May 1, 2020
by Corinne Bourdeau
I created the Esalen Inspirational Film Festival (EIFF) with the vision that a film festival at Esalen would bring together a community of world-class filmmakers dedicated to creating and celebrating inspirational films. Every year our magical cinema-by-the-sea does just that. The festival brings together a remarkable group of filmmakers, activists, producers and film enthusiasts for a five-day celebration consisting of screenings, panels, filmmaker dinners, events and much more.
We were disappointed to have to cancel our festival this year, especially since we have engaged a dynamic new artistic-director, Trina Wyatt, and had another stellar line-up of films and presenters. However, it was the right decision.
In lieu of being together in person, our artistic team has selected seven uplifting films (one for each year of the festival) that we highly recommend for shelter-in-place viewing. Each of these films brings back wonderful memories of the festival. And, in addition to being good films, they also offer timely messages for our current challenging times.
1. Fantastic Fungi
Last year acclaimed filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg screened his film Fantastic Fungi to a standing-room-only crowd to the entire Esalen community. Fantastic Fungi is a spectacular journey into the mysterious world of mycelium and mushrooms. Louie, a world-renowned film director who pioneered time-lapse photography that celebrates nature, will be leading a workshop at Esalen in fall titled Awe and Wonder: Exploring the Intersection of Art, Science and Technology. Available on www.fantasticfungi.com.
2. The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom
A poignant documentary about the survivors in the areas hit hardest by Japan's 2011 tsunami who find the courage to rebuild as cherry blossom season begins. This stunning film offers keen insight and a parallel to our own times as we face the process of rebuilding. Director Lucy Walker, a two-time Academy Award-nominated filmmaker, is an EIFF favorite, who screened her Academy Award-nominated films Wasteland and The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom at the festival. Available on vimeo.com/ondemand/34084.
3. Waste Land
This stunning documentary profiles the work of artist Vik Muniz as he works with the catadores, the men and women who pick through the refuse in the world’s largest garbage dump in Brazil, to create art out of recycled materials. Fun EIFF fact: Director Lucy Walker met attendee/director Derek Peck at 2016's EIFF and offered to help him with his film about Ram Dass, Ram Dass: Going Home, which was then nominated for an Oscar. Available on Netflix and Amazon.
4. Love Thy Nature
Narrated by Liam Neeson, this film is a cinematic journey through the beauty and intimacy of our relationship with the natural world. The film shows that a renewed connection with nature is key to both our health and the health of the planet. Another Esalen connection: inspired by the film, Director Sylvie Rokab went on to become certified as a forest bather. She now leads forest bathing workshops at Esalen. Available on www.lovethynature.com/store.
5. The Way
In 2016, EIFF screened The Way, which tells the powerful story of a father (Martin Sheen) who travels to France to retrieve the body of his estranged son (Emilio Estevez), who died while attempting the pilgrimage to Spain's Santiago de Compostela. He resolves to take the journey himself in an effort to understand both himself and his son. One of our biggest hits. Available on Amazon.
6. Happy: The Movie
Academy Award-nominated director Roco Belik traveled around the world to investigate what truly makes us happy. The result is an engaging and positively uplifting look at what creates happiness, a film that stays with you long after viewing it. Roco followed our 2013 EIFF screening with a discussion on happiness that delighted the audience. Available on Amazon.
7. Road to Dharma
A stunning docuseries about a motorcycle adventure that evokes a deep look at our personal search for freedom and meaning. Last year, Adam Schomer, the series’ creator and director, screened the first three episodes of Road to Dharma to a captivated audience. Exhilarating with a profound spiritual theme, it was a big crowd-pleaser. Available on www.roadtodharma.com/watch-now (*first two episodes free).
Happy viewing. And please note: the Esalen Inspirational Film Festival will be back better than ever in Spring 2021.
Corinne Bourdeau is the founder and director of the Esalen Inspirational Film Festival. She is president of 360 Degree Communications, an entertainment company dedicated to films that inspire and create social change.