20-year battle for the freedom of Darryl Hunt, which included two trials and endless, heartbreaking injustices. (DNA testing proves that the semen is not Hunt's.) Displays of faith play a huge part in this real-life drama, as attorney Mark Rabil never falters in his quest, and Hunt himself endures life behind bars with unfathomable dignity. While racism is an obvious villain, ignorance and incompetence weigh heavily in the tragedy. (9 p.m. at Ying Academic Center, UCF Downtown) — Lindy T. Shepherdfilm@orlandoweekly.com