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Stories of Preservation and Progress As A Healing Mechanism at The Garifuna International Film Festival

Stories of Preservation and Progress As A Healing Mechanism at The Garifuna International Film Festival

Stories. Told and remembered but also forgotten and discarded. How are we holding onto our traditions? At the Garifuna International Film Festival, the mission is to preserve these traditions while elevating the voices of the creators – and their visual accounts of culture. Embarking on Venice, CA on Memorial Day weekend, the festival will host independent film screenings, educational panels, and an art show dedicated to the history of the Garifuna people. 

My goal in understanding the history of the festival was achieved immediately when I had the honor of speaking with festival President Freda Sideroff. Her excitement and succinct explanation of the programming immediately grabbed my attention. You can’t understand the festival without first understanding the indigenous cultures it represents and Freda gave me a first-hand walkthrough of the journey. She introduced the Garifuna people with some background history and how her Belizean heritage influenced her tenacity for the festival that she founded along with her husband Stephen in 2012.

The Sideroff team – rooted in mental health – use the festival to promote and raise awareness of the recovery of the indigenous people, creating a safe space where these stories offer a chance to culturally heal. Being able to “confront and then dialogue with your pain”, Freda Sideroff believes it allows for an ancestral connection, bringing forth a spiritual resurgence that can resurrect pride in one’s self. The festival will feature several workshops to address and combat mental health while providing access to resources through the festival’s partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.

Several filmmakers have used their features to bring awareness to their cultural histories while also addressing some of the prominent topics of society today. One of the trailers I previewed – Dak’Toká Taíno (I am Taíno) by Alba Enid Garcia – features live puppet actors as the director uses the characters as a way to help the youth understand the impact of Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in the early fall of 2017. Using the recovery effort as a tool to teach, Grandmother Yaya introduces her granddaughter Marabeli to the history of the Taino, including prayers and the “old technology” of protecting the earth while simultaneously planting new seeds for future growth. 

We also spoke about the premiere of the film “Same God”, which tells the story of Wheaton College professor Dr. Larycia Hawkins and the questions surrounding her abrupt termination seemingly for her support for Muslim women by posing with a hijab on Facebook. Being a Muslim man this story hit home immediately as many of my friends and colleagues who are also Muslim, share these same experiences of Islamophobia being directed at them. “If I lose a job, If I lose friends, that is the cost” Hawkins is heard saying on the trailer very poignantly. This documentary-style presentation features interviews and dialogue from Dr. Hawkins herself, as she tries to make sense of the discrimination she faces while standing up for the right to religious freedom. I am very excited to see this full feature at the festival.

With festival culture growing in America, I believe the Garifuna International Film Festival can be a place of inclusive freedom and a conference of progression. Using these stories as a baseline allows the indigenous people of Los Angeles and around the world to meet and share experiences, creating a collective of progression something that President Sideroff is very excited about. She iterated that “Showing up for the part of yourself that is in need of the healing” should be the main focus for the exhibitors and attendees and I can’t wait to add the Garifuna International Film Festival as part of my personal healing experience.


The Garifuna International Film opens May 23rd through May 26th at the Electric Lodge located at 1416 Electric Ave, Venice, CA 90291. Opening Night events are on May 23rd starting at 7:30 pm (PST). Visit http://www.http://garifunafilmfestival.com for more information.

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