Global Peace Film Festival
Connects Causes and Context
Deer hunting in the United States decreased by nearly half after the 1942 art film Bambi showed the animated fawn’s mom taken out by a poacher. More than 50 years later, in 2004, director Morgan Spurlock ate only McDonald’s food for a month and chronicled his health journey in Super Size Me, leading the restaurant chain to remove the “Super Size” option from its menu. And in 2015, Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy credited “the power of film” for the change in honor killing laws in Pakistan following the release of her film depicting the subject, A Girl in a River.
Since its founding in 2003, the Orlando-based Global Peace Film Festival (GPFF) has zeroed in on this power of the moving image to make activism more accessible for people who want to make a difference.
“For most film festivals, the heart of the festival is when the lights go down,” said Nina Streich, executive director of the GPFF. “But for us, it’s when the lights come up and the audience is asking, ‘Is there something I can do about that issue?’ We are about connecting those dots.”
Film submissions come in from all around the world. This year’s festival, which runs September 24 through October 4, includes projects from the Russian Federation, Australia, Mozambique, Italy, Spain, Israel, Canada and the U.S. The selected films are those that engage, inform and educate audiences and, most importantly, can complement the goals of community partners and causes. By bringing the issues to life through film, making them more alive and immediate for the audience, these projects create empathy that inspires action.
The festival’s partners have included local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International, Farmworker Association of Florida, Global Hope Network International, the League of Women Voters, the Interfaith Council of Central Florida, Greater Orlando Human Trafficking Task Force, and many more, coming together to provide resources and encourage follow-up engagement after screenings.
Moving Art Online
In 2019, the festival counted more than 7,000 attendees. Screenings featured Q&As with filmmakers and subjects, as well as supplementary in-person events that included art installations, an opening night gala at Enzian Theatre and a MYgration short film contest at Orlando’s FusionFest.
This year, things will look a bit different, Streich said. A smaller, more carefully curated collection of films will be available online through a virtual festival, and in-person events will be limited, with safety precautions taken in the wake of COVID-19.
Figuring out how to draw people into a virtual festival took some troubleshooting, Streich said. But after operating the nonprofit for nearly two decades, funded through grants and partners such as United Arts of Central Florida, Streich is accustomed to adapting to survive.
The GPFF usually holds eight to 10 other screenings throughout the year in addition to the festival. But when COVID-19 forced the organization to cancel the three that were planned for the spring of 2020 and switch to streaming films online, it adapted.
“The virtual experience is very different from the live festival experience,” Streich said. “With so much choice online, you are more likely to be inspired to watch something when you’ve heard the filmmakers explain the subject and their interest in it themselves. We found something interesting with the first couple of Q&As with the filmmakers we did for those online screenings: Although few watched the film before the sessions, a lot of people wanted to watch after them.”
With that in mind, the festival will put the emphasis on creating context through more interaction and engagement with the people behind the films and community organizations. “We want to serve the film festival, the filmmakers and the audience,” Streich said. “So rather than just throwing as many films as possible up, we are looking to be more measured. We are working with each of the filmmakers to learn about the subject of the film so that we can present to our audience enough context to draw them to it.”
In the past three years, GPFF has worked with the Downtown Arts District on an exhibit for CityArts. This year the exhibit will be at CityArts Downtown Orlando at 39 South Magnolia Avenue from September 17 through October 11, featuring “Bombshell: Masquerading Warfare,” an installation by local artist and couturier Ben Van Beusekom. A screening of the FusionFest MYgration short films will take place at Enzian Theater on September 29. Other in-person events are still in the works and will be announced shortly before the festival’s opening date.
“Things change so quickly now,” Streich said about the unique struggle of planning a festival in the midst of a pandemic, but she won’t let that stop the show from going on. “Everyone can make a difference. It’s what you do, and what you don’t do.” The organization is determined to keep doing so its audience can do the same.