Either I picked the absolute perfect film line up at the Illuminate Film Festival in Sedona, Arizona this year or the entire roster rocked from start to finish! From talking to the other filmgoers who saw some of the films that I didn’t, it appears that the entire line up was incredibly solid.
Founder and Executive Director, Danette Wolpert claims it’s her mission “to raise consciousness through cinema,” and if my experience was anything like the norm, she succeeded in spades.
I wasn’t able to attend any of the filmmaking panels, and I unfortunately never made it up to the virtual reality lab on the second floor of SPAC (where I hear, I could have experienced a little indoor scuba diving). But I did see lots of movies, and every single one of them was worth watching.
Collectively, I can honestly say, they transformed me in all sorts of ways.
Some of the films I saw are not yet available in any form, as they haven’t yet secured distribution, but I am going to give you a mini-review on each one so you’ll recognize them when they come out, or you can hunt them down if you’re interested enough.
Illuminate opened with a fun and festive outdoor screening of “Be More” at the Sedona Collective in the Village of Oak Creek. Singers and acrobats performed, prizes were raffled off and once the sun truly set, we settled into to see “Be More” — a work in progress.
The film follows a dozen or so teen campers as they experience “Camp More” where they are challenged to learn, grow and stretch themselves. The camp which is run by Heart Pheonix (the mother of the late River Phoenix) and her partner, is a beautiful offering. There’s a lot of sharing and getting real, and director, Justin Haulbrook does the subject matter justice. He keeps the filming simple and wisely let’s the kids speak for themselves. We, the audience, get to seem them shift before our very eyes.
Haulbrook, who is a really talented singer songwriter, shines every time he performs in the film. The only criticism I might have of the documentary is that Haulbrook throws in footage of himself questioning his alcoholic dad about why he abused the entire family. Without clear segues or any voice over to connect this footage with the Camp More footage, it feels disconnected and disruptive. Thematically, I get the connection, but hopefully, if Haulbrook decides to keep it in, he will create clear ties between these two presently disjointed parts.
This sweet little film was the Czech Republic’s official entry for the Academy Awards, and I can see why. It’s touching and entertaining too. You can’t help but root for the lead character, Vlasta, a home care nurse who is doing her best to work within a crappy healthcare system. When she gets diagnosed with a terminal, inoperable disease, she has no options, so she starts exploring the world of alternative healing which ends up deeply disrupting her relationship with her old-fashioned, close-minded, and rather selfish husband.
The portraits of the alternative healing world in the film don’t feel particularly real (from my experience), but the story has heart and leaves you feeling the possibilities.
MAYA ANGELOU: AND STILL I RISE
This film was the official opening night screening, and I can see why they chose it. It’s a lovely, rigorous and elegant portrait of the poet, singer, dancer, writer and all around tour de force of a woman, Maya Angelou. It includes interviews from unknowns and very well-knowns (like Oprah and the Clintons) and everyone in between.
The story covers a lot of historical ground and shares how Maya’s development paralleled (and in some instances, partially caused) the progress of African-American rights in the U.S. and abroad.
This fun little documentary was directed by Adam Shell who talked a friend into driving around the U.S. with him for a couple years to film the country’s happiest people. Knowing that the U.S. consistently ranks low on world happiness scales, Shell wanted to find some really happy Americans and learn their secrets. It features a colorful cast of characters (most notably Randy from Pennsylvania) and the movie really does make you feel happier. The program says it puts a “skip in your step” and I’d have to agree.
FROM THIS DAY FORWARD
This unusual documentary sheds light on the transgender experience. As her wedding day approaches, director Sharon Shattuck decides to dive into an area of life she has never really plumbed before – her father Michael’s transition into becoming a woman named Trisha.
While the story definitely brings more awareness and understanding to the transgender perspective, as well as the experience teenagers of a transgender parent might have, it feels more like a love story than anything else. This is due to the fact that Sharon’s mother, Marcia chose to stay by her husband’s side through the transition and continues to have a marriage with Trisha.
LOVE, SWEAT & TEARS
This informative and genuinely entertaining (funny) documentary was conceived and spearheaded by Dr. Pamela Gaudry, an OBGYN who wants the world to stop sticking it’s collective head in the sand about menopause. Dr. Gaudry is on a personal mission to bring the sexy back into the lives of menopausal woman, and this film which is ably directed by Scott Jacobs just might do it. Love, Sweat & Tears won the Jury Prize for the festival.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE
This heart-wrenching documentary shares the overwhelming, almost-unbelievable mental health problems U.S. veterans are having. The sad truth is that 22 of them take their own life every single day. That’s almost one an hour, and the film drives this truth home by opening with a recording from a 911 call of a woman hysterically reporting that her husband, a veteran, had hung himself. In the closing titles, it reminds the audience that during the screening of the film, a U.S. veteran had committed suicide.
In between these two bookends, it explores how the U.S. government is basically doing nothing about this enormous problem.
If you consider yourself socially conscious, this film is an absolute must-see!
TONY ROBBINS: I AM NOT YOUR GURU
You can tell that Director, Joe Berlinger loves Tony Robbins, and I have no problem with that, because, basically, what’s not to love? The man heals thousands every single year and feeds even more with his food programs. Many who don’t know Tony judge him for being rich or powerful. But neither of these qualities are bad if you have a big heart (he does) and you serve people (he DOES).
This movie shows quite clearly the same thing I’ve experienced at live events with Tony: that he’s genuine, big-hearted, confident and unparalleled as a life coach. This simply means he changes people’s lives quickly and in a big way, and the movie aptly demonstrates this as it covers one of Tony’s 6-day, “Date With Destiny” events in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
One woman, Dawn, who was repeatedly sexually abused growing up in a cult is completely transformed in the film, and the Illuminate committee was expecting her to show up for a post-screening Q&A.
Unfortunately, Dawn could not secure a visa to come to the U.S., so Tony Robbins sent a video answering a few of the questions sent to him by the Illuminate committee instead. It was really fun having him address us as an audience, and Illuminate Executive Producer, Danette Wolpert returned the favor by filming us (the audience) thanking Tony back.
I absolutely adored the short film Catching Fire. It’s an infectious documentary about Peter Scott, a man who is single-handedly saving Africans lives, trees and lots of money. How is he doing it? Well, he created a super efficient little jiko stove to replace the traditional model that was so smoky and inefficient it took 20 times the charcoal (and trees) and killed many Africans with smoke inhalation.
The movie follows Scott, a man who got in a lot of trouble as a kid because he liked to burn things, as he creates his stove company (ironically named Burn) and is now saving many lives and trees in Africa. He’s also creating jobs for African women, as his factory is one of the few there that hires woman.
TREESTORIES (Shorts About Trees)
These adorable shorts by Ward Serrill are not to be missed! Each one explores the relationship between humans and trees, and features a larger than life character. So enriching!
MANTRA- SOUNDS INTO SILENCE (a work in progress)
Lush cinematography makes this film not just a treat for your ears, but a feast for your eyes as well. It features kirtan greats: Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, Deva Premal, MC Yogi and more.
After the film (which was unfinished at Illuminate, but shows great promise), Jai Uttal led a moving kirtan concert.
THE CONNECTED UNIVERSE (a work in progress)
Still a work in progess, I saw this film at the festival last year. It is still visually stunning and has progressed considerably in length. It also features physicist, Nassim Haramein, whom I adore. But at the end of the day, this was probably my least favorite film at IFF this year because it seems so intellectual and I feel a film about connection should show the ways in which we are connecting our hearts across the globe. I think the physics in the film would be more understandable if other more tangible areas of connection – like global heart-math phenomena, remote energy healing, and the way that strangers are helping each other across the world – were expored.
TEAL: THE MAKING OF A SPIRITUAL TEACHER (a work in progress)
I really enjoyed getting to know Teal better through this film. Prior to seeing it, I only knew her through her youtube videos which can tend to be a little stiff and emotionless (especially her older ones). In this movie, Teal really comes alive.
After the film, during the Q&A and Reel Healing experience (where she led us all through a powerful, guided meditation), she REALLY came alive. She was open, vulnerable, and even playful. It was fun to experience, and has forever shifted the way that I see Teal. I’m looking forward to the finished version of this film.
Both I, and my partner, Ross, thoroughly enjoyed all of Illuminate Film Festival’s offerings. Hats off to Executive Director, Danette Wolpert and her entire “dream team” who not only screened some of the most consciously relevant and touching films on the planet, but also offered up an entire program (the Conscious Film Convergence) dedicated to expanding the creation of more great, illuminating films, and “reel healings” after each film.
The reel healings, which were mini experiential guided healing processes were the most effetive when they were offered by people involved in the making of the film. My partner and I thoroughly enjoyed a yoga nidra process offered by veteran William Rodriguez after the screening of “Thank You For Your Service” and a guided meditation led by Teal Swan after the screeing of her film.
The Illuminate Film Festival is still very young, but already, it’s a full-fledged conscious cinema event. It doesn’t just screen an amazing array of conscious films, but hosts film industry panels promoting the creation and distribution of more conscious cinema, well-deserved tributes (this year, to Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith), experiential healings (both after the films and in the lobby), well-organized parties for networking opportunities, and forays into the future of film, which took the form of a virtual reality lab this year.
Danette Wolpert and her amazing crew — most of which are volunteers — deserve big kudos for what they’ve created. I, for one, am a fan, and know I’ll be back for more soul satisfying cinema next year! If you want to find out more about IFF, here’s their website, and if you want to help them make 2017 even better, here’s their donation page.