[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: John Paul II Film Festival

Monday, October 26, 2009

John Paul II Film Festival

Starting this weekend, the John Paul II Film Festival will be running in theaters all across Miami-Dade County.

Why I am bringing this up? Aside from the concept, which I think is fantastic, what makes me proud is the fact that the event organizers attend the same church I do. We've been following the progress of the festival since its creation early this year, and their faith, motivation and drive in putting this together has been nothing short of inspirational to me and my fellow parishoners.

The Miami Herald did a nice story on the festival which is included below in its entirety (thanks Herald). Further proof that faith, sacrifice and spirituality is alive and well in Miami:

There's no shortage of film festivals in Miami: Colombian, Black, Brazilian, and Gay and Lesbian, to name a few.

This week, a trio of young Miamians will bring something different to the region's big-screen scene: a religious, interfaith film festival modeled after the life of a popular pope. The John Paul II International Film Festival, which kicks off Thursday and runs through Nov. 7, includes films varying from God in the Streets of NYC, a short on Jesus on the streets of New York City, and God in China, a documentary on religion and politics among the Chinese, to The 13th Day, a feature on the memoirs of a 20th-century Portuguese nun.

``There seemed to be a hunger for films with meaning rather than just sex drugs and rock 'n' roll,'' said Laura Alvarado, a 25-year-old actress who teaches at Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart in Coconut Grove. Alvarado and two friends from a youth group at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Kendall brainstormed the festival nine months ago and were able to raise $40,000 in donations.

``At first, we thought, `Oh man, our name is John Paul II, people are going to get turned off,' '' Alvarado said.

Instead, dozens of people, including rabbis and Protestant ministers, have been promoting the event around South Florida houses of worship. More than 100 films were submitted this summer by directors from Miami to the United Kingdom. Thirty were chosen to be shown at theaters across Miami-Dade, including a Jewish community center in Kendall. Organizers said they came together through their interest in the former pope, who was an actor and playwright as a young Polish man and was known for his interfaith accomplishments.


``It didn't matter what your background was for John Paul II. He was the first pope to really try to cross that bridge and reach out to all the faiths,'' said organizer Rafael Anrrich, a 39-year-old therapist from Kendall. ``We're trying to do the same.''

As a pope, John Paul II made strides by improving the Catholic church's relations with the Jewish community -- including his historical visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem -- and was the first pope to visit a mosque. He also met with Buddhist and Anglican leaders.

Festival submissions were not required to be about specific religions but did need to have a spiritual element. Many are about crossing boundaries, faith-related or otherwise. As We Forgive is about Rwandan women who attempt to confront and forgive the men who killed their families during a brutal genocide, while The Boy in the Striped Pajamas portrays a friendship that develops between a Jewish boy in a concentration camp and the son of a Nazi commander.

``People can get into theological arguments, but at the end, we're all human beings. We want to bring that idea to film and show how much love and passion there is in art,'' said Frank Brennan, a 24-year-old English major at Florida International University and an independent filmmaker. Brennan said he grew up in a nominally Catholic family and didn't begin to embrace his faith until three years ago when he attended a religious retreat on a whim. Now, he regularly attends Our Lady of Lourdes and helps organize monthly prayer sessions at the church for the film festival.


``If I had something like this sort of festival when I was younger, I think I would feel more comfortable with learning about different faiths,'' he said.

In 1987, John Paul II made a historical visit to South Florida and spoke to tens of thousands of locals and pilgrims at Tamiami Park near Florida International University, where a handful of the film festival screenings will take place.

``Now,'' said Anrrich, ``he's coming back.''


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