Peace may be as fragile and elusive as the dove that symbolizes it, but Orlando's Global Peace Film Festival has proven to be made of hardier stock.
The festival, which opens Tuesday, Sept. 18, is marking its 10th year of film, art and discussions of the concept of peace in all its forms — not just in a global context but on a personal level.
Not bad for a festival that almost folded before it began a decade ago.
"I didn't think I'd make it to No. 2," says executive director Nina Streich about the fest's longevity. "It's pretty shocking. Well, not shocking, maybe, but 'Wow, where did the time go?'"
The festival was founded in 2003 by a New York businessman, who chose Orlando as the setting because he had connections here. But as the festival drew near, the businessman ran into trouble: He was under investigation for fraud, and his assets were frozen.
"It was very touch and go," Streich recalls. "I slashed the budget every way I could."
The festival came together, though, and the following year Streich decided to carry on without her original backer, who would later be convicted on fraud and terrorism-financing charges.
"I find Orlando a fascinating place, full of contradictions," says Streich, a former deputy film commissioner for New York City. "It's a very young city, it has so much potential. It's a crossroads of the world — everybody comes here."
The diversity of Orlando's population appeals to her.
"I live on the upper west side of Manhattan, where there isn't too much diversity of opinion," she says. "I learn more down here. It sharpens my own opinions."
She hopes people of all philosophies and political opinions will find something to intrigue them at the festival.
"I'm interested in pulling in somebody who may disagree with what we present," she says. "If you want to talk about peace you can't just talk to people who agree with you."
When Streich talks peace, she isn't just thinking of diplomats drawing up a treaty in a far-off land.
"The festival can defy what most people think of as 'peace,'" she says. "Most people have a very narrow definition of 'peace.' I like to make a broad definition."
The films reflect that attitude, dealing with inner peace, recovery and factors that contribute to peace, such as developing a multicultural mindset or caring for the planet.
"Without a healthy environment, you can't have peace," Streich says. "Or at least it's harder to obtain."
Beyond the films, the festival hosts discussion sessions and a exhibit of peace-themed student artwork at Orlando's City Hall.
The festival is supported by United Arts of Central Florida, the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and Orange County's Arts & Cultural Affairs, which provided a cultural-tourism grant.
About 20 percent of attendees come from outside the metro-Orlando area, Streich said.
Attendance has been on an upswing. Last year, about 7,500 people participated, Streich says, and hopes the festival will continue to grow. Leading up to this year's opening night, she has been screening films from past years at community centers around Central Florida to give newbies a sense of the festival.
"I like to see people do things that make a positive impact," Streich says. "I see the festival as a catalyst. When people see a film, they can be inspired or outraged or engaged. The filmmakers want people to go do something. It's a chance for the audience to create change."
10th Global Peace Film Festival
When: Sept. 18-23
Where: Venues for screenings are around Central Florida.
• Cobb Plaza Cinema Café, 155 S. Orange Ave., Orlando
• Florida A&M University School of Law, 201 Beggs Ave., Orlando
• Winter Park Public Library, 460 E. New England Ave., Winter Park
• SunTrust Auditorium, inside the Bush Executive Center, and Cornell Fine Arts Museum; both at Rollins College, 1000 Holt Ave., Winter Park
• Winter Park Plaza, 330 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park
• Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida, 851 N. Maitland Ave., Maitland
• Valencia College Winter Park Campus, 850 W. Morse Blvd., Winter Park
Tickets: $8 per film. Festival passes to all films and events start at $99.
• Panel discussions include an interfaith dialogue, a look at media coverage of peace and environmental issues and a talk with filmmakers who are in the festival.
• A student peace art exhibit will be displayed in the rotunda of Orlando's City Hall on Orange Avenue during the festival.
• The opening-night party will be at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18, at Bajalia, 520 S. Park Ave., Winter Park. It will be followed by a free screening of "The Zen of Bennett" on the Green at Rollins College at 8:30 p.m.
Schedule and more information: peacefilmfest.orgCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times