The Garifuna International Film Festival in Venice celebrates indigenous cultures from around the world
By Michael Aushenker
This weekend marks the third straight year that Freda and Stephen Sideroff have produced their Garifuna International Film Festival, an event devoted to the world’s indigenous peoples in which 20 documentary screenings span three days at the Electric Lodge in Venice.
By way of specific cultural narratives, the festival shines a light on universal aspects of the human condition, filmmaker Freda Sideroff 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,” she said.
Garifuna takes its name from “the name of my culture, my people, my language,” said Belize-born Sideroff, whose lineage includes West Africans who intermarried with the indigenous Arawak and Carib peoples of South America. She said her people are referred to as Garinagu — people in the diaspora of the Garifuna.
This year’s Garifuna Film Festival entries were filmed in Guatemala, Colombia, Iran, Uganda and, in the case of two entries — Kara Rhodes’ “Bridge Waters,” involving Eskimo tribes, and “Africans on the Move The Maroons”— Greenland and Belize, respectively.
Among the highlights:
“We Still Live Here” documents how the Wampanoag people of North America lost their language and how they are recovering it.
“Finding Samuel Lowe” follows Harlem-raised Paula Madison, of Jamaican-Chinese descent and owner of the Africa Channel, on a search for estranged relatives in China.
“Revolutionary Medicine” describes the free health care system built by the Garifuna people, a feat achieved without regular access to electricity, Sideroff marvels.
Accompanying the festival’s cinematic experience is international art and music, including the Garifuna Jazz Ensemble and a pair of keynote speakers: Piper Dellums, a women’s rights activist and daughter of former Congressman Ron Dellums; and Honduras’ Lina Martinez, who started a woman’s cooperative where the women of her Garifuna village are hired to prepare ereba, a native root-based food of the Awaks and Caribs.
VIP events from 6 to 9 p.m. on each night include discussions by filmmakers in between screenings.
This weekend also marks the return of Victoria Mudd’s Academy Award-winning doc “Broken Rainbow,” narrated by Martin Sheen, about the plight of the Navajo and the Hopi. Mudd accompanies her film with her presentation “Images of Indians from Real to Reel,” discussing “the way they’re portrayed on screen,” Sideroff said.
Meanwhile, “The Gift of Life” traces the lives of Jews who escaped the Holocaust to end up forming a Jewish community in Shanghai.
“My husband is Jewish,” Sideroff said. “When the Jews speak of the Holocaust, the pain for all of us who have experienced pain is so magnified. We tend to think that our individual pain is more than those of other cultures.”
Longtime Marina del Rey residents, Sideroff and her husband, a clinical psychology professor at UCLA, lived at the Mariners Village apartments for 12 years before relocating to Topanga Canyon last year.
In 2012, Sideroff completed “A Conversation with my Grandfather,” a documentary about her ancestral and cultural roots. Around it grew a film festival “focusing on the preservation of indigenous culture — the breaking of bread, the sharing of common stories with how indigenous people would be affected,” she said.
In its first year, the single-day event showcased 10 films, primarily Garifuna productions. Year two saw the festival spread out across two days at Mariners Village and the Beyond Baroque Literary and Arts Center in Venice.
With the third event now spanning three days, is Sideroff shooting for a 10-day run in 2021?
“Don’t say that! My husband will freak out!” she said, laughing.
The third annual Garifuna International Film Festival happens from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Monday at Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. Tickets are $10 for screenings, $20 for VIP events, $95 for a one-day pass, $180 for two days and $250 for the weekend. Call (310) 663-5813 or visit garifunafilmfestival.com.