PeaceJam: The DocumentaryReviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 10/22/03 01:54:47
SCREENED AT THE 2003 STARZ DENVER INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: PeaceJam: The Documentary isn't a grandiose piece of filmmaking. It isn't an artistic outing, isn't polished, isn't built to show on 4000 screens, will never be mentioned by the Academy as an Oscar contender. But in the words of director Dennis Flippin, "it's not about the movie - it's about Peace Jam." And that's reason enough for audiences across the world to bother watching.PeaceJam was one of the few positive reactions that grew from Denver's 1994 "summer of violence." An organization set up to bring disenfranchised youth together with Nobel Peace Prize winners to help the kids learn what makes great people great, the idea could so easily have been never realized as founders Ivan Suvanjieff and Dawn Engle struggled to get the project off the ground.
Heck, if just one single kid managed to crawl out of poverty because PeaceJam did their job, that'd make the project worthwhile. But ten years later, almost 50,000 kids have been through the PeaceJam system, with thousands reporting their lives have improved as a result. And that's where Flippin and Engle's documentary begins.
Anyone who has seen Bowling for Columbine knows how Richard Castaldo is. He'd be the kid who took a half clip of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris' bullets at the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. As part of Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore took Castaldo and several other teenage shooting victims to the headquarters of K-Mart and shamed the corporation into removing bullets from their shelves. It was a small victory for those who believe in the theory that less guns equals more living children, but perhaps the real victories in Castalo's life came not from Michael Moore, but from his involvement in PeaceJam.
While Castaldo was healing in hospital, it was PeaceJam contributor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta who came to Castadlo's bedside and offered up support to the ailing kid. In thanks for his time, Castaldo later headed up a program that sought to send school supplies - notebooks, pens, pencils and the like - to Horta's home nation of East Timor, which had been burned to the ground when Indonesian soldiers begrudgingly left the island when the population voted for independence the year previous.
Now Castaldo has other causes he's fighting in his life, and it could be suggested that PeaceJam managed to turn a kid who could have drifted out of life as we know it, into a potential Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Others in this documentary show similar progression. A young girl known as Jess tells how she'd been kicked out of home for refusing to stop working as an activist, living out of her car for months before her folks finally came around. Now she's one of the primary members of Peace Jam, working with Nobel winners and scores of underprivileged children, in an effort to return the favor.
PeaceJam brings a slew of other dignitaries into the lives of American children, with South African freedom fighter Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Tibetan religious leader the Dalai Lama, former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, Latin American human rights campaigner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, indigenous rights campaigner Rigoberta Menchu Tum, and many more of similar standing.
If this all sounds a little public service announcement-like, then I'm doing my job, because PeaceJam: The Documentary is very much more a PSA than a movie. The background score ranges from too boppy to almost porn-like, and the drawn out telling of the stories tends to indicate that maybe this was a 40-minute project stretched out to feature length. I personally think that's a mistake, because PeaceJam could have been a great hour of TV, and even as a slightly thin film it manages to deliver a choked back tear or two.
The problem is, if you want to have an impact on someone, you need to deliver your message smoothly, quickly and without too much messing about. PeaceJam is undeniably a valuable organization that is doing a lot of good across the world, and that's something we need to recognize and applaud, but when PeaceJam 2: The Documentary happens in a few years time, it might be worthwhile to plan things out for maximum effect.A heartstring-tugger to be sure, the downside and upside mix to create a story that should be heard by millions. Not because of the artistry involved, but just because it's darn important.
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