Garifuna Film Festival Presents Awards

The annual Los Angeles fest handed out prizes to films from Latin America, the US and other nations

By LatinoLA Contributor
Published on LatinoLA: June 5, 2017

Garifuna Film Festival Presents Awards

The films "Wayunagu" from Honduras, "Defenders of Life" from Costa Rica and "Walking While Black: L.O.V.E. Is the Answer" from the U.S. are among the winners at the Garifuna International Indigenous Film Festival 2017 in Venice, California.

"Wayunagu," which means "our ancestors" in the Garifuna language, received the Garifuna Heritage Award. The action drama tells the story of Garifuna man from New York who goes back to his natal Honduran town in search of his roots, himself and purpose in life. "This award is so meaningful to us," said director Christopher Miles. "It validates the efforts of our writer and producer Angel Valerio and the entire crew to use film preserve and promote the Garifuna culture."


The Garifuna people are descendants of black Africans who escaped in the Caribbean and refused to be enslaved. They intermarried with local Carib and Arawak people and gave birth to a new culture and language.

The Costa Rican family and cultural drama "Defenders of Life" won the best feature prize. Set in an indigenous community, it tells the story of a teen caught in the middle of a clash of values and traditions of two cultures, the Ngöbe and an encroaching westernized society. The film was directed and written by Dana Ziyasheva, a former United Nations worker. "That's such an honor and a surprise!" said producer Igor Darbo. " We are thrilled... This is a huge encouragement to us." The filmmakers also said they want to also raise awareness about child marriage, a controversial topic addressed in "Defenders of Life."


For its part, "Walking While Black: L.O.V.E. Is the Answer" took two honors, the best documentary and audience awards. The film by director A.J. Ali, tackles the issue of racial profiling and community/police relations and potential solutions. "On behalf of our incredibly dedicated team, (producer) Errol Webber and I thank the Garifuna International Film Festival and the viewers for honoring our work with two amazing awards –Best Documentary and Audience Favorite," said Ali. "Our hope has been to win hearts to the power of L.O.V.E.–(which stands for) Learn about others, Open your heart to them, Volunteer to be part of the solution in their lives, and Empower others to do the same."

Added Ali, "Being honored at such a prestigious festival is both gratifying and an encouragement to strengthen us for all the hard work we have ahead of us."

The director of "Walking While Black" also said he hopes to screen the film in schools, police departments, places of worship, nonprofits and other institutions and organizations interested in combating racism and building bridges between communities of color and law enforcement.


Other films receiving awards at the Garifuna International Indigenous Film Festival included:

"Children of Beqaa." Awareness Award. Directed by Syrian-American filmmaker Elias Matar, the documentary shows the tragic daily life in a Lebanon refugee camp that is home to nearly one million Syrians escaping their country's war.

"Shamanic Trekker." Visionary Award. Director Emmanuel Itier embarks on a trip to meet the shamans of the Q'ero people in Peru and visit secret sacred ritual locations known to the tribe for centuries.

"This Was Hansankeyf." World Heritage Site Award. Peruvian-Italian director Tommaso Vitali captures the life of an ancient town in Turkey that seems destined to be flooded by a dam project.

"Strength of Siblings." Best Short Award. Directed by Alex Munoz and featuring young actors of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the film mixes magic realism with drama in a coming-of-age story and substance abuse.


"We at the Garifuna International Indigenous Film Festival feel very proud of serving as a vehicle to feature, promote and preserve the culture and traditions of the Garifuna diaspora and indigenous communities the world over, and to tell their stories through film," said festival founder Freda Sideroff. "Our peoples have so much in common–profound respect for our elders and the environment, time-tested wisdoms and even keys to a better future for humanity. There are many more stories to tell from all these communities and we'll be here to share their films with the world."


The Garifuna film fest also presented various others awards related to culture, activism and other arts in the Garifuna and indigenous communities.

Retired Belizean legislator and teacher Sylvia Flores received the Garifuna of the Year Award for her lifetime achievements and service in politics and education in her native Belize and abroad.

Native American activist Johnnie Aseron, a Haudenosenee/Lakota Hunka elder, was presented with the Humanitarian Award for his work with Stand for Standing Rock, a project against the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.

Moreover, there were several artists presented with Ambassador of Music Awards by the film festival. They were: Aurelio Martinez and Bodoma from Honduras; Aziatic from Los Angeles; LiL JunE from New York; Ideal Castillo from Guatemala; and Awahaya Band and Guwie Band, both from Belize; and Halau Hula Na Liko Kupukup I ka lani, a Hawaiian music and dance ensemble from Southern California.

Another Belizean, the late labor and human rights activist Pablo Lambey, also received a posthumous Ambassador of Music Award for supporting and promoting Garifuna traditional rhythms throughout the years. Lambey passed away in 2000.


The sixth annual edition of the Garifuna International Indigenous Film Festival was sponsored by the Garifuna American Heritage United, Moneygram , Wallenberg Institute of Ethics, Copymat Hollywood, LatinoLA.com and The Electric Lodge.


The Garifuna International Indigenous Film Festival took place May 12th through 27 at the Electric Lodge in the Los Angeles' community of Venice. The festival was established in 2012 by Freda and Stephen Sideroff and has been recognized by both the City of Los Angeles and the State of California.

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