Hollywood Gets God (and Tolerance) in Aruba

Jo Piazza: Film festivals are typically places where film executives schmooze amidst the selling of both movies and stars. They are not places where one goes to hear much about god or religion. The G and R words are anathema to Hollywood anyway. The town’s only use for them is in commercially viable blockbusters about exorcisms and/or murderous cults.

That’s why it seemed almost off-putting that the Aruba Film Festival, which spanned this week, would devote an entire day of their festivities to religion and tolerance.

It all began two months ago when festival organizer Giuseppe Cioccarrelli received what he describes as a “very nice” email from a young Israeli producer who made a very low budget film with a joint Israeli and Palestinian crew called “Coffee: Between Reality and Imagination.”

“I fell in love with their project,” Cioccarrelli told me. “I fell so in love with it we decided to create a day around this movie. And invite other movies related to religion and tolerance to screen on the Monday of the festival.”

Cioccarrelli told me Aruba, previously colonized by the Spanish and Dutch and originally inhabited by people indigenous to South America, was the perfect venue to inject religious themes into a film festival.

“Aruba is a place where all the religion and races really live together. We never had a problem of intolerance of religion and I have friends who are Jewish and Muslim and they go out together and there is complete integration,” Cioccarrelli said.

The organizer’s background is abundantly Catholic. He grew up 800 meters from St. Peter’s basilica and could see the cupola from his street.

“When you’re born in Rome so close to St. Peter’s, Catholic is in your DNA even though the Italian people now have started to get more lazy with the religion,” Cioccarrelli said.

But it was traveling the world to shoot films in India and Morocco that gave Cioccarrelli his present sense of tolerance for religious differences. “In Morocco my line producer was Muslim and the crew was Muslim and we shared a way of life which was when I realized their values were just like mine.”

And so it went last Monday that “Coffee: Between Reality and Imagination” screened, in addition to “Invocation,” a documentary on the concept of God from the perspective of different religions and “My Mexican Shiva,” a comedy about a clash of Mexican and Jewish traditions.

“Hollywood doesn’t always pay attention to these topics so we figured ‘Hey, why not in Aruba?” Cioccarrelli asked.

Why not indeed. The events for tolerance day not only sold out but drew record crowds to the festival’s red carpet–which included stars like Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and Kim Cattrall who were promoting their own projects at the festival–for films about religion and without major stars.

It may not be the biggest or flashiest festival on the circuit, but Aruba proved with tolerance day that they’re willing to shake things up a bit and challenge the status quo for international film promotion and distribution.

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