And Now for a Bit of Good News: La Guarimba International Film Fest

The 2014 program seems to run through a very specific leitmotif, a theme that asks the audience, but also the human race in general to respect the environment around us -- before it overtakes us.
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"I'm asked that a lot: 'James, is there really a continuing spiritual renaissance occurring on this planet? Look at all the conflict, look at the wars.' And I believe, yes, we're still moving toward a deeper spirituality. It's personal. It's grassroots. It's everybody trying to get their own connection made, and from there it grows out." -- James Redfield

I have always been in love with the word "grassroots". Perhaps because it represents an almost utopian concept of power to the people, that glorious idea that if only a few individuals get together, ready to cooperate, inspire each other and employ a bit of elbow grease, their community can be changed for the better. Without the help of sweet-talking politicians, prepotent financiers and all around egocentrics.

But for me, an ideal has to be made real, tangible before I can truly appreciate it. And thanks to the young, enthusiastic, cinema-loving folks at La Guarimba, an upcoming free-admissions film festival to be held in Amantea -- a sleepy, historic seaside town in the Calabria region of Italy -- in a couple of days that idea comes true.

Some personal background on how I came to know of this festival. I heard about Giulio Vita, their Artistic Director, from a businessman in Abu Dhabi, in early 2013. The team of La Guarimba, a word that means "safe place" to the Venezuelan Indios, were trying to revamp an old 900-seat outdoor movie arena, and start a shorts film festival, their first edition to take place in the summer of 2013. This promised not to be such an easy task, as Calabria isn't exactly known for its wealth during these difficult times for Italy as a whole, the last thing Amanteans wanted to do was spend their hard-earned money on movies and Vita was even getting word that local politicians may end up wanting to get involved, the very opposite of what an independent film festival needs.

Over a long and insightful Skype conversation between the Emirati businessman, his manager, Vita and myself, I learned of La Guarimba's mission, and fell in love with its soul. Jumping off the computer screen, I could feel the infectious passion Vita felt and was willing to share with Amantea and the world, for truly independent, entertaining, life-changing films. Plus, their motto to bring "cinema to the people and the people to the cinema" was one near and dear to my own heart. And so started, as they say in the movies, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

With some financing from the Emirati businessman, Vita and his team of "Guarimberos" -- as they affectionately call anyone who has ever lent a hand to their cause -- managed a great festival in 2013, reenergizing the community and getting many local businesses to be involved. From the local coffee shop to the largest supermarket chain in Italy, the support for this cinema movement has been deservedly great.

In an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica in July 2013, Vita spoke with his usual passion for true, deep, beautiful cinema (no Transformers need apply). He suggested to, "show movies everywhere. Go to bars and organize screenings there, down abandoned streets and in the squares." Then continued, "but in particular, broadcast them to those who seem less interested, those who no longer believe in cinema. A society in the dark can only be changed by turning on the light. And it doesn't make sense to make movies among the "enlightened" all the while criticizing those who remain in the dark." Vita then concluded, offering a solution perhaps to all world issues, "we must spread our cinema everywhere, without judging the audience but educating them with love."

This year, La Guarimba has clearly found its wings and boasts among its partners the Ismailia International Film Festival, a personal favorite for documentaries and short films held each year under the artistic direction of Egyptian producer and writer Mohamed Hefzy. Ismailia offers for the Amantea audiences a special program of four short films from Egypt by Mohammad Hammad, Sherif El Bendary, Ahmed Shawky and Ayten Amin.

The other special programs in this year's edition of the festival include the European premiere of The Devotion Project, six short documentaries directed by New York filmmaker Tony Osso (whose father is originally from Amantea) which celebrate the love and devotion of LGBTQ couples, the "I Didn't Understand It" series curated by Carlo Migotto and Viviana Carlet of the Lago Film Fest, and an anthology of shorts by the Argentinian Juan Pablo Zaramella, who heads the jury. A taste of Zaramella's work is worth the watch, it is visually haunting, impertinent and featured below.

The 2014 program seems to run through a very specific leitmotif, a theme that asks the audience, but also the human race in general to respect the environment around us -- before it overtakes us. With the recent wars, invasions, flooding and fires around the world, that message couldn't come at a more appropriate time.

Personal favorites include the animated Oripeaux (Faded Fineries), by Sonia Gerbeaud and Mathias de Panafieu about how all that divides us from animals sometimes is simply walking upright, and the short narrative De Honger (The Hunger), a Belgian film by Benoit De Clerck about a boy, a rabbit, the sea and something he should have never seen.

There will also be a concurrent art exhibit showcasing alongside the festival titled "Artists for La Guarimba" featuring a series of film posters designed by world artists and film enthusiasts, curated by festival designer and artist Sara Fratini.

And, finally, there is a documentary teaser titled About the Resistance, which highlights the struggles of the Guarimberos in putting the festival together throughout the past couple of years.

La Guarimba runs from August 7th through the 14th. For the complete line-up and more information, check out the festival's website.

Top image courtesy of La Guarimba, used with permission

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