As noted in the 2006 article, “Movies on a Mission," “What differentiates these movies is their explicit intent to either affirm a positive vision of ourselves or the world or to actually change people – to challenge personal or cultural conditioning and beliefs.” They reflect the vision of storied television and film producer/director Norman Lear, who in a 1992 essay for Life magazine wrote,
We place our faith in what we can see, touch, and hear, and instinctively grasp for numbers to understand the world. We remain suspicious of the unquantifiable, the intuitive, the mysterious. Yet a culture that becomes a stranger to its own inner needs – which are, for better or worse, unquantifiable, intuitive, and mysterious – is a culture that has lost touch with the best in its humanity, its sense of shared moral values, its ethics, creativity, passion, wonder, and joy . . . [T]he next great improvement in the human condition will occur not through a millennial faith in technology but by uncovering a new, more spiritually satisfying notion of ‘progress,’ one that requires a vertical leap of faith, a leap in our inner development.
Eloquently stated, and yet technology has made it easier and easier for mission-driven filmmakers to tell their stories, as anyone with a camcorder and video editing software can become their own producer/director. Look no further than YouTube, Flickr, and a growing number of other sites for an avalanche of material from amateurs and professionals alike. At the same time, the ability to actually make money from these efforts remains as elusive as ever and perhaps has gotten worse as the competition for eyeballs and screen space has exploded. This partly explains the emergence of the festival as a parallel universe of possibility for filmmakers, although distribution strategies have expanded well beyond that over the last several years, especially for films seeking an audience that wants positive images and an inner experience of their transformational potential – films that complement their more activist-oriented kin, which continue to educate, challenge, and inspire (The Economics of Happiness, Dirt! The Movie, Fast Food Nation, and many others).
One company that is building a business and marketing model around such new distribution strategies is Transformational Entertainment Networks (TEN), founded by John Raatz of The Visioneering Group, which has a long history of finding creative ways to promote inspirational media. TEN sees itself as an umbrella group that will coordinate a variety of sales and promotional strategies, including live screenings, webcasts, and DVDs, through a network of nonprofits such as Unity Churches and other mission-driven organizations. Hollywood is also starting to explore the widening horizon of distribution systems. A panel organized by blue-chip producer Jerry Zucker (2010’s Fair Game, among many others) called “Where Do We Go from Here?” examined topics ranging from artificial intelligence to performance capture, 3D, and nontraditional theatrical venues. Panelists included production designer Alex McDowell (Watchmen, Minority Report), immersive art and entertainment expert Ed Lantz (who will be speaking at the IONS conference), neuroscientist Eric Haseltine, and transmedia storytelling expert Jordan Weisman.
Another sign that paradigm-busting films are spurring an infrastructure of support is The Aware Guide (“Your Guide to Life-Changing Media”). Founded by Gary Tomchuk, former CEO of Hazel Henderson’s Ethical Markets Media, The Aware Guide acts as both a networking hub and a review site for all channels of media, including audio, video, television, radio, and film, which “inspire the movement of society toward ideals, values, and practices that create a better world for everyone.” Similarly positioned to help aspiring creatives build the transformational media space is META (Media, Entertainment, Technology and Arts Association), a new trade organization dedicated to industry professionals “who are catalyzing positive change through media,” and the soon-to-launch GATE (Global Alliance for Transformational Entertainment). And since 2003 there has been the Spiritual Cinema Circle, which continues to provide its monthly members with a wide range of inspirational features, shorts, and documentaries via an active acquisition program of new releases.
Although the festival remains a key component in any effort to get wider exposure for new films, there are very few that focus primarily on themes of body-mind-spirit; most topic-driven festivals such as the Global Peace Film Fest in Orlando, Cinema for Peace in Berlin, and Global Visions Film Fest in Canada focus on social change, peace, and ecological issues and sometimes include consciousness-based films. One exception is the Sun Valley Spiritual Film Festival, which started in 2006 and features a wide range of short and feature-length films with an emphasis on interfaith storytelling and children’s themes. One of last year’s panels was titled “Visionary Film,” described as “cinema that purports to transcend the physical world and portray a wider vision of awareness including, but not limited to, spiritual, mystical, mythic, or psychedelic themes. Such films are usually associated with altered states of consciousness, or based in such experiences, and aim to plant the seeds of transformation in the mind-stream of the viewer.”
New Film Highlights
What should be noted about films in this space is that they are not all created equal. However well-intentioned, they must still meet a variety of criteria that include good storytelling, high production values, and a commitment to engage, not lecture. And there will always be well-meaning films that come off as “workshops in a can,” featuring endless talking heads and a blizzard of information that, while sometimes effective (see The Secret and its presumptive sequel, Tapping the Source), can lose their impact if not artfully presented and given space to breath. Add to this list films that ask big questions (“Why am I here?”) and come up with few definitive answers. In a review of recent spiritual movies, including The Nature of Existence, Oh My God, and The Human Experience, EnlightenNext magazine editors write, “In our pluralistic age in which giving equal voice to every possible perspective is usually prioritized over finding a higher synthesis between them, it’s no wonder that these films struggle to provide more than a survey of the world’s many belief systems . . . they ultimately yield little more than the latest echo of the 1960s refrain that, in spite of our diversity, we are all one.” This is not a bad message, of course, but however entertaining the journey, these films don’t always succeed in taking viewers into deeper realizations of ultimate truths that reach them at a visceral level.
All that being said, in the realm of transformative media, I’m happy to report that a number of new films have recently emerged that feature high production values, good storylines, and inspirational messages. Here are three I’ve seen, followed by a few others of note:
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Article courtesy of Institute of Noetic Sciences.