As the world turns: The first Global Peace Film Festival was in December 2003 in Orlando. This year will be its 14th year, and it will be showing 29 films in eight different venues over the course of six days in late September. Nina Streich has been the executive producer of the festival since its inception, and she is proud to still hold the title for this year’s celebration.
The founder of the festival started it in 2003 to challenge America’s involvement in the Iraq War as a means of promoting peace. Streich says that she had business interests in Orlando at the time and saw it as a burgeoning market. The festival has stayed in the City Beautiful since, and now has most of its executive board located here.
All of the films are chosen by Streich, or by the festival’s artistic director, Kelly DeVine, because of their intrinsic value as works that promote unity. The topics of this year’s selections range from a critical analysis of America’s food-production system to the story of the first all-women racecar driving team in the Middle East.
The film festival includes five LGBT-focused films: Love is Strange, Memories of a Penitent Heart, The Pearl of Africa, Puzzles: When Hate Came to Town and We are Gay, We are Proud, We are Orlando, a 16-minute short from which the proceeds will be donated to the OneOrlando Fund. Orlando Commissioner Patty Sheehan and Watermark Editor Billy Manes will be honored for their post-Pulse efforts. There will also be two free showings of Newtown, an 85-minute movie that examines the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting.
Streich was the New York City Film Commissioner when she was asked to join the GPFF and still credits her background in government with her ability to ask the right questions and to get things done. She now works full time as the GPFF’s executive director while still based in New York City.
Is the festival fairly well-known?
While we have seen attendance and sponsorship grow steadily over the years, there is just so much going on in Orlando. It’s easy to miss this or that, so I understand both if people have heard of the festival and if they haven’t. I was actually just talking to a class at Rollins the other day about marketing, and one of the things that I said was, “If you go and stand on the corner of Orange Avenue and Pine Street, and there’s an Orlando Magic game going on in the Amway Center, I’m sure you can find someone who didn’t know it. And if you say something about the Magic, they wouldn’t know it was a basketball team.” It’s because it’s just not in everybody’s immediate interest – similarly to how someone could have never heard of the GPFF or of the huge Florida Film Festival. That’s why effective marketing is so important.
What is unique about the GPFF as opposed to other film festivals?
Well, we show mostly documentaries, which can be another challenge, because some people say, “I’m not really into documentaries.” So, then I ask them, “Have you seen any documentaries recently? Why don’t you try it?” I also say to people, “Reality TV is a kind of documentary. You do ingest documentaries.” I call documentaries the real reality TV, because the only difference between them and popular TV shows is the matter of the method of delivery system for the media we ingest. So there’s that. We also try to program films that are about how people have taken on an issue and used it to make change in their community. We had a film a few years ago called Mariachi High. The film was about a poor border town in Texas and the mariachi band started by students in their local high school. The upshot of the film was that it portrayed these young Latino kinds in a very positive light in their band. So often Americans see Texas border town Latino boys illustrated by media as drug dealers or gang members – predominantly negative. Not only did this film show these kids in a positive light, but it also showed how being in a mariachi band helped them stay away from negative influences, like drugs. That’s a peace film.
Why has the festival stayed in Orlando? Why not move to New York or Los Angeles?
I live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which is very Democratic. My vote is counted up there, but it also doesn’t count. If I don’t vote up there, it’s just going to be one less vote in an overwhelmingly Democratic majority. So, doing something down here that could possibly make a difference was something that, especially with the Iraq War still going on, and the electoral politics of Florida, if it made a difference even to a very small number of people, it could a make a bigger difference down here than it could ever make up there. As I’ve gotten to know people in the community, too, I just felt like it’s so much more important. If you want to make change in the world, you don’t stay in your comfort zone.
What kind of change are you looking to create?
We’re trying at the minimum to create meaningful dialogue that actually allows people with very different opinions to at least come together on things that they can agree upon. That’s what peace is about – peace isn’t about everybody agreeing, peace is about everybody respecting their differences. That’s always been a fundamental tenet of the festival that we set out to achieve every year. Our country is getting to be more polarized with all the different media outlets labeled as being either conservative or liberal, and depending on something as simple as what news channel you choose to watch, you and your neighbor may as well be on different planets. Once, I got someone who identified as a staunch Republican to come to the festival and heard feedback of, “Oh, you’re not telling me what to think.” That’s what we aim for – creating common ground for everyone.
I’ve always said, “Peace starts within each and every one of us.” That’s why the motto of the festival last year was, “Watch Films, Get Involved, Change Things,” and why this year it is, ‘It starts here. Because it really does. Peace can start with one person in one community watching one film.
Don’t miss these LGBT Films at Global Peace Film Festival:
Love is Strange
directed by Ira Sachs
September 20 at 6 p.m. at the Enzian Theater
John Lithgow and Alfred Molina play a couple who take advantage of the new marriage laws in New York after 39 years together and get married at City Hall. One gets fired from his longtime job as a choir director for a co-ed Catholic school on account of his vows. The two can no longer afford their apartment. Only days after they have gathered to celebrate the nuptials, this tight-knit community of family and friends now has to come together again to help figure out how to help their two friends.
Memories of a Penitent Heart
directed by Cecilia Aldarondo
September 23 in the SunTrust Auditorium at 8:00 p.m.
September 24 at the Plaza Cinema Café at 5:30 p.m.
Memories of a Penitent Heart cracks open a Pandora’s Box of unresolved family drama. The film charts the director’s excavation of buried family conflict around her uncle Miguel’s death, and her search for Miguel’s partner Robert a generation later. A story about the mistakes of the past and the second chances of the present, Memories is a cautionary tale about the unresolved conflicts wrought by AIDS, and a nuanced exploration of how faith is used and abused in times of crisis.
We Are Gay, We Are Proud, We Are Orlando
Sept. 24 at the Gallery at Avalon Island at 5:30 p.m.
This 16-minute short is directed by local filmmaker Vicki Nantz and focuses on the resilience of the Orlando community in the wake of the Pulse massacre. The screening will be followed by a talk-back session and all proceeds from the event will go to Pulse victims. Bring tissues. (Alternate screenings will be joined by the film Puzzles: When Hate Came to Town on Sept. 22 and Sept. 25. More info below.)
The Pearl of Africa
directed by Jonny Von Wallstrom
September 24 at the Bush Auditorium at 1:30 p.m.
September 25 at the Gallery at Avalon Island at 1:30 p.m.
The Pearl of Africa is a love story about a 28-year-old Ugandan transgender girl and her boyfriend: Cleo, a biologically born male, but against all odds transitioning into the woman she knows she was born to be, and Nelson, on the surface seem like any couple falling in love. But Cleo is a trans activist and Nelson is a straight guy who used to believe that trans people were abominations. Their story unfolds in Uganda, once called ‘the Pearl of Africa’ by Winston Churchill for its vast diversity of flora and fauna, one which is now known as one of the world’s most transphobic places.
Puzzles: When Hate Came to Town
directed by Tami Gold and David Pavlosky
both screenings are with We Are Gay, We Are Proud, We Are Orlando
September 22 at the Bush Auditorium at 6 p.m.
September 25 at the Plaza Cinema Café at 5:30 p.m.
Puzzles: When Hate Came to Town tells the story of a hate crime in a LGBTQ bar called Puzzles Lounge in New Bedford, Mass., when a teenager entered and brutally attacked its patrons. PUZZLES explores the correlation between economic hardship and homophobia, intolerance, and, ultimately, violence.
directed by Kim A. Snyder
September 24 at the Plaza Cinema Café at 7:45 p.m.
September 25 at the Bush Auditorium at 5 p.m.
Filmed over the course of nearly three years, Newtown uses deeply personal, never-before-heard testimonies to tell the story of the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary mass shooting, the most schoolchildren shot to death together in American history. The film documents a traumatized community still reeling from the senseless killing, fractured by grief but driven toward a sense of purpose.