Let There Be Peace On Earth, And Let It Begin Onscreen

You don’t have to buy the hottest ticket in town this weekend—it’s free.

The Peace On Earth Film Festival, taking place March 6-9 at the Chicago Cultural Center, gives the public the chance to see movies they might not otherwise in its mission of “raising awareness of peace, nonviolence, social justice and an eco-balanced world.” The not-for-profit event, now in its sixth year, was established to celebrate the work of independent filmmakers from around the globe on these themes.

“If films have been on the vanguard of change since their inception, then why not foster films designed to instill awareness and the potential for change, setting in motion change in the way we perceive ourselves, each other and the planet?” asks Nick Angotti, executive director and co-founder of the festival. “We profoundly believe that it is our purpose to encourage filmmakers to continue their work in the field of peace genre; the Peace On Earth Film Festival is the cornerstone of those efforts.”

The POEFF review committee screened upwards of 145 films from around the world, narrowing the field down to just 30 selections for 2014. Attendees can look forward to entries by filmmakers from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Germany, Hungary, Ireland and the U.K., as well as Americans whose footage and sceneries focus on Korea, Iran, Indonesia, Syria, Japan, Newfoundland, Ethiopia, Israel, the Palestinian territories and the U.S.

This year’s festival will even spotlight Chicago-based films and filmmakers such as “The Painter” from Kevin and DeAnna Cooper, “The Other One” from Joseph Steif, and Oscar-nominee “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall” from Edgar Barens, all of whom will offer Q&As following their Friday screenings. In addition, there will be a Peacemakers Panel moderated by Angotti where speakers address the issues revealed by POEFF films, such as who is driving the food industry (“GMO OMG”); the effects of nuclear disaster (“Tokyo’s Belly”); and mental health, abuse and child welfare (“The Children Next Door”).

On Sunday night, organizers will honor all attending filmmakers as well as announce awards for the best in each category: Feature Documentary, Feature Narrative, Short Documentary, Short Narrative, Student Showcase and Special Screenings. A special Exposé Award will be presented for coverage of conditions and circumstances that have had little or no exposure for public awareness, while participants in the POEFF’s annual Student Voices for Peace program will select a Student Choice Award.

Since 2010, the festival’s involvement in education outreach, including its yearlong Dialogue for Peace Outreach Program, has “brought films of peace and subsequent dialogue to more than 7,300 school youth,” and at no cost, Angotti notes. These initiatives serve to engage kids in subject matter that is relevant to their lives.

It is the Peace On Earth Film Festival’s many contributors who make this link possible.

For executive producer John Marks—whose film “Under the Same Sun” teaches audiences how peace between Palestinians and Israelis would be possible with sufficient popular support and political will—the POEFF “is unique in its tenacious pursuit of showcasing films that advance the cause of peace.”

Angotti clearly agrees. “There are thousands of festivals around the world, yet so few that will impact your life, to become ‘the change you wish to see in the world,’” he says, quoting Gandhi. “Are we open to it? That is key to the age-long question: What is life about?”