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Giving peace a chance  through the power of movies

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Peace on Earth Film Festival

When: Through Sunday

Where: Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington

Tickets: Free admission


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Updated: April 9, 2013 11:01AM

The Peace on Earth Film Festival puts its agenda upfront: “to amplify an awareness of peace as a possibility.” Now in its fifth year, this free event offers four days of dramas and documentaries at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Presented with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special events, this fest links headlines to heartstrings. Transcendence Global Media, a Chicago non-profit organization, picks the features and shorts, which include a surprising number of U.S. and world premieres.

The festival promotes “peace, nonviolence, social justice or an eco-balanced world.” Angotti elaborates: “We were taught very beautiful things as children that we’re forgetting, and with the forgetting, we’re destroying the economy and ecology, and we’re planting seeds of destruction.”

Funding comes from a Wisconsin foundation devoted to “health and higher consciousness.” Another backer is the MacArthur Fund for Arts and Culture, administered by the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation in Chicago. Angotti augments the festival with outreach programs, including a 15-week screening series for eighth graders at Josephine Locke Elementary School.

Children are the focus of five short documentaries. “Ru (Water is Life)” observes 12 year-old Jina Teji hauling water in South Sudan. “Children of Kabul” portrays very young Afghans at work; the filmmakers seek funds to send them to school. “If they stay in school, Kenya’s adolescent girls could boost their economy $27.4 billion,” claim the makers of “Graceland Girls.” Ten years after 9/11, “Right There: A Short Film About Tolerance” interviews students who witnessed the World Trade Center attack through the windows of their elementary school.

Several longer documentaries use the theme of the journey. The crew of “Amazon Gold” ventures into the rainforest to expose gold miners. “Dancing Salmon Home” travels with Native Americans to New Zealand where salmon from California now thrive. “Pad Yatra: A Green Odyssey” chronicles a Himalayan trek to raise eco-consciousness at 17,000 feet. The leader is His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa, who teaches: “Life is nothing but a dream. We all are dreaming. One might as well have a good dream.”

Christian characters pray a lot in “Not Today,” a slick drama backed by a California church. An entitled 20 year-old named Caden (Cody Longo) goes to party in Hyderabad, India, but encounters an “untouchable” Dalit girl sold by her father. A title card declares: “Slavery is real. It can be stopped.”

Myths and proverbs figure into other films. A dispatch on Syria borrows a Kikuyu saying for its subtitle: “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” In the Mexican drama “180 Grados,” a father tells his son “stories of small men that could beat giants.”

Also recommended is “Uprising,” which details how a Facebook page and Mahatma Gandhi helped 20 million Egyptians rebel against 30 years of harsh rule.

The most curious premiere is “The Other Side of the Mountain,” about a North Korean nurse and a South Korean soldier who fall in love during the Korean War. Shot in North Korea, this sentimental epic of long-separated lovers offers a plea for re-unification. Less sentimentally, “The Second Cooler” bluntly asks, “Who benefits from illegal immigration?” The title refers to a refrigerated morgue that Arizona’s Pima County installed for all the immigrants dying in the desert.

Nine public service announcements made by Mayors Against Illegal Guns will screen. One shows a retired general urging: “Guns belong on the battlefield.” His military peers add: “Assault weapons are weapons of war. Not for cowards to use in movie theaters, in classrooms or on our streets.” In another one, a survivor recalls the Aurora, Colo., multiplex slaughter as “nothing like you see in movies.”

Yet the movies are just where Nick Angotti imagines change for the better. His film, “180 Grados,” ends in a theater where the all the characters converge to watch a movie. “Can one truly change?” asks the introspective hero.

The Peace on Earth Film Festival finds how-to films to make happy endings happen in the world.

Bill Stamets is a Chicago free-lance writer and reviewer.

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