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God Goes to the Movies

With the Spiritual Cinema Circle, a higher form of entertainment is in the mail
by Ross Robertson

What does mind-body-spirit icon Deepak Chopra have in common with pop-metal poster boy Jon Bon Jovi? They both belong to the Spiritual Cinema Circle, a new DVD-of-the-month club with an Aquarian twist. Cofounded by veteran Hollywood producer Stephen Simon (Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, What Dreams May Come), this spiritual version of Netflix delivers between three and six films—features, documentaries, and shorts—to its members' mailboxes every month.

“Spiritual cinema is a genre that, up until recently, has not been recognized by Hollywood or mainstream media,” Simon says. “[Yet] there are lots of us out here who want more movies with heart and soul, movies that ask 'Who are we?' and 'Why are we here?' but also allow us to provide our own individual answers to those eternal questions.” To answer that need, the Spiritual Cinema Circle is presenting a host of lesser-known films that have been gleaned from the festival circuit or submitted by aspiring independent filmmakers. Think of it as a sort of New Age antidote to Mel Gibson's Passion and an open challenge to the sex-heavy, carnage-happy templates of Hollywood. Instead of stern religious dogmas, these movies convey personal spiritual messages; instead of violence and vulgarity, you get empathy and inspiration. “At the end of the day,” hopes Simon, “we just want to make our audiences feel at least slightly better about being a human being.”

Marketed toward sixty million Americans who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious,” the Circle is part of a recent trend to infuse higher meaning into secular entertainment—a trend that picked up a serious head of steam in 2004 with the release of cult favorite What the #$*! Do We Know!? and the filming of James Redfield's Celestine Prophecy: The Movie (see WIE Nov-Feb 2004/05). Indeed, the sheer speed of the club's growth is compelling testament to our society's soaring hunger for spiritual content in popular media. Since its debut just over a year ago, the Circle has attracted almost eighteen thousand members from sixty countries around the world. Hundreds more are signing up every day. Over a hundred local “spiritual cinema communities” have formed in at least twelve countries and thirty states as venues for mystical movie lovers to watch these films together and share their passion for the genre. Some video stores have even started creating “spiritual cinema” sections in their aisles.

So what about the movies themselves? What are Deepak and Bon Jovi getting for their $21 a month? Ranging from five-minute animated shorts to full-length features, the Circle's smorgasbord of outside-the-mainstream fare hides some real gems, especially among the documentaries. Farther Than the Eye Can See, for example, follows climber Eric Weihenmayer on a bid to summit Mt. Everest, a daunting challenge for any mountaineer. But what makes his story incredible is that this particular mountaineer happens to be blind. More than a tale of physical endurance, it's an intimate glimpse into one man's inner struggle with, and triumph over, the experience of fear and the idea of limitation. Too often, however, the Circle's films lack the brave and unpretentious humanity that makes documentaries like Farther Than the Eye Can See so appealing. Frequently, they even seem like New Age equivalents of daytime soap operas. Their characters can tend to be less heroes than victims: men painfully estranged from their fathers, husbands grieving over lost wives, women burned by love and lonely for affection, precocious children misunderstood by the world. They lament missed opportunities. They commiserate together. Eventually, they find some healing in therapeutic catharsis and/or glassy-eyed orbit around the perfect soul mate.

Mixed reviews aside, in an entertainment climate so often driven by the lowest common denominator of our basest impulses, the club's swift success is evidence that higher spiritual currents are beginning to stir in postmodern secular culture. Poised at the leading edge of a budding niche industry that they themselves are helping to define, they're proving that there's a market not only for films that explore spiritual values but for organizations that value community. With plans to start production on their own feature film in November (based on Simon's friend and fellow Oregonian Neale Donald Walsch's bestseller Conversations with God) and a new online master class in spiritual filmmaking being offered by Simon himself, the Circle continues to take risks and pioneer unconventional methods in order to bring more heart and soul to the moviegoing public.

Case in point: if you're a spiritual cinemaphile who doesn't just want to watch soul mates find each other on screen but are in the hunt yourself, what better place to look than the annual Spiritual Cinema Festival-at-Sea? We're sorry to report that it's too late to join this film-festival-meets-Caribbean-cruise on its maiden voyage—the MS Zuiderdam set sail from Ft. Lauderdale as WIE went to press—but there's always next year. Who knows? You might even catch a tan with Deepak by the pool or dance the night away with the partner of your dreams while Bon Jovi belts out “Livin' on a Prayer.”


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This article is from
Our Consciousness Issue