Movies That Make Movements

Movies and Truth The digital age has brought us an overwhelm of information. Truth has often been the victim of this onslaught of information. Another problem is that it’s the loudest voices with the biggest budgets who are able to deliver their messages. Jeff Hays is a filmmaker who has made giving voice to the […]

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Review: “I Am” Film Seeks Answers to Life Questions

I Am

Running time: 80 minutes

Theme: Mindset

Director: Tom Shadyac

Availability: Google Play, Netflix

Price: $3.99 to rent, $12.99 to buy, free to stream on Netflix

Fun Fact: Director Tom Shadyac was the youngest writer ever to work with legendary comedian Bob Hope.

In this documentary, director Tom Shadyac seeks to answer two questions:

What’s wrong with our world?

What can we do about it?

You may be familiar with Shadyac – a hugely successful Hollywood director and producer, he’s the man behind classics like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Patch Adams and The Nutty Professor. After a nasty cycling accident, Shadyac found himself in a state of deep depression while suffering through post-concussion syndrome, a condition in which concussion symptoms can last for months, even years.

He describes himself during this period of his life as not suicidal, but still feeling ready for death. This time of reflection led him down the path of wanting to share what he had learned in his life, what changes in mindset he had in relation to success, happiness and the world we inhabit. He looks back at how he used his own success – multiple large estates, private jets, etc. – and how unfulfilling it all turned out to be.

To accomplish his mission of answering the two very simple questions, he interviews historians, activists, scientists, philosophers and journalists – including Noam Chomsky and Desmond Tutu – to find out what underlying principles are missing that are causing the ills of our planet (hunger, poverty, war, etc.).

The premise of this movie sounds like countless other documentaries, and you’d expect it to be an affair involving a whirlwind of negativity, pointing out all the ills of our society and who’s behind it all. The result of his efforts, however, is very different from what you might expect, and turns out to be quite beautiful.

Shadyac explores ideas that are common to New Age teachings and beliefs, but he does it in both a scientific and genuine way. He balances esoteric concepts with his own principles and scientific fact. He sheds light on the fact that human nature does not exclusively involve separation, scarcity and competition. In fact, he argues (and backs up with facts) that throughout nature you’ll find cooperation, compassion and unity to be just as, if not more, prevalent. Charles Darwin himself discusses these concepts in his work, The Descent of Man, but the interpretation of his works is skewed toward the concept of competition.

One of the most interesting parts of the film is the discussion of the intuitive and predictive power of the heart through regulating emotion, cognition and producing electromagnetic fields. The electromagnetic field that it produces can be measured and detected by other human brains. Positive emotions have a biological byproduct of helping you function better, including a clear mental state and drive to perform. Many negative emotions, including anger, physically inhibit cognitive function. We’re biologically hardwired to succeed when we practice and experience positive emotions such as compassion and cooperation.

I found myself moved by these concepts of practicing love, seeing [...]

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Commentary: Happy Earth Day! How Far We’ve Come… And Still Need To Go

When Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came out, it sparked a lot of controversy and discussion about the health of our planet. It opened eyes and reinvigorated the green movement in America, helping expand it across the world.

This is when we realized that mankind can’t keep operating the way it has been by harvesting and polluting Earth without care. Many people began doing their part to try and stop climate change through things like recycling, composting and taking shorter showers.

The government has stepped in by passing legislation to help encourage homes and businesses to go green. Loans were given out to businesses focused on helping the environment through things like clean energy. The wind industry may not be around today if not for the “green stimulus” built into the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

It’s been awhile since any real big legislative change has been set regarding the environment. The last major environmental act passed by Congress was the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which created laws for MPG in future vehicles, increased production in biofuels and refined standards for appliances and lighting.

But recently, some push did come from the White House when President Barack Obama, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy came together to talk about how the environment affects our health. They said as emissions levels rise, people with asthma face increased risks and the rest of the population will suffer from spikes in insect-borne diseases. Though this discussion is definitely a much-needed shake up of the status quo we’ve been stuck in, much more still needs to be done.

Solar panels on residential properties are taking off, but citizens still need to be educated about the incentives and the process that helps most homeowners save money.

Another problem is fracking regulations. Fracking, the method used for extracting natural gas, can cause more seismic activity around the site and also has the potential to contribute to drinking water contamination. Plus, the liquid chemicals used in fracking is a major concern.

Not many long-term studies have been done on fracking, because it’s only been used widely in the last couple of decades. Other methods should be researched and funded as alternatives to fracking.

Deforestation is still a huge problem in places such as Africa and South America. This is a huge problem as it contributes to the greenhouse effect while also displacing much of the wildlife in the area. According to the 2010 Global Forest Resources Assessments, deforestation releases almost a billion tons of carbon each year.

Finally, more regulation is needed for the use of pesticides. When some pesticides are messing with bees and others are being linked to ADHD, something has to be done.

The path to a greener Earth is a long and hard one, but it’s a battle worth fighting. Be sure to write your representatives and let them know you want them to help preserve the planet for future generations. If you want to help more directly, find an environmentally-focused volunteer organization [...]

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Review: “Burt’s Buzz” Tells the Story of the Man Behind Burt’s Bees

Burt’s Buzz

Running time: 88 minutes

Theme: Green Business

Director: Jody Shapiro


Price: $4.99 to rent, $9.99 to buy

Fun Fact: Check out these photos from Burt Shavitz’s time as a young photographer.

Burt’s Buzz tells the tale of Burt Shavitz, the now iconic figure behind Burt’s Bees. From the epitome of genuine, humble beginnings, Burt’s Bees has developed into one of the most recognizable international brands in natural personal care products, now worth over $1 billion.

The documentary provides an authentic depiction and history of Shavitz; one that may confirm or deny speculation by those who have become familiar with his image. He is indeed a man of the land, living in a modest space on a 37-acre plot in Maine, away from modernities that are of no interest to him. But the film also sheds light on his youth and how he came to find himself in this idyllic life. Many people are born and raised in such environments and formulate value systems based off of this fact. Shavitz, on the other hand, was a successful young photographer living in Manhattan when he decided to head to the countryside. He had crafted what would seem like a perfect life for a young creative – his day-to-day activities entailed cruising around Manhattan and taking photos of the unlimited amount of lively scenes that unfolded.

One day, a decision to leave New York City without notice led him upstate, where he just by chance discovered some beehives. Six months prior, a honey vendor/beekeeper had happened to give him all the tools necessary for beekeeping; as simple as that, a business was born. His goals weren’t lofty by any stretch: to sustain himself and make a product people enjoyed. There’s a beauty in the way he describes the events that almost makes you think you’re overcomplicating every decision and pursuit. Things just kind of fell into place, but at the same time Shavitz’s lap was there for them to fall onto.

One sentiment that resounded with me from the film was the power of providing genuine value as a business operation. Providing high-quality products that enhance people’s lives can be a powerful platform for change.

Throughout the film, Shavitz appears to show little enthusiasm in the making of the documentary. The filmmakers at times are forced to prod a bit, pulling storylines and repeating his ideals multiple times. Sure, the movie is a profile on him, but his role in it almost makes you, the viewer, feel as if you’re intruding on his life.

At the end of the movie, I couldn’t help but think his legend had influenced the film itself. He didn’t seem that strange – his worldview and lifestyle probably very similar to thousands of others. But the film at times tries to make him out to be this ultra-interesting character who actually is an icon. Truthfully – watching the first 30 minutes or so can give you a good sense of who Shavitz is. The rest of the storyline is interesting, but could be summed up in [...]

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Review: “Song of the New Earth” Opens Your Mind to the Power of Sound

Song of the New Earth

Running time: 87 minutes

Theme: Spirituality

Director: Ward Serrill

Availability: Digital version | Deluxe edition DVD

Price: Rent digital for $6.99 or buy for $16.99 | Deluxe DVD, $29.95

Fun Fact: It was named one of “The Top 10 Heartwarming Films of 2014” by The Huffington Post.

In this documentary, filmmaker Ward Serrill tells the fascinating story of sound healer/psychotherapist/sonic shaman Tom Kenyon. The film details his winding journey through the paths of a struggling artist, multiple life-changing transcendental experiences, studying in the Catholic Church and his academic career in the field of psychology. His experiences ultimately transform him into a very spiritual human being, able to utilize transcendental states to channel various beings through his voice. It just takes hearing a few testimonials of those who have attended his healing workshops to understand the impact he’s made.

Kenyon provides a very unique perspective on the spiritual realm – as someone who holds a master’s degree in psychology/counseling and has initiated psycho-acoustic brain research, he brings together both scientific and spiritual viewpoints. He seems to be keenly aware of the difference in his experiences between a psychological projection and a legitimate vibration from other realms. He recognizes himself standing right on the edge of the two distinctly different studies: “I’m actually a neo-pagan, Taoist, Tibetan Buddhist, agnostic, quantum physicist … mystic all rolled into one strange amalgam.”

His demeanor stands out as unbelievably authentic throughout the film. He himself recognizes that the things he claims and does sound absolutely “crazy” – but that doesn’t take away from their value. He speaks with a calm energy and utters various foods for thought that make you hit pause at various points.

“I believe we emerged from the infinite into the finite. And there’s different experiences for each of us as we make that transition.”

The production value of the film is very high. Engaging animations vividly tell the story of his past. The film also includes snippets from a few of his healing workshops, both with video of him performing and audio clips paired with video of natural scenery. The viewer can use these few minutes that pop up as micro-meditations – a small taste of the healing workshop experience.

“Sound vibration speaks to our souls, to our bodies, it bypasses our cognitive mind; when that happens, a door opens, and people can go through that door and discover miracles and mysteries in themselves they never imagined.”

The story ultimately pushes the boundaries of your beliefs (if they don’t already lie on that end of the spectrum) into what’s possible through entering transcendental states. He believes achieving mystical states of consciousness is a skill that can be learned through practice and concentration. He speaks with such a genuine energy that’s difficult not to believe.

Above all, the film gives a new, deeper appreciation of the power of sound, and how precious a gift it is for those of us who have been blessed with the ability to receive the vibrations.

Kenyon is currently taking time off from his healing workshops until later [...]

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REVIEW: “Welcome to the Machine” Provokes Thought About the Future of Technology

Welcome to the Machine

Running time: 86 minutes

Theme: Technology

Director: Avi Zev Weider

Availability: VHX

Price: Rent for $6.99 or buy for $14.99

Fun Fact: It was backed on Kickstarter.

In this documentary, filmmaker Avi Zev Weider explores the debate of the impact that rapid expansion of technology has and will have. Filmed in the United States in 2012, the movie follows a few storylines of people with a close relationship to technology: a blind man experimenting with new sight technology, army officers in the Unmanned Aviation Vehicle (“drone”) department and Weider himself, whose children were born prematurely and were forced to rely on life support machines for survival.

Intertwined with these stories is the discussion over the fundamental issue of the role of technology for humans as a species. The extreme views of Ted Kaczynski, also known as “The Unabomber,” are presented throughout the movie as snippets from his Manifesto; they serve as a platform of thought-provoking ideas that are directly and indirectly touched upon by the experts interviewed. This list includes a professor of technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a philosophy professor from the University of Michigan (who directly corresponds with Kaczynski through letters), the founding editor of Wired Magazine and a professor of computer science at Yale who was a victim of one of Kaczynski’s mail bombs.

Among the experts interviewed is renowned futurist Ray Kurzweil, known for his predictions, most notably that of technological singularity – the point where artificial intelligence exceeds human capacity and control – occurring by 2045. Kurzweil supports such rapid progress and a future in which we’re able to live past biological constraints. His views are presented in stark contrast to Kaczynski’s.

Kaczynski advocated for a society modeled after the hunter/gatherer days – claiming the Industrial Revolution sparked the creation of a system that fundamentally does not prioritize the best interests of the people. Weider’s mail correspondence with him (shown in the film) is an insightful addition to the discussion.

The film succeeds in presenting both sides of the issue without an extreme bias toward one direction. It causes the viewer to re-examine his or her own ideas, or establish some in the first place. It approaches the topic from multiple angles, including philosophical, social and religious. Ultimately, it provokes some questions that aren’t immediately easy to answer. Is technology neutral as a means to an end? If not, are potential negative consequences of technology justified by the positive effects of things like being able to maximize human potential and expression? Are we blindly following technologists who are fueling an “engine of novelty,” but may not be in control of the vehicle? What’s the appropriate level of technology that we and the planet can tolerate?

These questions might be a little scary to consider, but are without a doubt important ones to address going forward. The film is a good introduction to anyone new to the debate, but doesn’t dive too deep into any particular area. If the topic interests you, expect to do some research for more information after [...]

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Review: “Virunga”, Oscar-Nominated Documentary That’s Making An Impact

Virunga National Park is located in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and is home to the last of the wild mountain gorillas. Congo is a country that, while rich in natural resources, is lacking in political stability. Park authorities were making great progress in combating poachers and encouraging tourism to the area. However, shortly after the filming of Virunga began in 2012, a group of rebels who called themselves the “March 23 Movement (M23)” declared war and mutinied against the Congolese government. Another factor complicating conservation efforts is that SOCO International, an oil and gas exploration and production company, is interested in searching for oil within the park.

Virunga, a documentary directed by Orlando von Einsiedel, follows four different characters with different aspects of protecting the park. There’s André Bauma, a caretaker for some of the only mountain gorillas in captivity. There’s Rodrigue Katembo, head park ranger who cares for the park on a daily basis. The film also follows the chief warden, Emmanuel de Merode, who oversees the operations and keeps morale up for all the other rangers. Lastly there’s Mélanie Gouby, a French investigative journalist that travels to Congo with the intent of discovering SOCO’s plans for the area.

The first thing I must remark upon is the amazing beauty von Einsiedel was able to capture at Virunga. There certainly is no doubt of the natural beauty of the area. It’s amazing to see early in the film the diversity of life that the park holds. There are shots in Virunga that almost reminded me of Ron Fricke’s meditative documentary Baraka. The beauty of the park makes it more upsetting as the film carries on and the conflict of Congo endangers not only the wildlife in Virunga, but the park employees caring for it as well. It’s noted in the film that throughout the life of the park, 130 rangers have died protecting it.

First, there’s the issue of the poachers. Park ranger Katembo explores the vast park trying to stop poachers. One day he and his team find an elephant impaled with its tusks removed. The rest is left for the flies and ants. The team finds a makeshift camp. One man happens to be in the camp. The rest are gone, he says. The man is arrested and a team continues to search for the rest of the poachers. The camp is burned so that no one else can use it.

Then there’s the issue of protecting the mountain gorillas. Their numbers are dwindling. “Only 880 mountain gorillas remain in the world,” states the film’s movie poster. Why would anyone kill the gorillas? There’s a belief among the poachers that if all the gorillas are gone, then there will be no reason to protect the land. The gorillas in captivity are kept as their parents were killed by poachers and they would die without care. When they’re old enough, they will be released back into the wild, but until then, Bauma cares for them. The caretaker has a deep [...]

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