A Morning At The Opera

After the opening night film, Time Out Of Mind, opened the minds of festival goers to the plight of homelessness, the Sarasota Film Festival followed it up with an incredible array of short films addressing the issues of poverty, homelessness and economic disparity. With a grant from the Bill Gates Foundations, these films were selected for a screening at the Sundance Film Festival, and were so successful at illustrating the point that the entire program was screened again here in Sarasota, a first in the world of film festivals.

The impetus for the program, and I would assume for most artists addressing social issues, was summed up in the programs promotional piece, “Creativity can expose the world, creativity can change the world.” By selecting homelessness as the theme for this year’s film festival, Mark Famiglio and the SFF programming staff have offered up a grand opportunity for Sarasota residents to take part in overcoming the epidemic of homelessness by better understanding it.

The shorts opened with Isabelle’s Garden about a young Choctaw girl living in Oklahoma, who starts her day by writing and hanging blessings around her garden before watering the plants and taking some fresh produce to her neighbors. Her methodology, “I send blessings to the earth, and the earth sends blessings to us,” is manifested when a few dozen neighbors show up to help with the garden, thereby creating abundance for all through the strength of community.

The program continued with a lesson on the ease of using complimentary currencies such as time banking in the Argentinian film The Visible Hand, a portrait of a poverty stricken nanny who travels hours to care for rich people’s children in Melody, and the story of how investing in an individual can change their life in Dropping In. The collection also included 175 Grams, which refers to the weight of a frisbee and the community that is being created in India by Ultimate Frisbee games, an incredibly eye-opening documentary about the culture that has been developed by people living under Africa’s longest bridge in A Will of Iron, and how growing and sharing food on the US border in Arizona is helping people overcome our broken, industrial food system in Man in the Maze.

Ultimately, these film offer hope for the species as we seem that in spite of difficult circumstances, people find ways to excel, connect, and find value in life beyond the limitations of money. By following the example of the Philadelpha teens in the film, The World Is As Big Or As Small As You Make It, who, when they are not practicing as a dance troupe, communicate through Skype with other teens around the world to better understand other cultures, and thereby understand their similarities, we can use creativity to make change.

After the program, Michael Dunaway hosted a panel discussion including four filmmakers, Clay and Tif Hassler of Homeless and Thomas Wirthenson & Mark Reay of Homme Less, and our own city manager Tom Barwin, about the issue of homelessness. Essentially, the panel agreed that each individual affected by homelessness has a story which needs to be heard and understood if we are to move beyond this crisis. We are given great hope, and we have great opportunity. The only question that remains is how we will respond. My hope is that we will be as heroic as the characters we saw in these films.

Steve McAllister is the author of How To Survive an Estralarian Mind Meld, the producer at Home Free, and a staff writer at Blink;Tech, among other things.

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