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Film Reviews by Lisa Blanck
Global Peace Film Festival 2023
| Friday, 10.27.2023, 09:21 PM |   (256 views)

Tacuma Jackson, Split Jury

The Global Peace Film Festival has called Orlando home since 2003.  The annual event highlights documentaries, narrative full lengths and shorts whose ideas help promote peace and well-being. The films feature stories about individuals as well as stories with universal themes.  

2023 will be the last at the helm for Founder and Festival Director Nina Streich, who had decided to hand over the reins and take on an advisory role after this year. 

Below are some of the films I was able to squeeze in, either at the Festival or at home on Vimeo, with the kind cooperation of the many Directors and Producers attached to each project.   

We Support You?

Erin Laine, a filmmaker based in Orlando, FL, journeyed to Krakow, Poland, to see how the war in Ukraine is being portrayed in a country other than here in America.  What she found was that language plays a huge part in how the war is viewed and interpreted.  For example, Russia views Ukraine and Ukrainians as “Little Russians.”  Ukrainians never called themselves that.   The stark reality: Russia has banned the use of the Ukrainian language more than 150 times. For years, Putin-lead Russians have campaigned to make the Ukrainian people feel inferior.

Laine also explores the similarities between how Hitler’s Germany tried to systematically erase a people, and how Putin is attempting to do the same, especially through the use of wide-spread propaganda.

This Doc Short puts a human face on the rising cost of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the small victories that make the Ukrainians struggle bearable.  This war may no longer be top of mind for some people in the US, but it hasn’t ended for those still fighting for their lives and their homeland.


Deciding Vote

In NY in the late 1960’s, hundreds of women died each year from self-inflicted or non-doctor supervised abortions.  Deciding Vote, a documentary directed by Jeremy Workman and Robert J. Lyons, details what happened immediately before and after Democratic Assemblyman George Michaels held to his moral and social conscience and, in 1970, voted to legalize abortion for the women of his state.  With these words, “What’s the use of getting reelected if you don’t stand for something”, he gave women the choice we all deserve; to live our lives as we see fit.  

Michaels’ words certainly enabled the passing of Roe V Wade, because in 1973, abortion was legalized by the Supreme Court, rendering anti-abortion laws in 46 states unconstitutional.  

For the two weeks following NY State vote, which was signed into law by Governor Rockefeller, the screaming anti-abortionist minority hounded Congressman Michaels.   After that, they went silent.  More importantly, for decades, women whose lives benefitted from his bold move, never stopped sending letters in thanks.

50 years later, with the dissolution of RvW, history is repeating itself; unfortunately, the loudest minority voices are now back in control, deciding the fate of women across the country, as well as overseas in our military.  It remains to be seen how much of our country will be able to negate the angertainment-driven voice of the religious minority, for a second time.

Split Jury is a case study about restorative justice.  in Oregon in 2001, Tacuma Jackson was convicted of first-degree robbery and kidnapping, but the jury decision was not unanimous.  At the time, only two states allowed non-unanimous convictions, Louisiana and Oregon.   In 2020, SCOTUS ruled that nonunanimous juries are unconstitutional of any felony short of murder.  So would people who were now considered to have been unconstitutionally jailed and released have their records retroactively cleared?

This documentary explores the facts.  Twenty-five years ago, many of the courtroom decisions were anti-immigrant, anti-black, anti-Jewish.  Unfortunately, in 2023 in many states, history is repeating itself.  Extreme right wing Governors are once again looking backwards in an attempt to control the legal narrative. 

For example, in 2023, Governor DeSantis of Florida created an “election task force”, assigned to hunt down ex-felons who have been led to believe they have had their ability to legally vote returned to them.  The majority of these cases are prosecutions of  people of color. Though the Governor has forced the courts to prosecute these cases, many are found by justices to be without merit. An important film that should be seen by anyone currently fighting openly racist governmental decisions. For Tacuma, and the thousands like him, justice delayed is justice denied. 

Keys Bags Names Words is an emotionally moving, but not treacly documentary that takes you into the hearts and minds of people currently living with dementia, along with the effect the disease has on their spouses, families and friends.  

As the world's population ages, more people will be affected by dementia and Alzheimer's. These diseases are universal problems and it will get worse until all countries start sharing their research.  Alzheimer's and dementia cause marriages to suffer the loss of a partner, though their body is still physically alive.  As tragic as these situations are, Producer/Director Cynthia Stone and Editor/Co-Producer Linda Peckham chose not to focus solely on the negativity a dementia diagnosis brings, but shed light on the positivity that can be found through art, music, photography, dance and exercise. 

Ukraine, The Other Front Line
Since I work in news, I took a personal interest in seeing Ukraine, The Other Front Line. Documentarian Director Laurent Jaoui was allowed exclusive access to what was going on inside Ukranian tv channel ICTV at the start of the Russian infiltration into their homeland.  

Working in news in Florida, you get used to not being able to return home during hurricanes. Wall-to-wall coverage is the norm.  You have some advance notice.  You pack a bag, you sleep at the station for maybe a couple of nights at the most.  In Kyiv, staffers both behind and in front of the camera showed up to work on February 24th, 2022, blind to the knowledge that they would, in many instances, not be able to return to their homes and families for months.  That was the fateful day that Russia invaded their country.  

Jaoui's documentary ramps up the tension to level 2000.  You don't just have strong winds and rain keeping you inside.  These newspeople have bombs flying overhead.  They broadcast from shelters in the basement.  The front that started 80 kilometers away is now 20 .. now only eight km to the frontline.  The fear of chemical weapons use is constant.

Bodies litter the streets, but the film does not dwell on that.  Instead, it focuses on the living. Those who choose to stay and defend their country, those who have nowhere else to go, and those who continue reporting the truth of what is happening around them.  

The newspeople sleep where they can, forming a "collective", a family.  They share food, stories, sleeping quarters and comraderie, ignoring the threat of death from the skies as best they can.  It gives them the strength to keep on going, to keep on reporting, though they know their stations are being targeted for attack.  The film is a chilling view on what it takes to survive when war has kicked in your front door. 

Director June Beallor's 2020 Chaos And Hope explores one extremely turbulent year in the US.  The film opens with a quote by Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, who delivered Joe Biden's 2021 inauguration poem.   

2020 was a boiling point for America. It was the year of one notable murder, as well as hundreds of thousands of nameless, needless deaths.  

It was the year that the murder of one black man in Minnesota heralded an uprising against injustice that was heard around the world.  It was also the year that the intentional politicalization of a deadly disease needlessly took the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

2020 takes on the politicalization of Covid.  The rise of disinformation pushed the death toll skyward, while victims of racial and economic inequality bore the brunt of the scourge.  Medical practitioners, tired of seeing the daily inequalities in the healthcare system, organized into coalitions such as White Coats for Black Lives, shedding light into what was happening inside American hospitals.

"I can't breathe".  George Floyd's dying words were the shout heard round the world that same year.  2020 explores the national and international uprisings that grew out of his murder, which proved that democracy can move forward.  That change is possible.  

2020 also explores the demonization of immigrants by the Trump administration.  There was no logic.  The cruelty was the entire point.  The year rocketed Qanon conspiracy theorists into the mainstream.  Facebook algorithms 'recommended' that you join new emerging groups that soon devolved into hate groups.  Why?  To push their advertising and revenue streams into the stratosphere.   Undermining our democratic principles took center stage when Donald Trump pushed his supporters to try to undermine the 2020 election results.  The MAGA teams launched and lost more than 60 lawsuits in courtrooms around the country.

Sadly, Ms. Gorman's uplifting poem is now banned in some public schools in the State of Florida, robbing children of the chance to find their voice.  America takes one step forward, one step back. 

So how do we, as a nation, continue to move forward yet never forget what we learned?  While politicians push lies that threaten to topple America and her values?  The film brings us to the onset of the insurrection in the Capitol, condensing 12 months of struggle into an electrifying 95 minutes. 

The Global Peace Film Festival brings many inspiring and educational films to audiences that would otherwise have limited screening opportunities.  I hope that the stories they tell have some influence on the future of America.  If we, as a nation, believe that relishing our past is the best way to move us forward, we'll never get to where we need to be as a country. 

Lisa Blanck is the Associate Editor and Movie Reviewer for In  Her background includes 30+ years of digital editing for WESH2 News and WKMG News.  She also edits on-air promotional spots for Matter Of Fact, the number one nationally syndicated news and information program.  For more than 30 years she has covered the Florida Film Festival and the World Peace Film Festival, with additional experience in advertising, marketing, promotions and live special events at MTV Networks.  She was previously a columnist for the Focus In Newspaper and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida.  

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