Festivals like Illuminate in Sedona are showing movies with a deeper message and this year’s lineup once again featured many notable leaders in the movements of consciousness and social activism. This year’s program included movies that further blur any distinction between mainstream and “new age” topics and feature the likes of Morgan Freeman, Maya Angelou, Tony Robbins, Russell Simmons, and Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith, among others.

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A huge aspect of the festival is the community that is growing around it, which spreads into all of Sedona via the opening party festivities. The movie for the night was work-in-progress BE MORE, a stirring documentary film narrated by Joaquin Phoenix about seven activists who make it their mission to create a more compassionate world. Their goal: To transform the lives of seventeen teenagers in seven days.

The festival continued the next day as Morgan Freeman narrates the very powerful C Word – an amazing film that traces both the industry around cancer and the lifestyle factors which cause the disease – exercise, nutrition, toxins, stress.  The C Word, captured the Audience Award for Best Feature Film.

One thing I learned was that the cigarette industry took over the processed food industry, using the same marketing methods that had worked so well for them. Sadly the main focus of the film, the physician whose life’s work this is, celebrated French neuroscientist and cancer revolutionary Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, passed away in 2011. But then the filmmaker herself – who is also a survivor – then became a major character.  There is even powerful humor at work here – an important movie that has legs.

I did not know what to expect from Maya Angelou And I Still Rise, having had very little background other than to know the subject as a famous African American artist.  Besides providing an alternative perspective on the civil rights and women’s movement starkly in contrast to what can be gleaned from conventional history and the mass media, the documentary/biography portrays the vibrant spirit of Angelou in many roles: author, poet, Grammy-winner, civil rights activist, and shining example of what it is to be empowered moment by moment in one’s life. Directed by Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack, the film features interviews with Oprah Winfrey, James Earl Jones, Alice Walker, and Hillary Clinton. The film received the Director’s Choice Award for the festival.

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I also had no idea what to expect from Teal: The Making of a Spiritual Teacher, directed by Paola Marino, which was also a work in progress and it was the first time that the subject, Teal herself, had seen this version.

I had heard a bit about the controversy around Teal so I was intrigued by how the film might deal with it; from the beginning it is apparent that this is really about an unbelievable level of horror visited upon a young girl and her ability to ultimately heal herself, and then others.

Teal addresses the “cult” issue directly in the film, seeing it as just another manifestation of the resistance that the mind can project when things are uncomfortable.  The film features some interesting healing sessions similar to Byron Katie’s work, and indeed I was reminded of Katie’s famous quote:  “When you argue with reality you only lose 100% of the time.”

This is really the crux of Teal’s message, a deep acceptance of the wisdom of Life over the unconscious tricks of the ego, which has also earned her the friendship of Eckhart Tolle. Referred to as “The Spiritual Catalyst” and dubbed the next Wayne Dyer, Teal Swan’s extrasensory gifts and connection to the spiritual realm have become fair game for critics, but the film lets you get to know Teal intimately and to form your own conclusions.

Directed by Adam Shell, Pursuing Happiness investigates many aspects of the desire to be happy, which sometimes is so intense that we spend an immeasurable amount of time and money trying to obtain it. This enchanting, revelatory documentary seeks out the happiest people in America and uncovers the secrets to their happiness.

Illuminate also has a track allowing filmmakers to network and learn from experts in the field. Mark DeNicola was on a panel that included a film critic, social media experts and publicists, and fellow filmmakers.

360 Communications in L.A. is a specialist in this field and its founder Corinne Bourdeau emphasized the importance of personalizing contact and particularly solicitations rather than using a mass, ‘one press release fits all’ approach.

The panel focused on how high tech and social media are intimately involved in the promotion of any film these days but described how they have their own set of rules that involves engagement and connection.

Maya Zuckerman – founder of Transmedia SF and Huffington Post columnist — shared her extensive experience in venturing into new technology (Virtual Reality) and its challenges both here and in a VR panel.

Mark DeNicola from Collective Evolution suggested that it’s vital that the filmmaker herself live what is in the message and own it authentically.

Mark also raised eyebrows when he shared research which says that 90 per cent of video (on YouTube and streaming sites) is viewed muted, which presents new challenges. He distinguished between likes and actual reach in a social campaign, suggesting that this is a key focus to take in analytics, and also credited his girlfriend with making sure that he had balance – between the pressure to work 24/7 and then also to decompress and explore the incredible scenery and vortexes of Sedona in order to recharge.

Having written about VR but not having had the chance to actually try a headset for myself, I was enthralled by a short 13 minute demo by the makers of a VR production: The Click Effect was directed by Sandy Smolan and James Nestor, author of the award winning book DEEP: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves.

With the VR headset you get to experience a dive to 100-feet below the ocean’s surface to witness the “click” communication and visual language of dolphins. In the demo there was action wherever I looked and I was fully immersed in a complete environment of water everywhere.

In the panel on VR the filmmakers described the editing process, which involves melding sequences that have been stitched together from various camera views and then donning a headset to see the cuts, and then tweaking the footage accordingly.

The world premiere of Love, Sweat and Tears, directed by Scott Jacobs, won the 2016 Feature Competition Jury Prize. The documentary follows Dr. Pamela Dee Gaudry on her mission to “Save the Menopausal Vaginas of the America!” by marrying medical facts with profound insights from some of today’s influential spiritual leaders.

Having watching his infomercials and read a bit about him, I was very eager to see the Festival’s Spotlight Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru, directed by Academy Award® nominated Joe Berlinger.

Two things hit you in the face in this film: the unbelievable and almost infinite energy and commitment of Robbins himself (and his amazing team) and the profound effect on those who participate in his programs.

The film captures a six day event called Date with Destiny and follows Robbins as he prepares and then intervenes in the lives of individual attendees and works his magic in changing lives.

Robbins’ methods are unqiue and unconventional both in terms of language and tone and the film is probably as close as one can come without actually participating in an event to getting the gist.

Robbins himself spoke to the audience via video at the conclusion to follow up on some of the segments, and I was struck by his deep commitment and sincerity — he is a man with a mission to ease suffering and he has reached an immense number of people in his amazing life.

The film received Honorable Mention for the Director’s Choice Award for the festival.

This overview is just the tip of the iceberg. Conscious cinema is a force that is growing and making significant contributions to the transformation of many filmgoers by allowing them to experience techniques and insights that would otherwise be unavailable. For only the third year, Illuminate is at the forefront of this movement.


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