Like sexuality, comics and Occupy Wall Street, there are endless subgroups within the cultures that don't believe in god(s). And whether you're devout or full of doubt, there will be no shortage of provocative material at Steele's Film Festival, which begins Thursday, August 2, at the Mayan Theatre.
"A new statistic was recently released that says 19 percent of Americans consider themselves 'non-religious,'" says Steele. "Which has grown since 2008, when it was 16 percent."
While Steele acknowledges that there is still no shortage of opposition to her brand of activism, she strongly feels that now is the time to hold the festival.
"I've been wanting to do this since 2002, but I didn't move forward on it until 2009. And that was because of the new atheism movement -- people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens becoming more vocal in the media. And when Religulous came out, I was like 'I have to do this!' People are becoming more willing to have open discussions about their lack of beliefs that they felt they previously had to hide."
Steele says with a laugh that the work she is doing now would make her an enemy of her sixteen-year-old self. Growing up in a Southern Baptist community in Tampa Bay, Steele was a regular attendee of her church until a teenage breakup with a church-mate made her feel uncomfortable returning to weekly services.
"Because I wasn't physically there anymore, I wasn't bombarded with that message: no rock music, no jeans, no outside beliefs. And when I was exposed to other ideas, I saw the world was so much more. That's why home-schooling is so important to devout fundamentalists: They don't want their children exposed to other ideas. And if they can hold on to their beliefs as long as possible, they won't be swayed in adulthood."
Before the films begin, the festival will host two separate local fundraisers: the Tap Takeover event at the Funky Buddha Lounge on Tuesday, and Poker in the Church on Wednesday at local dance club the Church, which will host local icons like radio's Peter Boyles and rock promoter Barry Fey. Funds raised at the poker event will go to benefit Foundation Beyond Belief, a humanist charity. "They're all about helping communities and the environment only," says Steele. "It is not to convert people to a religion or any idealism. It's purely focused on charity. That's why I think that secular charities are so important: They're true to the mission they're focused on."
Less an activism against spirituality, the freethought movement is primarily a rebellion against dogmatic authority, as can be seen in two of the films featured in the festival: Free China, an award-winning documentary on the Communist Party's torture and oppression of its citizens for their spiritual beliefs, will run twice on Friday, August 3, while The Trouble With St. Mary's, a film documenting the controversial struggles of one Catholic church in Australia rebelling against the constraints of the Vatican, will begin the festival on Thursday, August 2.
The International Freethought Film Festival begins Tuesday, July 31, and continues through Sunday, August 5. A VIP access ticket can be purchased for $95; tickets to individual events and screenings are also available. For more information, visit www.freethoughtfilmfest.org