I can describe it in only one word: amazing!
But I will use the rest of this blog entry (729 words in all) to describe it more fully. Of course, part of the reason it was so incredible was that I was serving on the Ecumenical Jury, and so was able to see all the films in competition, and share insights with five other faith-filled and perceptive jury members.
Here is the Ecumenical Jury on the red carpet going into the opening ceremony. From left to right, Niquette Delage (Canada), Julia Laggner (Austria), Ed McNulty (USA), myself (USA), Gabriella Lettini (Italy), Connie Purvis (Canada).
I understand from anecdotes of other festival attendees that Montreal’s World Film Festival has a reputation for films that are intense. Overall, I found the selection for the official competition to be both artistic and concerned with social issues (such as war, suicide, troubled relationships and domestic abuse). In contrast to the star-studded “glitz” of the Toronto International Film Festival, the World Film Fest seems less about the marketplace and more about celebrating the films themselves.
For some people, I guess the question would be–why would a Roman Catholic sister go to a film festival? In my interview with Salt & Light Radio, I voiced aloud how powerful film can be for us to reflect on what it means to be human. As one of the most beautiful and complex of the arts, film has unique potential to open us to God—through its compelling use of story, image, sound, and music.
For many people, it is easy to discover the reflection of God in great works of art. (Pope John Paul II, in his Letter to Artists, encourages both viewers and artists to view art as lighting up our journey towards God.) As a writer myself, I am fascinated by how art can bring us to deeper insights about ourselves, about our human condition, and about God.
As a jury member, I had an additional reason to be there: to award a film which raises awareness of the transcendent dimensions of life, portrays spiritual, social or human values, and contributes to human progress.
Almost all of the films included striking portraits of characters that I could sympathize with. And yet, many struggled with a sense of hopelessness because their landscape–and the landscapes of the films themselves–were purely horizontal. Without a sense of the transcendent, without a sense that there is more to life than what we can see, the bleakness and emptiness seems to take over.
Against this bleak background of films about the desperation and pain of the human condition, several films stood out for their sense of hope and of striving for true justice. The two films which received recognition from the Ecumenical Jury were truly outstanding.
Korkoro, about the persecution of the Roma people (also known as gypsies) during World War II, received special mention because even though its story was tragic, it also inspired. The sense of community of the Roma people and their caring for each other, even under the pressure of persecution, was deeply moving. And the heroism of some of the French villagers who risked their lives for the survival of that small Roma caravan also pointed to a belief in a justice that goes beyond that of earth.
The German film Ceasefire (Waffenstillstand) received the Ecumenical Prize because “of its focus on human suffering in war, and because it offers a different perspective from the usual war reporting. First-time feature director Lancelot Von Naso skillfully places the viewer directly into the situation of the protagonists through the cinematography. The movie challenges the audience to examine their perspective on the consequences of war and our responsibility in the face of human suffering.” First-time feature director Lancelot von Naso received the Ecumenical Prize at the Montreal World Film Festival.
It was wonderful to be able to talk with the director after the press conference about his film and the many challenges that he and his crew faced in making it. I hope that Ceasefire will cross the ocean and be distributed in North America.
Participating fully in Montreal’s World Film Festival was not just enjoyable but a wonderful way to broaden my knowledge of international film, and to serve the film community by highlighting films that offer compassion and hope.