Moving images of spirituality
The festival, open to the public, included movies made by professional and amateur filmmakers from Canada and the United States.
The pictures were presented in four categories: short and feature fiction, and short and feature documentary. Entries could include film, digital and analog video, and animation.
Supported by the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Edmonton, "The Cause and Effect Baha'i Film Festival" (known as "CEBFest") was held from 6 to 8 November 2003 on the campus of the University of Alberta.
Among the themes explored at the festival were the spiritual nature of human beings, the equality of men and women, the elimination of prejudice, world peace, life after death, the harmony of science and religion, and the history of the Baha'i Faith.
In a workshop organized at the Edmonton Baha'i center, the festival participants also examined ideas on filmmaking. A panel discussion was also held on the role of individual initiative within the Baha'i community, and the importance of the arts.
The organizers of the festival were University of Alberta law student Tara Rout, 25, playwright Jacqueline Russell, 23, and film director Tobin Smith, 26.
"We wanted to create a venue for motion pictures that revolve around virtues and attributes of the Baha'i Faith, a place where Baha'i artists could showcase their work," she said.
Mr. Smith said the festival also gave artists and filmmakers an opportunity to meet and exchange ideas and to plan collaboration for future projects.
"I think festivals like this say to filmmakers: 'You have a place and you are not alone'," he said.
His film, "Song of Songs", won the Best International Picture award at the New York Independent Film and Video Festival in 2002, and he has strong views about the role of cinema in society.
"It is important to make motion pictures that don't contribute to the 'lack of quality cinema' -- to make movies that lead you to think, to contemplate, and to raise influence," he said.
"As Baha'i artists we have the opportunity to make motion pictures that are of a particular standard, a quality -- to share the history of the Baha'i Faith, to share the principles of the Baha'i Faith, to share the vision of what we hope for the future.
Baha'i filmmakers can contribute to spirituality in film, he said, even if the film doesn't involve explicitly Baha'i content.
"Take a look at a motion picture like 'What Dreams May Come'. Nowhere is there mention of religion or any such design, but that motion picture exists on a spiritual plane. I'd say the same for 'Whale Rider'. Here is a motion picture that strongly influenced and affected me. It was spiritual filmmaking to me."
Gretchen Jordan-Bastow, who submitted a film about Navajo sand painting, said that the event provided a rare opportunity to people to see films together, in one place that demonstrated moral, social and spiritual values.
"Today the media is full of news of murder, war, and various violent acts -- this beats down society and is a discouragement to the human spirit," said Ms. Bastow, who has worked as a producer and director for more than 16 years.
"Baha'i films can bring to the forefront all the good work that is being done, and demonstrate the triumph of the human spirit," said Ms. Jordan-Bastow.
"From my understanding, the Baha'i concept of art is inclusive rather than exclusive," said Ms Rout, 26, a fine arts graduate who is now an architecture student.
"It is inspiring, useful, a part of everyday life. It enhances our world, reminds us of our true purpose and of our noble character.
"The spiritual nature of the theme (of the festival) is quite different from mainstream festivals and this is a unique opportunity.
"Artists and filmmakers tend to work independently and don't get a chance to see the impact of their work. By bringing these films together, the combined energies and perspective is inspiring to both the audience and the filmmakers."
Another participating filmmaker was Ramin Eshraghi-Yazdi, whose film, "When Your Spirit Goes Wandering", deals with escapism and the denial of one's spiritual nature.
He said that films are possible tools of social advancement.
"Art must have a purpose and function beyond itself -- either to provoke thought, encourage consultation or elevate the spirit through aesthetic form," Mr. Eshraghi-Yazdi said.
Most of the filmmakers received funding for their productions from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Canada Film Board, and Vision TV, Canada's leading multi-faith and multicultural television network.
Encouraged by the interest showed by participants, the organizers are planning to hold weekend workshops on story boarding, film editing, grant applications, and other practical issues related to film making throughout the next year.
Although initially the festival began as an experimental project only, the organizers now have a vision for CEBFest and they are already planning for next year's festival.
"I myself know about four movies that didn't get in because of the deadline -- this is just the beginning," Tara Rout said.
"I am hoping that people, who have come to the festival, will feel welcomed to the Baha'i community because it's an open, dynamic, and exciting place to be."
For more information about the festival see http://www.geocities.com/cebfest/index.htm Films presented at "The Cause and Effect Baha'i Film Festival" 2003 were:
BWC-EK-031117-1-FILM-258-N©Copyright 2003, Baha'i World News Service