Scene from "Pray the Devil Back to Hell"
In this scene from Abigail Disney’s documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” – part of the “Women, War & Peace” television series – Liberian women demonstrate at the American Embassy in Monrovia at the height of the African nation’s civil war. Pewee Flomoku

Academy Award winner Geena Davis, documentary filmmaker Abigail Disney, and UC Irvine associate professor of anthropology and film & media studies Roxanne Varzi will mark the Southern California debut of “Women, War & Peace” with a panel discussion and preview Thursday, Oct. 13, of the bold, five-part PBS television series challenging the conventional wisdom that war and peace are men’s domain.

The event follows the announcement Friday of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to three women from Africa and the Arab world in acknowledgment of their nonviolent role in promoting peace, democracy and gender equality. The winners were President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia – Africa’s first elected female president – and her compatriot, peace activist Leymah Gbowee, as well as Tawakul Karman of Yemen, a pro-democracy campaigner.

PBS SoCal, the Center for Living Peace and UCI are co-sponsoring the 7:30 p.m. discussion – part of the ongoing Living Peace Series – in the Student Center’s Pacific Ballroom. Doors open at 7 p.m.

“Women, War & Peace” reveals how the post-Cold War proliferation of small arms has changed the global landscape of war. Instead of armies, participants now are mainly gangs, insurgent groups and warlords, and women have become primary targets while also emerging as peace brokers. The series covers conflict zones from Bosnia to Afghanistan and from Colombia to Liberia, placing women at the center of dialogue about security and modern warfare.

Varzi, whose Iranian father and American mother left Iran in 1979, when she was 8 years old, went back in 2000 to make a documentary about the physical and emotional scars of the Iran-Iraq War.

“Wars, especially long ones, tend to define generations,” she says. “When I returned to Iran, I was worried that I wouldn’t fit in. I had been teased in the U.S. about being Iranian and stopped speaking Persian in public, so I lost my skills. But I found that what distinguished me from other Iranians of my generation was not my Americanness but the fact that I hadn’t lived through war.”

“Wars leave an enormous debt and mark – not just on those who physically fight them,” Varzi adds, “but those at home whose resources are pulled away to fight the war, whether that’s money for education or a parent, sibling or spouse. The way we can make a difference is through programs such as ‘Women, War & Peace’ – by being educated, because ignorance fuels the fires of war.”

Disney will appear as executive producer of “Women, War & Peace.” Her own documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” tells the story of Liberian women who came together to pray, protest and ultimately bring about the end of a bloody civil war. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize announced Friday, was elected the first woman president of an African country. Disney, a philanthropist, businesswoman and community activist, has supported women’s leadership and rights in diverse international issues and speaks globally on women’s political and economic empowerment.

Davis, who narrates a “Women, War & Peace” episode, founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and is at the forefront of changing gender stereotypes in children’s entertainment. She also is a spokeswoman for Women & Girls Lead, an innovative public media initiative designed to rally girls around the world to address 21st century challenges.

Newport Beach philanthropist Kelly Smith will moderate the panel. She founded Orange County’s Center for Living Peace on the belief that “good happens.” It offers classes and programs on self-discovery, effective communication, safeguarding the environment, and arts and culture.

Ticket information is available on the Living Peace Series website.