A&E Season Preview: At Peace Film Fest, a local Double Feature


“She radiated warmth and kindness,” says WorldOrlando executive director Sarah Gal.

Photo by Roberto Gonzalez

The annual Global Peace Film Festival specializes in movies and documentaries that revolve around the pursuit of peace, be it personal, communal, or both. 

The festival kicks off Sept. 18 with its first show at Enzian Theatre, with the remainder of the films to be screened at the Winter Park Library and Rollins College. This year’s festival opener is The League, a just-released documentary about the positives and negatives that factored into baseball’s spirited detour around systemic racism as provided by the Negro League, which was founded in 1920. Several players who got their start in the league such as Jackie Robinson, Minnie Minoso, Satchel Paige, and Roy Campanella, went on to the majors as racism slowly grudnignly abated … at least in sport.

Though the Global Peace Film Festival originated as the dream of New York City native Nina Streich, the home she found for it was in Orlando. As a result the festival often includes movies and documentaries that feature stories with a Central Florida connection.

Two such films in this year’s festival are particularly compelling.  One is about a troubled World War II hero for whom fate and the passage of time brought peace and reconciliation. Another features a young exchange student from Ireland who traveled to Orlando decades later  and found hope and enlightenment here, only to become a casualty in a battle of a different sort when she returned home.

The first of the two films is “Jerry’s Last Mission.” It’s about the late Jerry Yellin, an Orlando-based World War II fighter pilot who flew a P-51 Mustang out of a base in Iwo Jima to attack targets in Japan. In later years he coped with post-traumatic stress disorder via Transcendental Meditation – and made peace with his former enemies after his son married a Japanese woman whose father was trained as a kamikazi pilot. 

The second film lacks a happy ending. It tells the story of Lyra McKee, a young Irish journalist with a lyrical accent who visited Orlando in 2017 in an international professional exchange program arranged by WorldOrlando, which is sponsored, in turn, by the U.S. Department of State.

The program is tailored to respond to the particular interests of the international guests. McKee had an interest in American gun culture and the challenges of gay culture in America, being gay herself. Executive director Sarah Gal took her to a gun show, and even helped her understand the aftereffect of the Pulse Nightclub tragedy on the community. Though McKee was initially against the idea, because she saw religion as oppressive against gays, she had an enlightening encounter with an Orlando imam and wound up doing a TED talk about it, entitled “How Uncomfortable Conversations Can Save Lives.”

In the TED talk, she speaks of how she had associated religion with rejection.  She’d come halfway across the world to discover that didn’t have to be true. After returning to Ireland, McKee was covering a riot in Belfast. She was standing near a police line when a shot rang out. The bullet struck her in the head. She died instantly. No arrest has been made.

When word of her death reached Orlando, some of the friends she had made here painted a mural dedicated to McKee on a wall near WorldOrlando headquarters. The city had left its mark on her. The opposite was also true.


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Categories: Art & Entertainment