You can always tell a lot about an event by reading between the lines of its press release. Of the four pages I received for the First Annual Damah Film Festival, 2 1/2 of them are devoted to bios of respective jurors, which, I must admit is slightly impressive: Howard Kazanjian (Raiders of the Lost Ark), Ralph Winter (Planet of the Apes), and Bruce Rubin (Oscar winner for writing Ghost). But my stomach sinks when I see that producer/ director Phil Cooke, who worked on The Omega Code (arguably the worst, and not to mention the preachiest, film I've ever seen), has had some involvement in this festival.
Then it hits me that not one filmmaker, or one of the 80+ actual films, had been highlighted in any of the releases.
Concern isn't the right word, but it's the first that comes to mind.
The second bump in the road comes when Sky Diamond, member of the founding board of this very festival, first tells me that Damah was created due to "a lack of films that explored spirituality without being preachy," but then shuns away from my question in reference to his background. He says "Well, that's not really important ... " But, I give him my ace reporter look and he eventually hints that sort of "maybe I might have done some film work that kind of could be missionary." Shunning away from this fact brings to light, thankfully, the truth about this festival: that it will become a battle ground for the tough debate between spirituality vs. religion.
I could really give a rat's ass that Damah is Hebrew for "a metaphor that transforms." But everyone I talk to (until I hide my press pass that is) mentions this. What no one mentions is that I will see a film that HEAVILY promotes not having sex until marriage. It is idiotically entitled Dang! -- the lead character's exclamation for attractive women.
Aside: the director of this film admitted that he had made it after seeing a lack of "honest films about how to deal with sexual desires"1 and conveniently packaged it with questions for preachers to ask post-viewing the film. It is a bad post-apocalyptic kung-fu piece (a wannabe Crouching Tiger) that centers around the wanted destruction of a "book," whose "words" are spreading, and a short piece where a man boxes a tree stump that he calls "god."
So then the necessary question evolves: Can you discuss (or make films about) spirituality without touching on religion or god? Without resorting to a petty quote of the dictionary, I'll venture to say that, yes, you can.
The prime example of a film about spirituality, that is not about god or religion, and the one shining moment of the entire film-festival was a tragically underrated animated/ experimental short titled Momposition. It tells the story of a man meeting his biological mother for the first time. It is silent and magnificent. It's a clip of about 30 frames of actual 8mm footage of the man as a child. It is haunting. It, without discussing god or religion, brought to me a knowledgeable transformation, what Damah claims to attempt.
Including films like these make me think that maybe there's hope for this festival yet.
1 Which, according to the films logic, is to "keep it in your pants until your married" like your mother told you.