Q & A with
Recognizing the powerful effect - both positive and negative - that the media has upon our culture, Simon has become the leading spokesperson for a new genre he has coined as "Spiritual Cinema." Spiritual Cinema examines who we are and why we are here and illuminates the human condition through stories and images that inspire us to explore that what we can be as a humanity when we operate at our very best. Spiritual Cinema reflects our beliefs and values and illustrates their impact upon our lives and our society. In this context, spiritual refers not to religion, but to the unseen divine essence that is life force itself. History has revealed that individuals or cultures that lose their connection to this essence become devoid of love, respect and compassion.
To firmly establish Spiritual Cinema as a formidable force within the entertainment industry, Simon recently produced and directed the feature film "Indigo," which won the coveted Audience Choice Award in its debut at the December 2003 Santa Fe Film Festival and is set for release in early 2005. "Indigo" both embraces the values and principles of Spiritual Cinema, and its │back story▓ reflects these values as well. The financing and production of this film are truly a miraculous story of faith and vision. Collaborating with author and noted peace emissary James Twyman, whose "Beloved Community" helped to finance the production; and Neale Donald Walsch, author of the New York Times╣ best selling "Conversations With God" series, who co-wrote the screenplay and starred in the film; Simon firmly stakes his claim as a trailblazer in the annals of motion picture history.
An explosive grass roots movement called "Spiritual Cinema Communities," evolving as a result of Simon's seminars and courses, has contributed to the word-of mouth promotion of spiritual films. Numerous invitations to screen "Indigo" at prestigious film festivals serve as a clear demonstration of support for his sacred vision. Simon is again collaborating with Neale Donald Walsch in the development and production of the motion picture "Conversations With God," based on Neale's book and starring Neale, as himself. The film is slated for production in late 2004.
Stephen Simon is co-founder and president of "Moving Messages: The Institute for Spiritual Entertainment, Inc." an educational, development and distribution non-profit corporation for feature films, television shows, documentary, educational and training programs. Its mission is to use traditional and new media to express ideas that illumine and inspire individual and social transformation. With a focus on spirituality and film, he teaches several seminars and writes a nationally syndicated column called │The Movie Mystic.▓ He is a graduate of UCLA and Loyola Law School and was admitted to the California Bar in 1974. He practiced law from 1974 to 1976.
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Q: In your words, what is the spiritual cinema circle?
SS: The world's first and only home DVD subscription service that delivers 4 or 5 films per month that warm your heart, expand your mind, and stir your soul.
Q: What was the inspiration behind the Spiritual Cinema Circle?
SS: First of all, to create a distribution outlet for filmmakers who want to make movies that ask who we are and why we're here - films that help us feel better about human beings.
Second, to make those films available to an audience that has grown weary of the cynicism and emptiness of most studio films. An audience that wants films which are focused on the lost art of the story.
We see Spiritual Cinema as the 21st Century version of shamanic storytelling - with filmmakers as the modern day shamans, sitting around a celluloid campfire, passing down the myths and hopes of a culture from one generation to another.
Q: What has the response been?
SS: Beyond extraordinary. After only 8 months, we have subscribers in over 60 countries around the world and we reached subscriber levels that we thought would take at least 18 months to achieve. Even more importantly, our subscribers are intensely loyal and seem to be as passionate about what we're doing as we are.
Q: How do you go about selecting your films? In other words, what makes a good spiritual film?
SS: As to the process itself, Anna Darrah, our Director of Acquisitions, is in touch with filmmakers and film festivals around the world. We feel that our subscribers are getting a virtual ticket to every spiritual film in every film festival in the world.
As to the films themselves, while drama does require conflict and the resolution of that conflict, it does not require that the resolution come in a violent or dehumanizing package. We choose films that respect and illuminate the majesty and promise of our humanity, films that have a core respect for the truth that we are a species that can consciously love...and forgive. More simply put, these movies allow us to look at who we can be as a humanity when we operate at our very best.
Q: Why do you think spiritual films are good for us? What impact can they have on our health? What impact can they have on our consciousness?
SS: As background, we need to first distinguish between spiritual entertainment and religious entertainment.
While religious and spiritual have much more in common than they are different, most mainstream media imply that they are synonymous, and they are not. "Religion" reflects the teachings of particular organized religions that commonly present specific rules, regulations, and rituals that must be followed in order to experience a connection with the Divine which is usually identified as male and outside of humanity. 'Spirituality' entails a more personal, inner-directed, and individual experience of the Divine, which is represented as an integral aspect of our own humanity. The Passion would be a classic example of Religious Cinema while Whale Rider would be a prime example of Spiritual Cinema.
As to the potential impact of Spiritual Cinema, these films remind us of the eternal nature of our soul's journey. Regardless of what most mainstream media outlets would have us believe, humanity is NOT a debased species and these films remind us of that distinction. They encourages us to manifest the magic of our potential as the dreamers, lovers, and architects of a new reality where we truly can find peace within our hearts and minds.
Q: Do you believe that there is a shift happening in Hollywood--that decision makers are now realizing that there is a demand and/or need for more heart-based, spiritual films?
SS: Sadly, no.
In their unfortunate and desperate quest for the "under-25" film audience, Hollywood Studios have turned their backs on and alienated adult filmgoers who no longer attend movies on a regular basis. This is a sad and relatively recent phenomenon. Even though studios have always sought young moviegoers, the old studio chiefs maintained a loyalty to adult subject matter as well.
The corporate dismemberment of creative thought and entrepreneurial passion in today's Hollywood has canceled that commitment to storytelling and replaced it with much flash and little substance; furthermore, the studios now basically pack all their adult films into the last 3 months of each year so as to qualify for Academy Awards.
The Studios have dedicated the other 9 months of the year almost exclusively to the release of projects which the corporate managers have designed for youth and action seekers; consequently, many adults -young and old-who seek a return to storytelling have lost the moviegoing "habit." In addition, even many films designed for this audience suffer because they are indeed packed into that 3-month window.
With the target audience out of the habit of going to films, many quality films fail and, in a dazzling "Catch-22" rationale, the studios then claim that there is no audience.
Well, there was. Until the studios chased them away.
Q: What is your favorite film? Why?
SS: It's so hard to pare it down to one film. It all depends on what mood I'm in and what kind of experience I'm looking for. If I absolutely had to pick just one, I think it would be It's A Wonderful Life. I ALWAYS feel so good about being a human being after seeing Clarence get his wings and the film is so exalting in its view of our basic decency as people that I never get tired of watching it.
Q: What films would you recommend for a recovering cancer patient? (these should be general - not from the spiritual cinema circle)
SS: Perhaps any film that makes us appreciate just being alive? I particularly loved a film in 2003 called Love, Actually which is so upbeat and positive about the human condition that it always inspires and empowers me.
Q: What films would you recommend for someone who has recently experienced the loss of a loved one, or is experiencing depression, grief, etc.?
SS: I might gently recommend an underappreciated film like Cast Away which so eloquently reminds us of the promise of tomorrow's dawn.
Q: Are you still involved in making new films? Please let readers know what you're up to these days.
SS: I am thrilled that, later this year, I will be directing and producing the film version of Neale Donald Walsch's best-selling Conversations with God.
It took me 3 years to get "Somewhere in Time" made and almost 20 years to get "What Dreams May Come True" produced. I've wanted to make this new film now for almost 10 years because it says so much about the triumph of the human spirit and because it also illuminates a radically new look at the way we perceive God energy in our lives.
The film will be shot in the Fall of 2005 and then premiere exclusively to subscribers of The Spiritual Cinema Circle in 2006.
Q: Which film (ever made) do you think is the "Most Enlightened"?
SS: "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure". Has there ever been a more enlightened phrase than "Be excellent to each other and party on, dude"?
OK. Seriously, I would never even be able to begin to choose the most enlightened film ever--not in this life anyway!!
Q: What is your vote for the Best Spiritual Comedy? (P.S. Did you like Groundhog's Day)?
SS: "Groundhog Day" would definitely be in my top 5--along with maybe "Oh, God, Defending Your Life", and "Heaven Can Wait."
But my favorite is "Being There." To succinctly explain why I revere this film so much, I can just refer to the immortal line in its ad copy: "Life is a state of mind."
Q: If you could give an Oscar this year to any outstanding film for the merit of its spiritual content, which film would you give the honor to?
SS: It would absolutely be the brilliant and underappreciated Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind.
The haunting question at its core relates to our memories of those we have loved and who have loved us. What happens to our experience of those memories if the love transforms, ends, transmutes into pain, heartbreak, sadness? Do we live in the sunshine of the love as it was when it shone most brightly or do we suffer in the darkness and pain of the aftermath of heartbreak and disillusionment? Would we erase those memories if we could? Or, perhaps, can we choose to experience both the light and the darkness, simultaneously and forever?
The choice is always ours. If we could literally erase those conscious, and even subconscious memories, wouldn't something still remain in the depth of our unconscious, waiting to be triggered anew at a particular moment? Most importantly, what indeed ARE those memories? When we know that time is an illusion, and that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, what do we make real and what do we render to our dream and other than conscious states?
Q: Do you believe that Hollywood does an honest job of reflecting the consciousness of the masses?
SS: Oh my goodness, absolutely not!! They may indeed be reflecting how cynically they and most mainstream media look at consciousness but they don't reflect the deep search there is today for meaning in life.
That is, Hollywood basically gives people what they want (or films that generally reflect the majority's level of consciousness).
Hollywood makes films that generally reflect the studios' limited West Los Angeles view of humanity and, as a result, they have left the land of storytelling and moved on to more barren terrain. They've gone the way of network television - lowest common denominator programming. Much as with cable programming in television, the only interesting and imaginative filmmaking today is happening with Independent films.
Q: I find it interesting that many films in the action genre tend to reflect a consciousness of revenge, that is, problems or conflicts in a film are resolved through violence. In these films, violence appears to be justified because the triumph is good over evil and so, if "good" prevails, then the end (resolution, revenge) is justified. This is exemplified in films where the "bad guy" is killed (or dies) in the end. Why do you think so many films continue to resolve themselves in this way? Do you think that Hollywood is making any inroads on exploring new ways to resolve conflict in film?
SS: No. And I don't believe that they even think in those terms.
The corporate takeover of Hollywood over the last 15 years has unfortunately resulted in substituting traditional corporate thinking for creative passion. Except from a financing standpoint, studios have no interest whatsoever in exploring new ways to make movies creatively, The classic "moguls" of Hollywood's storied past made their decisions about films from their guts and instincts and instructed their marketing divisions to devise a way to sell them. Today, marketing divisions are consulted very early on in the process and have been quietly given veto power. Of course, the studios deny that but the denial does not make the truth any less stark. Marketing people know how to easily find audiences that like violent films so they feed us a steady diet of them.
Mayer, Thalberg, and Selznick must be turning in their graves in sadness and disgust. Until someone comes along and reestablishes trust with the audience that the studios have abandoned, Hollywood is on a collision course with the fate of their network counterparts. They are both becoming less relevant every day.
Q: Do you think that the mainstream wants to see such films?
SS: Actually, yes, I do - at least as it pertains to a segment of what you refer to as "mainstream" (a concept that I believe is growing more arcane every day - but that's another discussion). Anyway, there is nothing intrinsically "wrong" with making those films - just not to the exclusion of almost everything else. Hollywood is indeed a business and it needs to make a profit.
The sad part is that the studios have become so timid, complacent and myopic that they neglect untold millions of people who want something different---and that's one reason why The Circle has been so successful so quickly.
Q: One study by researchers at the University of Michigan discovered that different films create different physiological responses in people. For example, when men watched "The Godfather: Part II," their testosterone levels soared, making them less likely to be interested in cooperative, social behavior. On the other hand, when couples in the study watched scenes from the romantic drama "The Bridges of Madison County," both men and women experienced higher progesterone levels - which are thought to combat anxiety.
SS: I loved BOTH of those movies!!
Q: Can you hypothesize as to what effect spiritual cinema has on viewers?
SS: Spiritual Cinema illuminates the landscape of our evolution and stirs us to remember who we can be when we reach beyond the seen into a realm where we engage the magical aspects of our human potential.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
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