Peace On Earth Film Festival Review-A wealth of meaningful film and dialogue at the Cultural Center

The Eighth "Peace On Earth” Film Festival, (POEFF), presented by Transcendence Global Media, (TGM), NFP, in collaboration with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, ran March 3-6, 2016 at the Claudia Cassidy Theater of the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St. The event screened 26 films from 11 countries, featured filmmakers’ and peacemakers’ panels, ran special programs for students in grades 7-12, held a student filmmaker showcase, and was free to the public. The three directors of the Festival are Nicholas G. Angotti, Clayton Monical and Milissa Pacelli.

Greg Rodriguez against the background of "Ground Zero";photo courtesy of Phyllis Rodriguez

The stated mission of the festival was “raising awareness of peace, nonviolence, social justice and an eco-balanced world“. The films deployed in service of this goal, as in prior years, were thoughtfully chosen, professionally made, timely and stirring.  The Festival honored Gordon Quinn and Kartemquin films of Chicago for their half-century of socially and politically relevant award-winning films.

Robert Kerr, center and musicians from "At the End of The Line", photo courtesy of Robert Kerr

The programs were very well attended, the films uniformly important and engaging, the question and answer sessions meaningful and relevant. The opening night’s master of ceremonies was Jerome McDonnell, WBEZ radio Worldview reporter. Each day’s offerings had a different focus or set of foci:

-       Thursday, March 3 on oneness of self and environment

-        Friday, March 4 on refugees, terrorism, conflict and resolution

-        Saturday, afternoon, March 5 was devoted to  the student filmmaker showcase

-        Saturday evening, March 5 on human rights of women and children

-       Saturday night, March 5 was a special panel on actions/implementation to aid and rectify injustice

-       Sunday, March 6 on restoring justice

Top left: Nick Angotti, Executive Director of the Peace on Earth Film Festival, with the review committee and filmmakers; photo courtesy of POEFF

Nicholas G. Angotti, Executive Director, TGM, and  and co-founder of POEFF is a well-known former professional actor, former minister, and an independent producer at Chicago Access Network Television for the past 19 years. In 2007, he began to channel his humanistic and creative zeal into a film festival intended "to foster a new discourse on peace in Chicago". The Festival screened 40 films the first year, 2008, at the Biograph Theater. In 2009, they established TGM, NFP, to produce the POEFF. In 2010, they began to work with Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, to whom he’s very grateful. In that year, also, they began a program to bring shorter films to the Chicago Public Schools, beginning a dialogue on peace with student voices. The goal was to have a free venue with free admission, to allow all economic levels to participate in a culturally diverse atmosphere of true listening. When he’s working with students, Angotti feels totally immersed and focused. He says of the Festival, ”We’re the best kept secret in Chicago”. He knows that everyone who’s ever seen the program has become thoroughly engaged; his goal is to bring it to other cities.

From "At the End of The Line"; photo courtesy of The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Among the films on offer, this reviewer screened four, and interviewed the star of one and the director/star of the other. Capsule summaries/interview summaries follow:

The Same Heart”, a US feature-documentary directed by Leonard and Georgia Morris, a couple committed to making films about children in extreme poverty, was significant in that it presented solutions to this horrifying global tragedy, solutions that were both region-specific and universal.  The film used interviews with important world leaders, such as Desmond Tutu, to explain the problems. It  also provided examples of educational alternatives and church-initiated community endeavors. Most importantly, it strongly advocated worldwide taxes imposed on financial transactions, the “Robin Hood Tax”. In these and other ways the filmmakers displayed convincing, workable vehicles for enormously positive change.

“Hope For All-Food Matters. You matter”, an Austrian feature-documentary, directed by Nina Messinger, is a double-barreled attack on our ignorance about the cost of continuing to ingest large amounts of animal products. The film features interviews with leading health research experts who explain the best natural plant-based food choices for overcoming and reversing obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. There are also graphic depictions, very painful to watch, of the horrifying methods used to raise chickens, pigs, and other animals for food, and the disastrous effects such practices wreak on our natural resources. It’s hard to imagine coming away from this film unchanged.

“In Our Son’s Name”, is a US feature-documentary, directed by Gayla Jamison, and depicts the extraordinary courage and grace of Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez, whose beloved son, Greg, died in the 9/11/2001 attack on The World Trade Center. The couple began an amazing odyssey of transcendent leadership, speaking out immediately for peace, nonviolence and understanding rather than hate, revenge and war. They befriended Aicha el-Wafi, the mother of jailed-for-life admitted co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, opposed the death penalty in his case, have worked around the world and have devoted their lives to these values. The film is their testament and an imperative for future enlightened action.

Gayla Jamison, director, "In Our Son's Name"; photo courtesy of Phyllis Rodriguez

Phyllis Rodriguez is a petite, overtly warm and eternally youthful woman who describes her son, Greg, as “warm, charming, funny and rebellious”. He was “a good person…who saw working on Wall Street not s a career, but as a way to find what he wanted to do”. Getting to the viewpoint espoused in the film was a journey for her and her husband. Indeed, 3 or 4 years after 9/11, they were invited to a panel called “Journey of Hope”, where people discussed murders of family members and forgiveness. She wasn’t ready yet, but ultimately she and Orlando got involved in the Forgiveness Project, started in 2004 by a journalist. She had already met Aicha- she had “nothing to forgive Aicha “. She learned a lot about truth and reconciliation while working on these issues. There are 2 definitions of forgiveness that speak to her; 1), we are incapable of changing the past and 2) we need to understand why people commit acts of violence. It is imperative to become involved and learn about people’s relationships. “It isn’t what we think that is important-it's what we act upon-because it's normal to have angry thoughts and urges".  According to this remarkable woman, “We missed a great opportunity after the attacks. We had the sympathy of the world. We should have avoided using the harmful internalized anger”.

Phyllis Rodriguez and Aicha el-Wafi; photo courtesy of Phyllis Rodriguez

“At the End of the Line”, is a US short documentary, directed by and featuring Emmy award winning television director and musician Robert Kerr and his post- punk band “Vera Zero” playing the haunting melody of that name. Anthony Cousins acted as Director of Photography. This is a film that speaks more clearly in compelling images and memorable music than many another movie has in hours of saccharine or ranting speech. It’s about The Kindertransport, the 10,000 mostly Jewish children evacuated by their families to England to spare them from certain death at the hands of the Nazis. The images used throughout were donated by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, photos of actual families with children who took part in this brutal separation and exercise of faith. In an age where Netflix alone offers many documentaries on the Holocaust, this piece is as moving a testament to that epoch of horror as has  been seen. The film can be viewed at attheendofthelinefilm.com 

The plaque over the statue in London commemorating the Kindertransport; photo courtesy of Barbara Keer

Robert Kerr told this reviewer this was the first film he’s directed. He saw a documentary on the Kindertransport and wrote the song the following day with Jason Bradley; Matt Patrick mixed the music. He was thrilled to work on a story with this much substance; and especially enjoyed the marriage of music and film. He spent a lot of time thinking about the parents. He wonders how many of them ever saw their children again. He worries about whether the children would recognize their parents again, if they could ever understand why they were sent away. He marvels at the level of faith required to send your children off into the unknown. He wanted to tell the story to honor these parents and their children, and to make sure the world doesn’t forget what happened in this dark chapter of history.

The statue in London commemorating the Kindertransport; photo courtesy of Barbara Keer

There were several categories of awards, including the Student Voices for PeaceShowcase Awards, Expose awards, and Best of the Fest Awards.

Many of these films have been shown before, have already won awards, can be seen as previews or in their entirety on YouTube, etc. and will be participating in other upcoming film festivals. Check them out on the Web!

For more information, go to peaceonearthfilmfestival

 

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