(June 10-16, 2011 in Aruba) “Tolerance, peace, love are truly at the heart of what makes Aruba so unique!” according to Jonathan Vieira and Giuseppe Cioccarelli, executive producers of the two-year-old (yet seemingly mature) Aruba International Film Festival. Even before you have a chance to sit down and enjoy the magical film selections by festival director Claudio Masenza and charming programmer Margherita Di Paola, you will be overwhelmed by the warm welcome when arriving at your hotel (may I dare suggest the Radison Aruba Resort, Casino and Spa, who hosted me like a movie star), not to mention any shopping and dining experiences while visiting this “Heaven on Earth.” Another proof of the natural disposition to accommodate visitors with a gentle smile -- even eccentric French directors like myself -- and make one feel part of the island is when you talk to major local politicians such as Mrs. Michelle Hooyboer-Winklaar, minister of Economic Affairs, Social Affairs and Culture, and you realize how such an important person is completely attentive to you with comments and ideas. (This is refreshing, especially coming from a country -- France -- where politicians hold themselves in such high esteem, they forget who elected them and who they are supposed to work for.)
This was my second time at the Aruba Film Festival -- a bubble of creative joy — and as an extra token of “work for pleasure,” I accepted a place on the jury of the Caribbean Spotlight Series with my fabulous colleague, Rosalie Klein (such a talented writer for The Morning News of Aruba, as well as the legendary writer from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Noël De Souza. Under the guidance of Aaron Hosé, director for this section of the Festival, we had the delicate duty to honor one feature and one short among so many grand endeavors screened during this week-long fireworks of movie excellence. Truly a daunting and even haunting dilemma for a filmmaker-journalist-human being that I am. Judging others is not my “forte,” as I just love everyone -- call it my “Christ complex” -- and truly I had to fight with myself to toughen up and come up with a few “favorites” in order to face Rosalie and Noël in a gentle duel to select a winner. At the end, we all fell truly in love with the moving Cuban-American journey of Voices from Mariel and gave it the Special Jury Award for Best Feature. In the short category, Muhe Frida from Aruba (yeah!) rose to the top, and I can only humbly salute producer/actress Alydia Wever for her mesmerizing work with this unique piece of art. Finally, we all agreed that one more film deserved well-gained attention: Fire Burn Babylon for its poignant portrait of a woman and her son challenged in their path to happiness and unity. Let’s also raise our Champagne glass to Children of God from the Bahamas, directed by genius Kareem Mortimer, which received the festival’s Audience Award. As a director myself, I know this is the most difficult to receive and the highest honor, because what ultimately counts is not just the love and passion of a small jury (even composed of fairly brilliant souls! Ha!), but from the larger audience, which might translate to future box office revenues, so necessary for the survival and creative existence of its filmmaker.
Beyond my “jury duty” happy moments, I was very impressed by the overall star-loaded status of the festival. Having traveled all over the world and to many many other festivals, I was particularly taken by the velvet/suave presence of Kim Cattrall, gracing the red carpet for her sweet movie, Meet Monica Velour. And I was pleasantly shocked when Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson came to present Things Fall Apart, where he plays a young man dying of terminal cancer.
So it is between tears and joy, life and death that you keep going day after day at such a rich festival whose films offer you more than you can even dream.
Talking of dreams-come-true was the joy of screening my own film, The Invocation, narrated by Sharon Stone and part of this excellent festival idea to build a “Tolerance Day” of screenings. Not only was The Invocation well-received, but I was so honored to share the spotlight with filmmakers Yoav Shavit from Israel and Palestinian actor Zia Bakri, who came all the way from the Middle East for their inspired Coffee-Between Reality and Imagination. It was also a joyful surprise when my friend and colleague Bruno Chatelin came to premiere his short, Ensemble, as well as discovering the talents of director Alejandro Springall and his Mexican film, Shiva in Mexico City. Life is indeed such a beautiful rainbow of harmonies, symphonies, and unity. As Einstein said: “Nothing is created, nothing is destroyed, but everything is transformed.” And so Aruba transformed me with joy and marvel, with peace and love.
I will always remember my long week in Aruba, over-indulging myself with so many encounters, friendships, and falling in love with so many beautiful movies. But also I will always remember my little jump in the pool at the end of the Festival, with festival founders Giuseppe and Jonathan, then being joined quickly by la caliente Mexican actress Daniela Schmidt. What a way to end...or, more exactly, to postpone the Festival 'til next year, as nothing ends.
Long rock The Aruba International Film Festival! A festival star has risen; a star is alive and kicking!