When seven of us sat around a conference table in 2000 and dreamed up the Damah Film Festival we hoped to create a short film festival that would focus on the power of story and one that would be a modern day version of the bare marble hill known as Mars Hill that was once upon a time the center of spiritual and religious debate in Athens. It was there that learned men would gather to hear the latest ideas from around the world and Scriptures record the Apostle Paul being invited there to share his views about a recently established faith as well. What we loved about Mars Hill was that debating the latest spiritual, even religious ideas wasn't something to be avoided, it was actually encouraged.
In a similar way, utilizing the Hebrew word Damah which is sometimes translated as a "parable" we were looking for the best in spiritual storytelling from all kinds of different perspectives and we weren't disappointed-we had films from every perspective one could imagine and after eight years of alternating between Seattle and Culver City, this year in addition to our Seattle fest, we've expanded to the Japanese city of Hiroshima and I am finding that it may have more in common with Athens than Seattle of L.A.
Here is what I have experienced in just a few days here: At my hotel, the fabulous Righa Royal, there were two religious books in my nightstand drawer: A Bible courtesy of a group called The Gideons and a book on the sayings of Buddah. Yesterday while visiting a Shinto shrine in a neighboring island called Miyajima I asked my guide what that odd looking building in the distance was and she replied somewhat sheepishly that it was the temple of a recently established religion. She didn't use the word "cult" but she didn't have to. A few minutes later I was approached by a very nice but slightly dazed looking member of the Jehovah's Witness sect who told me all about her religion and gave me some literature.
Then, as I crossed over the bridge where the Atom bomb fell, a member of the group Family of God, a Christian offshoot which according to this Japanese convert believes that plural marriage is sometimes OK shared a booklet with me and told me about his beliefs. Later in the afternoon I happened upon a Japanese Gospel Choir in front of a department store singing the old Andrae Crouch hymn "Soon & Very Soon."
And I loved every minute of it.
There's an old saying that small minds spend their time talking about other people, average minds talk about events and great minds debate ideas. By that measure, Hiroshima is a great city ready to dialogue about the issues of the day that really matter and a perfect fit for our little festival.