Pangea Day: World Peace Through Film?

If you had the entire world's attention, what story would you tell? Sounds like a simple enough question. But suppose you were to tell that story in film. How would you go about it in a way that everyone could understand? You'd want to use as little language as possible. To make it resonate, you'd need to touch upon those universals: fear, anger, hate, love and hope. But you'd also want to imbue the thing with your unique perspective. So, what would you say?

This is precisely the challenge that Egyptian-born filmmaker Jehane Noujaim put to the world two years ago during a speech at the TED conference. On Saturday we will see how the world answers during the Pangea Day festival. Named for the original supercontinent that broke apart millennia ago, Pangea Day is a globe-spanning, synchronized film festival and be-in—a "global camp fire," in Noujaim's words—that will link venues in Los Angeles, Cairo, Kigali, Mumbai and Rio. The four-hour event (think Live 8 meets YouTube) will be simulcast starting at 1 p.m. ET on May 10 in seven languages online, on television and, in some cases, national theater chains. With more than 1,500 screenings planned in 100 countries, total viewership could exceed 500 million.

The point, says Noujaim, who directed the 2004 documentary "Control Room" about Al Jazeera, is to foster understanding and, ultimately, peace. "Once you listen to somebody's story, it's harder to kill them," she tells NEWSWEEK. "And once somebody listens to your story it's harder to kill them." Pangea Day was born when Noujaim won the 2006 TED Prize, an annual gift of $100,000 handed out to creative people with a "wish to change the world." Chris Anderson, who curates the TED conference, an annual gathering of marquee names in the worlds of technology, entertainment and design, says he saw in Noujaim's idea "something remarkable that would utilize the power of technology and communications to connect the world in a way that it hadn't before. Every single one of the world's big problems—human-rights abuses, terrorism, global warming, climate change, poverty—would be helped by a stronger sense of global identity, the sense of We as a human race."

To that end, a jury has selected 24 films out of nearly 3,000 submissions by professional and amateur filmmakers. Seed money and organizational infrastructure was donated by TED, Sony, Akamai, YouTube and MSN, among many others. Nokia teamed up with the U.N. Commission on Human Rights to distribute camera phones to 1,000 essentially voiceless people in far-flung refugee camps, orphanages, migrant arts collectives, aboriginal settlements and inner cities. Bob Geldof, Gilberto Gil and other musicians will perform. As audiences around the world react to the films, they will have images of other audience members beamed back to them a hemisphere away. "Can film change the world?" asks Anderson. "No. But the people who watch them can."

Of course the type of person who would tune in to watch the Pangea Day pageantry is probably the least likely to be going around killing anyone in their spare time. So if this all seems a little naively kumbaya in a world wracked with poverty, terror, oppression and civil war, hold your breath—Noujaim's heard it before. "My friends in Egypt would say, 'Yeah we're all human beings but we don't have the money and power that the West does' … Well people don't have a common place to start." Maybe Pangea Day, which she hopes to organize again for 2010, will provide that launching pad. After all, consider this: conflict resolution in both Ireland and South Africa began in earnest once people began giving testimony—and others listened. Now, roll film.