DOWNTOWN — For the first time in its five-year run, Chicago's 2013 Peace on Earth Film Festival didn't get a single entry that tackled the topic of gun violence.
The festival's founders didn't want that to go unnoticed, so they worked with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office to secure the rights to screen public service announcements commissioned by Demand a Plan, a gun control advocacy initiative sponsored by Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
"The festival is not an advocacy organization: we rely upon the films to do that," said Nick Angotti, the festival's co-founder and executive director. "But because of the deplorable acts of gun violence which continue to escalate around our country, particularly in Chicago, coupled with not having films on the topic this year, we felt it was absolutely imperative that we show these PSAs."
The Peace on Earth Film Festival is a free, four-day event screening local and international independent films that address the issues of nonviolence, tolerance, sustainability and social justice. It will be hosted this year by the Chicago Cultural Center from March 7-10.
In between the festival's 28 short and full-length feature films and documentaries, the not-for-profit will screen a rotation of nine Demand a Plan PSAs, which feature celebrities, athletes and individuals impacted by gun violence, including Hadiya Pendleton's mother, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton.
Comprised of mayors and citizens, the anti-gun violence coalition worked with Emanuel's office to bring the PSAs to Chicago, a spokesman said. Mayors Against Illegal Guns has grown from 15 mayors at its founding in 2006 to more than 850 members from 45 states, including almost 20 from Illinois alone.
The organization's purpose to "demand that our leaders in Washington take action to reduce the gun violence epidemic that kills 33 Americans every day," said Erika Soto Lamb, the organization's communications director. "The PSAs are an important part of this effort. We are grateful that the Peace on Earth Film Festival is helping us engage others who support common-sense gun law reforms like background checks for all gun sales."
The festival's guests could likely include members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns' target audience. In addition to quintupling turnout from around 350 attendees in 2008 to a projected 1,800 visitors this year, the festival's attendance has shifted demographically over the years, and now encompasses many of the populations most impacted by gun violence in Chicago: residents of the city's South and West sides.
The film festival also seeks to engage another group at risk for gun violence: students. In addition to featuring amateur films created by young directors, the festival brings films to schools across Chicago and guides the students in dialogue about violence and social justice issues.
While the Peace on Earth Film Festival was initially created to host the multi-day showcase of movies, Angotti said he believes youth outreach is where the organization has the greatest impact.
"What we're teaching is compassion, tolerance and understanding, because if violence is going to shift, it's gonna have to be because a generation, or several generations coming up are gonna change their concept of how they view each other and the world," Angotti said.