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Cinema Vita means "Films for Life" | Ignatius Insight | January 11, 2008

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Film festivals are more popular than ever. A Google search for the term "film festival", for example, produces 23 million links. Some festivals specialize in a particular theme or genre (horror movies or documentaries), while many cater to independent films, some of which reflect certain cultural or ideological viewpoints. For young filmmakers, festivals can be valuable avenues for presenting their work to a wider audience and gaining financial backing, as well as the attention of critics. And well-known festivals such as Cannes (France), Sundance (United States), and Raindance (England) have a tremendous influence on the movie industry, especially in shaping critical expectations.

But what about a pro-life film festival? Has one ever been held? It doesn't appear that such a festival has ever existed—until now, with the first annual Cinema Vita Film Festival, to be held on March 7, 2008, in San Francisco.

The Cinema Vita Film Festival has been established to encourage young, emerging filmmakers and to showcase movies about contemporary issues concerning the meaning and value of life. Coordinated by the San Francisco Archdiocesan Office of Public Policy, the Oakland Diocesan Respect Life Ministry, Marriage for Life, and Ignatius Press, the festival is based on the recognition that art, especially the medium of film, shapes the popular imagination and has a tremendous influence on culture.

Eva Muntean, who works in the Ignatius Press marketing office and is co-chair of the annual Walk for Life West Coast, is on the organizing committee for the festival. "All forms of media should be used to spread the Gospel and give glory to God," she remarks. "Cinema is no different and the production of family values, pro-life movies is desperately needed to reach the masses in our modern age." She recognizes that many Christians and, more importantly, many non-Christians, are put off by poorly made or polemical films. "Why is it today that films that reflect a positive view of the family and of life are not normally well made or professional? That needs to change. Cinema Vita is a necessary step in bringing about that change."

Another organizer, Vicki Evans, who works for the Office of Public Policy & Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, says that the Cinema Vita Film Festival is meant to encourage the exploration, through cinema, of the deepest questions asked by man: "What is life? Why and how is it sacred? Where do we come from? These are questions found in every human heart. And filmmakers, through their art, are able to draw them out and explore their significance in ways that are challenging and engaging."

The recent critical and commercial success of movies ranging from Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ to Bella indicates that many people are hungry for more than ordinary cinematic eye candy; they want to see films examining difficult but vital subjects and issues. A January 5, 2008, review on www.Lifenews.com of the recently released movie Juno observes, "There are a whopping four recently released movies dealing with the theme of rejecting abortion: Juno, Bella, Knocked Up and Waitress."

Catholic author Colleen Carroll Campbell, in a December 27, 2007, column for The St. Louis-Post Dispatch notes that the writers and directors behind Juno, Knocked Up, and Waitress, "are Gen Xers raised in the wake of the sexual revolution and the legalization of abortion. Under the cover of crudeness, their comedies pointedly mock the hollow values of their postmodern upbringing: the clinical soullessness of their sex education classes, the simplistic assumption that sex is just another contact sport for which condoms offer sufficient preparation and protection and the puerile fear of commitment and disregard for human life that feed our astronomical abortion rates." While acknowledging the vulgarity and offensive material readily evident in those three movies, she writes, "Still, there is no mistaking the pro-life theme running through these stories and the cultural shift they signify."

Such a cultural shift—from a culture of death to a culture that is at least open to life—is the hope at the heart of the Cinema Vita Film Festival. Filmmakers who participate in the festival are encouraged to think of new and different ways to approach the meaning and sacredness of life. Focusing on unplanned pregnancies is just one of many possible approaches; the inherent dignity given by God to every person shines forth, for example, in the infant with cerebral palsy, down-syndrome or autistic child, the medical student, the underdog athlete, the terminally ill spouse, the frail parent, the person limited to a wheel-chair person, and the inmate on death row.

Submissions to the festival are to be 3-to-5 minute original films. They can be entered in one of three divisions: high school, college and an open category. Films will be judged based on the overall impact of their message, the storyline/plot, technical quality, and appeal to a broad audience. Prizes for each category include $250 plus valuable in-kind prizes chosen to encourage emerging filmmakers. For submission guidelines, prizes, and other information on sponsorships, timetable and prizes, please visit www.cinemavita.org or call 415-387-2324.

The Cinema Vita Film Festival will take place at the Delancey Street Theater, 600 Embarcadero, San Francisco, on Friday evening, March 7, 2008 from 6 to 10 PM. It will feature a premier presentation of the internationally acclaimed movie, After the Truth, a German film that portrays the fictional trial of Dr. Josef Mengele, the angel of death of Auschwitz. It won several awards at international film festivals and has been described by as "Gripping and surprisingly moving" (Variety) and "Utterly engrossing, provocative and impeccably acted" (Detroit Free Press).

Sponsorships are currently being sought with one of the benefits being admission to a Pre-Screening Cocktail Reception in February 26, 2008.

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:

"Bella" | Steven Greydanus
"Sometimes you just have to trust and believe" | An interview with Sydney Penny about the movie, Bernadette
The Life of the Mind | An interview with cultural critic Roger Kimball
Evangelizing With Love, Beauty and Reason | An Interview with Joseph Pearce
Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Not Quite a Movie Review | James Como
The Moral Bankruptcy of Million Dollar Baby | Mary Jane Owen
The Case Against Abortion: An Interview with Dr. Francis Beckwith | Carl E. Olson

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