The 2024 Justice Film Festival & Filmmaker Cafe

Over 40 films telling stories of Justice — 4 Academy Award nominees, the greatest breakdancing movie ever made and more, shown at events like ‘A Night for Ukraine’ and ‘A Night of Care’ — and over 40 artist-activists gathering to connect, collaborate, and encourage one another.

That’s the 2024 Justice Film Festival (JFF) and Film Lab Filmmaker Cafe in one sentence.

You might think of film festivals as nothing but a place for photo ops of celebrities walking red carpets and studio suits searching for the next hot thing. At some festivals, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark. But unRival has found a natural partner in JFF, founded 12 years ago by Artisans of Peace alum Andy Peterson

Since 2012, Justice Film Festival has been dedicated to creating a platform for redemptive stories of marginalized people and ecosystems bravely overcoming challenges and bringing hope, compassion, and light to a world in need of inspiration.

Marquee guests over the years have included folks like Morgan Freeman, and films premiering at JFF have sold to production companies owned by celebrities like future NBA hall-of-famer Steph Curry. But the heartbeat of this festival is electrified by a larger, less recognized collective of passionate filmmakers and students pouring their own blood, sweat, and often funding into films that highlight marginalized experiences, elevate injustices to greater awareness, and offer renewed paths to peace. And these filmmakers aren’t only artists; over half of those we surveyed reported working in spaces of community or faith leadership, activism, and/or non-profit work as well.

Take, for example, Oscar-nominated Nai Nai and Wai Po. Initially made not as a studio film but as a personal project, this film is a humble homage to two Chinese-American grandmothers at a time when hate crimes against AAPI people were at a new and horrifying height, and it has taken on a life far beyond the family members that made it. Another example is A Clean Slate, an uplifting documentary that follows Shanyeill McCloud’s work helping the formerly incarcerated expunge their records and start their lives again.

Photos from the 2024 Film Lab Filmmaker Cafe at Justice Film Festival in New York City, NY. Photo credit: Lucy Martin.

In 2023, unRival explored a possible partnership with JFF by hosting a panel conversation and creative writing workshop. It was obvious that we’d only scratched the surface of what was possible and so, in 2024, we have come together to launch a year-round approach to community building with these incredible, diverse, and committed peacebuilding filmmakers. Click here to inquire more about The Film Lab.

We began by hosting a simple brunch event with the hopes of drawing 20 or so filmmakers and students into a time of nonrivalrous connection and mutual encouragement. Over 40 guests showed up, and our conversations sailed well beyond the allotted 2 hours for brunch. Our featured guest, Lina Lyte Plioplyte, Director of JFF featured documentary Periodical, sat down with me for a flowing conversation about the challenges and opportunities in making films for justice and peace. She reminded us that the job expects us to act like “lone wolves,” and the industry can pit us against one another. But our greatest strength as artists comes from belonging to one another. We need each other, she implored, remarking that spaces like the Filmmaker Cafe don’t come around nearly often enough.

She’s right. 

That’s why unRival is committed to facilitating these sorts of spaces, and to creatively and intentionally crafting them for nonrivalry and the well-being of all people. In the fall, we’re going to take the Cafe to the next level by launching a filmmaker intensive where 8 filmmakers will accompany one another through the process of finding their voice and developing their stories and films. 

We hope to see a Film Lab-developed film showing at JFF and other festivals as soon as 2025, and we want the filmmakers who make them to thrive in the experience of belonging to the ever-expanding circle of artists, activists, academics, community leaders, and peacebuilders that make up unRival Network.

Billy Price presents Director Rebecca Davis with the 2024 unRival Award for "Join or Die."
Billy Price presents the 2024 unRival Award at Justice Film Festival. Pictured from left to right: Billy Price, Rebecca Davis, Rebecca Kent, Andy Peterson.

UnRival played one more unique role in the festival: we handed out the first ever unRival Award, intended to honor a film that powerfully demonstrates the beauty, difficulty, and value of pursuing justice and peace for all people through nonrivalrous and nonviolent ways of being.

I was pleased to hand this out to Rebecca Davis (and her brother Pete Davis, in absentia) for their magnificent film Join or Die, an incredible film and unique look at the fraying social fabric of America. It is a funny, heartfelt, expertly crafted story about a nation becoming estranged from itself, and about the people who care enough to try to put it back together. We’ll be speaking with Rebecca and Pete at our next unRival Spaces event, so be sure you join us!

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If you enjoyed this post, consider the following blog posts:

Want to learn more about how unRival Network is disrupting rivalry and advancing the cause of justice and peace? Click here to access our free resource, Peace is Possible.

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