The Arts

In Canada, a start-up festival highlights creativity of Baha'i filmmakers

EDMONTON, Canada — As film festivals go, the "Cause and Effect Bahá'í Film Festival" was certainly not among the largest, most famous, or even best publicized of such exhibitions.

But for what it says about the state of artistic creativity in the worldwide Bahá'í community, the November event is noteworthy in many respects.

Organized by three Canadian Bahá'ís, CEBfest 2003, as it was called, was the first film festival known to have showcased films that focus on Bahá'í-oriented themes.

"The number of filmmakers who are out there making Bahá'í films, or who are making films influenced by the Bahá'í Faith, has surprised everyone," said Tobin Smith, one of the organizers of CEBfest and a filmmaker himself.

"We thought there was a chance we would be getting, maybe, five or six submissions," he said. "We ended up getting 15 or 20."

What's more, said Mr. Smith and others, the range and depth of the submissions were surprising. "The diversity of the films was quite inspiring," said Tara Rout, another of the Festival's organizers. "The Festival defied our own expectations in terms of the caliber of the art that was shown. The films were truly thought-provoking and entertaining."

More than for entertainment, however, the Festival was organized with a distinct purpose: to try to promote positive values in filmmaking.

"The goal of religions is to better the world, and the only real way of doing that is through changing the hearts of people," said Ms. Rout, a lifelong Bahá'í. "And perhaps the best way to reach people's hearts is through art. And film is currently the most accessible art medium for the general public. So in terms of enlightening and spiritualizing the planet, we think film is an ideal means."

Most of the submissions were documentaries. "They are all in some way about the history of the Faith or a personal journey within the Faith," said Mr. Smith. They document that "Bahá'ís put a lot of time into our beliefs, that Faith for us is not a one-day-a-week kind of thing."

Gretchen Jordan-Bastow, who submitted a film about Navajo sand painting, said that the event provided a rare opportunity for people to see in one place films that demonstrate moral, social, and spiritual values.

"Today the media are full of news of murder, war, and various violent acts — this beats down society and is a discouragement to the human spirit," said Ms. Jordan-Bastow, who has worked as a producer and director for more than 16 years.

"Bahá'í 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.

"From my understanding, the Bahá'í concept of art is inclusive rather than exclusive," said Angela Rout, 26, who presented a film at the festival. "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 festival] is quite different from mainstream festivals and this is a unique opportunity," said Angela Rout, who is Tara Rout's sister.

Another participating filmmaker, Ramin Eshraghi-Yazdi, said films can be tools for social advancement. "Art must have a purpose and function beyond itself — either to provoke thought, encourage consultation or elevate the spirit through aesthetic form," he said.

Tara Rout said that about half of the films presented received funding from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Canada Film Board, and/or Vision TV, Canada's leading multi-faith and multicultural television network. Among these, some also received funding from the Bahá'í community of Canada. Others were low-budget, "personal" films, shot mostly with small digital video cameras and edited on desktop computers.

Most submissions came this year from North America. And not all came from Bahá'ís. The organizers hope to draw from a global field next year, as word of the Festival spreads.

Every new religion has, of course, stimulated a flourishing of the arts. Whether in the paintings inspired by Christianity, the architecture developed under Islam, or the statues of Hinduism and Buddhism, every new revelation has inspired in its followers some kind of artistic expression.

Bahá'í artists have established international reputations in painting (Mark Toby), pottery (Bernard Leach), and, certainly, music (Dizzy Gillespie, and Seals and Crofts, among others). CEBfest organizers hope that the Festival — which they hope to organize on an annual basis — can help to spur a new movement for Bahá'í-inspired cinema.

"What we want to do is try to encourage a change in filmmaking in general, so that there are more films that are inspiring and aimed at changing the world," said Tara Rout, who calls herself simply a "film enthusiast" and who is also a 25-year-old law student at the University of Alberta.

"I think all of the films here have something to offer in terms of education or insight or hope," Ms. Rout said. "It is not one film that is going to change everything, but maybe these little films can spark something that hasn't been thought about before."

To read a list of films shown at the Cause and Effect Bahá'í Film Festival, see below.

To contact the Festival's organizers, email:

Films presented at the Cause and Effect Bahá'í Film Festival 2003:

— 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 Bahá'í Faith are the fulfillment of his people's traditional prophecies. His flute music, hoop dancing and oral traditions express some aspects of his culture.

— What Hath God Wrought!: A History of the First Century of the Bahá'í 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 Bahá'í 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 Bahá'í 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 Bahá'í revelation.

— 'Abdu'l-Bahá: Glimpses of Perfection by Faramarz Rohani — Visuals and narration depict stories about 'Abdu'l-Bahá's trip to North America in 1912.

— A New Faith is Born by Faramarz Rohani — An account of the growth of the Bahá'í community from a small, persecuted band of believers into a vibrant, international body.

— Sherbrooke Bahá'í Youth Congress by Tobin Smith — In 2001, more than 1,000 Bahá'í youth from all over the world gathered in Sherbrooke, Quebec, to celebrate the international Bahá'í 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 Bahá'í volunteers for a year of community service and faces a number of challenges.

— 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 Bahá'í 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 to escape from or deny our responsibilities.