The Garifuna International Film Festival, devoted to the world’s indigenous peoples, returns to Venice

By Michael Aushenker

 “Children of War” chronicles the rehabilitation of former child soldiers in Uganda

“Children of War” chronicles the rehabilitation of former child soldiers in Uganda

Sometimes foreign films put off American viewers through unintentional cross-cultural confusion.

The Garifuna International Film Festival, happening May 22 through May 25 at the Electric Lodge in Venice, may be the first cinematic experience to willingly urge viewers to get lost in translation.

This weekend marks the fourth consecutive year that Freda and Stephen Sideroff have produced their festival devoted to the world’s indigenous peoples, now screening 20 feature documentaries.

Through specific cultural narratives, the festival shines a light on the universal aspects of the human condition, festival founder and director Freda Sideroff told The Argonaut last year.

Sideroff’s festival intends “to heal the divide between nations, thereby transcending petty politics and borders,” she said. “Many of us come from a place of that we are different. A part of what the experience of this film festival is that we are more alike than we are different.”

The festival takes its name from “the name of my culture, my people, my language,” said Belize-born Sideroff, whose lineage includes West Africans intermarried with the indigenous Arawak and Carib peoples of South America. Her people are referred to as Garinagu —members of the diaspora of the Garifuna.

In addition to film screenings, Sideroff’s Garifuna Foundation also welcomes guest speakers to help anchor the three-day event.

This weekend features keynote addresses by best-selling author Marianne Williamson, actress Helena Cardona and San Bernardino City Unified School District Police Chief Joseph Paulino.

A popular self-improvement lecturer who captured a fair share of Westside votes in a congressional bid last year, Williamson founded Project Angel Food, a program inspired by Meals on Wheels that serves homebound people battling AIDS.

A citizen of America, France and Spain, Cardona was partially the inspiration for Nicole Kidman’s character in the 2005 Sydney Pollack drama “The Interpreter.” Cardona also co-wrote and sang “Lucienne” in 2001’s “Serendipity,” starring John Cusack.

Paulino, celebrated for his problem-solving skills, oversees 26 police officers and 55 campus security personnel dedicated to the safety of 53,000 students.

Author and teacher Deena Metzger speaks prior to the festival’s opening ceremony on Friday.

International art and music, including a Garifuna Jazz Ensemble, also accompany the festival’s cinematic experiences. VIP events from 6 to 9 p.m. each night include filmmaker discussion panels in-between screenings.

Adding to the event’s rising prestige, city and state officials are declaring May 26 “Garifuna Film Day.”

Across three festivals, Garifuna Film Festival has presented a wide berth of documentary entries covering myriad cultures. This year is no different.

The 2015 roster includes “Languages Matters” a documentary by David Grubin with Bob Holman that explores threats to the existence of various languages around the world; Katia Paradis’ “Three Kings of Belize,” which delivers a personal exploration of three unique cultures — Creole, Maya and Garifuna —through cultural and musical tradition; and “Persistence of Vision” by Kevin Schreck, which purports to tell the story of the greatest animated film never made.

Anne Makepeace’s “We Still Live Here” depicts the return of Wampanoag, a language silenced for more than a century, while Bryan Single’s “Children of War,” filmed in northern Uganda across three years, trails former child soldiers as they escape the battlefield and enter rehabilitation.

Narrated by actress Daryl Hannah and set to the music of Elephant Revival and Michael Franti, “Arise” offers cinematic portraits of women around the world who are coming together to heal injustices.

“Salud” examines contemporary human values and health issues through the lens of cash-strapped communist Cuba, chronicling the hearts and minds of 28,000 Cuban health professionals serving in 68 countries, including the United States.

“Aluna” made with the cooperation of the Kogi tribe indigenous to Colombia, explores the consequences of man’s degradation of the planet.

“Mount Everest Ice Fall,” shot with a helmet-mounted GoPro camera, explores 16 Sherpa deaths in the perspective of the climber.

Actor Martin Sheen narrates “Holy Man: The U.S.A. vs. Douglas White,” the story of a Lakota man caught up in the American justice system with charges of sexual abuse.

Other titles include “The Fight to Forgive: From Child Soldiers to Peace Builders” by Everyday Gandhis, “Seeds to Freedom” by the Gaia Foundation, and “Revolutionary Medicine” by Beth Geglia and Jesse Elliot.

The Garifuna International Film Festival happens at the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. Tickets are $10 for individual screenings, $20 for VIP events, $95 for a one-day all-access pass, $180 for a two-day pass and $250 for the whole festival. Call (310) 663-5813 or visit for show times and tickets.