Statues and paintings can be sacred; texts like the Bible and the Tao Te Ching can be, too. As far as we know, though, no movie has gained similar acclaim. Barbara Fields believes there are sacred issues that can be accessed best via cinema, and next week she and the Association for Global New Thought will try to rectify this shortcoming — or at least draw an emphatic arrow pointing toward film’s potential to invoke sacred values.
The Awakened World International Film Festival Retreat wasn’t originally supposed to be so fancy. Fields, the executive director of the area chapter of Global New Thought, a spiritual movement that dates back to 19th-century American transcendentalists, originally meant to throw some films into the mix of her group’s big retreat, so she gave a mini-presentation to her board. “I just had the idea that we could show some films instead of just asking people to be there giving live presentations. They listened, and then they said, ‘No, let’s put together a whole film festival.’”
That was a year ago, and Fields, who studied comparative religion at UCSB in its 1970s heyday, had never started a film festival before. She began by investigating what was out there. “I had these criteria that the films had to be socially relevant and spiritually responsible,” she said. What that mostly means is no New Age or religious exploitation — nothing that either lures the gullible or claims to have a monopoly on truth. “You know people are very hungry for answers,” she said, and unfortunately there are lots of people who want to manipulate belief, using what Fields calls “spiritual materialism.”
“The surprising thing was that I was immediately overwhelmed with great films,” she recalled. She quickly assembled 40 people across the country to act as reviewers. The results were so good that a daunting number of very worthy projects had to be turned away.
“What’s even better is that we got nearly 100 percent involvement,” said Fields, proud that virtually all of the films will be accompanied by the director and several other key players.
Among those appearing are two Santa Barbara–based celebs. “You know Jeff Bridges and his wife, Susan, are very involved with the End Hunger Network,” said Fields, and the longtime Montecitan has made himself very available for discussions after the screening of A Place at the Table. Newer S.B. arrival Michael Imperioli (of The Sopranos fame) may be Fields’s fave of the fest. “You’ve probably heard that Michael is the nicest person you’ll ever meet, counter to his gangster image,” said Fields, whose Chicago upbringing brought her close to real mob folk. “He’s also a dedicated Tibetan Buddhist.” His contribution, The Hungry Ghosts, which he wrote and directed, is subtle in its religious implications, she said, “with dialogue that I swear is almost Shakespearian. And I don’t say that lightly.” Another former Santa Barbaran, Kerry Candaele brings back his film about Beethoven and interconnectedness, Following the Ninth.
The festival retreat will proceed along more didactic lines than say the Santa Barbara International Film Fest. Screenings will open with meditations, followed by the actual film, a question-and-answer period, and then a workshop, to ensure the film’s import isn’t lost in popcorn and idle chat afterward. But Fields wants it to be enjoyable, too. “I want to see people floating in and out of the energy these films create,” she said, speaking like a bard herself. “I hope it can be this rich so you can swim in it and it heals you.”
The Awakened World International Film Festival Retreat takes place October 27-30 at the Lobero Theatre, Center Stage Theater, and Unity of Santa Barbara. For more info and to register, visit awakenedworldfilmfestival.com and lobero.com.