- "Oscars with Brains:" Cinema for Peace/Mail.com/September 2011

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There are few mediums with the power to effect change the way that film does. Whether its a summer blockbuster sparking a new fashion trend, or a stark documentary exposing the realities of war, film has an emotional reach that most other media just can't touch.

Over the past ten years, Cinema for Peace has taken this idea to the next level. The organization was started by event producer Jaka Bizilj in 2001, as an annual award gala to honor films that communicate important humanitarian, social and environmental issues. The event soon began attracting some of the most famous and important people in the world, and evolved into something much greater than your typical film awards ceremony.

In addition to bestowing awards such as the International Green Film Award, and The Award for Justice upon deserving filmmakers, the organization recognizes actors and celebrities who work towards global change. Sean Penn was honored at the 2011 gala for his work with Haitian relief organization J/P HRO, and past honorees include George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio and Richard Gere.

Referred to by supporter Sir Bob Geldof as "the Oscars with brains", the Cinema for Peace Gala has become a forum for issues-minded stars to speak out about their favorite cause. When Leonardo DiCaprio was celebrated by Cinema for Peace for his work on environmental issues in 2009, the actor used the opportunity to implore the audience to take more action on the environment, stating "Solving the environmental crisis is our turning point; it is our next Berlin wall".

Cinema for Peace is also a charitable foundation, using its gala events to raise money as well as awareness for the causes it champions. The Cinema for Peace Foundation uses its funds to support the creation and distribution of films that deal with important issues such as human rights violations and Aids in Africa. One such project funded by Cinema for Peace Foundation (CFPF) is THEMBA, a screenings program aimed at raising awareness about AIDS/HIV in rural South Africa. To date, the program has educated 7,000 South Africans about AIDS prevention, and the project is being expanded to Zambia and Botswana. The foundation also gives financial support to many charities and aid organizations such as UNICEF and UNIFEM, Richard Gere's "Work for Tibet,” the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the Human Rights Film Network and others.

The next big project supported by Cinema for Peace is the brand new Universal Human Rights Logo, which will be unveiled in New York on September 23rd, 2011. Organizers hope that this new logo will soon become as ubiquitous as the peace sign, and serve as a symbol that transcends language for protesters and others fighting for humans rights around the world. After the unveiling, Cinema for Peace will host one of their glamorous trademark dinners, bringing together human rights activists, and people from the worlds of politics, film, and business.