Moving images of spirituality

November 7, 2003

EDMONTON, Canada — Twelve films were screened at an inaugural Baha'i film festival here this month.

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.

"I am surprised that nobody has thought of it before," said Ms. Rout, the originator of CEBFest. Though not a film professional, she said she enjoys organizing events and wanted to provide a forum for this kind of filmmaking.

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Surveying the location...director Tobin Smith (left) with Dustin Lamendola.

"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.

"The influence that Baha'i films can have on the world is limitless. What people want to see are good stories, told well."

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.

Another filmmaker who presented her work was Angela Rout (a sister of Tara). Her film, "I Think You'll Like it There", deals with the excitement and the personal challenges of a youth offering a year of service to her community.

"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.

"My artistic inspiration is deeply inspired by the writings of Baha'u'llah, both in concept and function," he 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

Films presented at "The Cause and Effect Baha'i Film Festival" 2003 were:

  • The Trials of Eve by Gretchen Jordan-Bastow.
  • Myth and story-telling combine Canadian West-Coast imagery with the Adam and Eve story to create a positive vision of change and transformation for both women and men.
  • Morning Stars: A Profile of Kevin Locke by Shar Mitchell
  • Kevin Locke, an internationally renowned hoop dancer from the Sioux Nation, says that the teachings of the Baha'i Faith are the fulfillment of his people's traditional prophecies. His flute music, hoop dancing and oral traditions express some of his culture.
  • What Hath God Wrought!: A History of the First Century of the Baha'i Dispensation by Joel Cotten.
  • This documentary tells the story of the fulfillment of 19th century expectations and reveals a connection among the messianic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the Baha'i Faith.
  • Seasonal Soil...Singing Stones by Jennifer Maas.
  • The story of a diverse neighborhood in Seattle where a park to commemorate Cesar Chavez, the Latino civil rights leader, is being built.
  • Navajo Sand Painting: The Healing Tradition by Gretchen Jordan-Bastow.
  • Native American Baha'i, Mitchell Silas, takes the viewer on a journey into the ancient world of the Navajo healer and demonstrates the connection of native traditions with the Baha'i revelation.
  • Abdu'l-Baha: Glimpses of Perfection by Faramarz Rohani.
  • Visuals and narration depict stories about Abdu'l-Baha's trip to North America in 1912.
  • A New Faith is Born by Faramarz Rohani.
  • An account of the growth of the Baha'i community from a small, persecuted band of believers into a vibrant, international body.
  • Sherbrooke Baha'i Youth Congress by Tobin Smith.
  • In 2001, more than 1,000 Baha'i youth from all over the world gathered in Sherbrooke, Quebec to celebrate the international Baha'i Youth movement. This film communicates the spirit of that event and of the youth movement itself.
  • I Think You'll Like It Here by Angela Rout.
  • A young Baha'i on her year of service to the community depicts the challenges involved.
  • Skowak: The Bribri of Mojoncito, Costa Rica by Shar Mitchell.
  • A look at the Bribri people and their success at maintaining their traditions in the face of modern development.
  • Zamir: Red Grammar in the U.S.S.R by Shar Mitchell.
  • Just before the fall of communism, a Baha'i children's performer tours the Soviet Union promoting the principles of world unity and love for all humanity.
  • When Your Spirit Goes Wandering by Ramin Eshraghi-Yazdi.
  • The film deals with the cause and effect of our spiritual actions and the consequences of attempts at escape from, or denial of, our responsibilities.