Because of politics and Hollywood's need to reap the big bucks, the power of films has gotten a bad rap as of late. Plenty of message-less movies exist in today's culture. But film remains one of the most universal of languages, since it appeals on so many visceral levels. Fortunately there are still filmmakers whose work can reach deep into a viewer's soul and affect change—or at least illumination.
It is appropriate, therefore, that the theme of the second annual Sun Valley Spiritual Film Festival is the "Illuminating Power of Film."
The featured movies were chosen by the board of directors because they feature the best artistic and creative portrayals of world spiritual traditions. While most of the films are from the U.S., others were made in Spain, Poland, France, Morocco, India, Tibet, Canada, Italy, Israel and Argentina.
Besides the more than 35 films that will be shown, there are special events and speakers featuring Mathew Fox, Nathan Katz, Stephen Crisman and Sharon Janis.
Fox is the author of 28 books, including "Original Blessing," "One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths" and "A Spirituality Named Compassion." For 34 years he was a member of the Dominican Order. He is the recipient of the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award, putting him in the distinctive company of previous award winners the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa and Rosa Parks.
Katz founded the Center for the Study of Spirituality at Florida International University. Considered a recognized expert in the fields of Indo-Judaic Studies, South Asian religions; Judaism and Buddhism in India, Tibet and Sri Lanka, he is the author of "Who Are the Jews of India" and co-author of "Kashrut, Caste and Kabbalah: The Religious Life of the Jews of Cochin." He has been an Orthodox Jew, a former Sufi dervish, a Tibetan Buddhist yogi and a friend of the Dalai Lama.
Accomplished filmmaker, author, speaker, musician and owner of Night Lotus Productions, Janis lived a decade of monastic ashram life, producing and editing hundreds of videos for the worldwide web of Siddha Yoga devotees and students. She moved to Hollywood for a diverse television and film career, producing and editing some of the most popular television shows of the 1990s, winning many awards and working with such notables as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Charlie Rose, Suze Orman and Jane Velez-Mitchell, among others. She is the author of several popular books, including "Spirituality for Dummies" and "Secrets of Spiritual Happiness."
Crisman has produced more than 90 hours of documentaries over the past decade and has received numerous awards and coveted nominations from the film industry. Crisman received Emmy nominations for his documentary special, "Lotteries," and for "Blood Money: Switzerland's Nazi Gold." He recently produced a four-hour special for NBC/MSNBC on
"Death," as well as programs on "Pentecostals" and "Neo-pagans." He is currently filming a feature documentary film on "Jerusalem" and the Dalai Lama, as well as a series on Vietnam for National Geographic Television.
There are four world premieres, a U.S. premiere and several special screenings among the over 35 films being shown at this year's festival.
'Returning with Honor' (USA, 2006)
World Premiere: Sam Adams served on a Mormon Mission in the Philippines and returned early to the U.S. in 2004, with an undetermined disease. The doctors, unaware, couldn't detect anything in the blood work and calling Sam "a faker," claimed the problem was all in his head. Shunned by his family and community, he took off on a bike trip from Portland to San Francisco to find the answers to why his life was falling apart and to find out the truth about whether the one woman he loved really loved him. A heart warming film by first time Director Samuel Adams about his spiritual journey to find meaning in his life during a time of great tribulation.
'Circus of God' (Canada, 2006)
U.S. Premiere: "Circus of God" is an inside look at the evangelical movement, and the phenomenon of tent revivals in central Canada. From a Harley riding preacher, to an old school tent revivalist, the film follows the two preachers, their lives, and the lives of the people they touch. A compelling documentary and a rare inside look into this tradition.
'His Holiness the Dalai Lama Children's Day Event Documentary' (2006, USA)
Special preview screening: In 2005, the Dalai Lama visited Idaho and gave a presentation to more than 7,000 children from around the state. This documentary chronicles his meeting with these children and their expressions of love, compassion, and gratitude for his visit to the valley. The film is a special documentation of this historic event that will warm audience hearts. It was produced by Boise State University film student, Saandra Steinfelt, and Kiril Sokoloff, the philanthropist responsible for bringing the Dalia Lama to Idaho.
'Downtown or Higher' (USA, 2006)
Director to attend/World Premier: A hilarious film by first time director Georgiana Nestor, the film follows a homeless man in Manhattan who finds a book on Yogis. Intrigued, he considers that in some ways his "stripped down" lifestyle is very similar to that of these Holy Men. He decides to go in search of his guru.
'New Samaritans' (Israel/Russia 2006)
World Premier: Samaritans believe that they existed for more than 3,600 years in the land of Israel. Once numbering in the tens of thousands, presently the number of the descendants of this ancient nation is less than 900. On the brink of extinction, the spiritual leader of the nation that refers to itself as "the Shomrei ha-Emet," which means in Aramaic "Keepers of the Truth," breaks the fundamental commandment barring intermarriage. The film follows the first two lucky men as they set off to faraway lands in quest of brides.
'Longlife, Happiness & Prosperity' (2002, Canada)
Set in a grimy downtown Chinese neighborhood in Vancouver, the film is an urban fairy tale. A 12-year-old, Mindy Ho (Valerie Tian), is studying a book of Taoist magic in an effort to improve her single mother's (Sandra Oh) fortunes and bring her happiness.
'Expiration Date' (USA, 2006)
The winner of several regional film festivals, "Expiration Date" follows a 25-year-old Native American in Seattle who is preparing for what he thinks is his premature death. Hindering his carefully-thought-out preparations is an annoying but loving girl who won't let him die in peace.
Spiritual Film Festival
The event runs from Friday, Sept. 8, through Monday, Sept. 11, at the The Liberty Theater, Hailey, and Sun Valley Opera House, Sun Valley.