Mahatma Gandhi had “soul force”. Martin Luther King had “love in action”. And now Velcrow Ripper has “fierce light”—the title of his latest documentary on spiritual activism and also the title of a trilogy of which this documentary is the second installment. (The film—the full name of which is Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Action—opens in Vancouver on Friday [May 15].)
Watch the trailer for Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Action.
Ripper, whose previous film ScaredSacred was named one of the top 10 Canadian films of 2004 by the Toronto International Film Festival Group, says he coined the term because it brings together two parts of his life—the spirituality and the activism—that he felt he hadn’t properly integrated yet, even though they are both very important to him.
“Fierce Light is about looking for the meaning of what happens when those two qualities come together, the fierceness and the light,” says Ripper, who was born and raised in Gibsons, from his current home on Toronto Island. “So it was really about a journey to discover what that means, exactly.”
ScaredSacred was about finding the sacred in the face of fear and tragedy at “the ground zeroes of the world”, from Hiroshima and Palestine to post–9/11 New York City. It left him with questions that led to the new film.
“I began to look around and realize that my spirituality and my activism had been so separated, it was almost a schizophrenia in my life, so I felt the need to bring that together. My films always come from a place of my own inner journey, and then what I see happening in the global consciousness, and they often mirror each other.”
To show what these two forces can look like when they are brought together, Ripper profiles political and ecological activists such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, civil-rights leader John Lewis, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, and tree sitter Julia Butterfly Hill. There is even a taste of Hollywood civil disobedience, as Daryl Hannah spends three weeks sitting in a tree on an urban farm slated for development.
Ripper’s quest intensified after his friend and fellow activist Brad Will was shot and killed in 2006 while videotaping protests in Oaxaca, Mexico. “The stakes feel so high,” Ripper says. “Dare I think about spirituality when people are actually dying? What I discovered in the course of making the film is that there is a kind of industrial-strength spirituality, a kind of industrial-strength hope, that is exactly what we need when times get tough.”
Activists need spirituality, Ripper says, partly because the process of change is at least as important as any of the outward results that it might achieve—and the process alone can guarantee a certain kind of success.
“When your process is one that’s founded on compassion and openheartedness and community and sustainability and unity, free from racism and sexism—all those things that are part of a society that many people are trying to work towards—you’re already living the change. So if you don’t succeed in a particular goal, if in your process you are living those truths, you’ve already won.”
But it is equally important, he says, that spirituality not become “overly transcendent”, that it be balanced by a concern for the outside world.
“And when I talk about activism in the film and spirituality in the film, it doesn’t have to be in any way, shape, or form the more visible forms of activism. It can be just the way we live our lives, how we relate to people, coming from a place of compassion. And spirituality for me isn’t something that happens in church on Sunday. It’s about our day-to-day: how we move through our day, how present are we, how openhearted are we.”
The third film in the trilogy will be called Evolve Dissolve: Another World Is Here, and will concern what Ripper calls “evolutionary communities” that aren’t merely struggling to create change but are already living it. Possible subjects include the Gaviotas ecovillage in Colombia, Italy’s slow-food movement, and the world’s first Gross National Happiness index in Bhutan.
Ripper is also working on another feature-length documentary called Redvolution. “It’s like the red sheep of the films, as opposed to the black sheep,” he says, “and it’s about becoming your own spiritual superhero or superheroine. And it’s going to also be a funny, sexy, spiritual movie.
“We’re calling it ”˜Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a dark alley naked’, and I don’t think there’s been anything quite like it. But what it is about is becoming your own spiritual authority, about discovering truth for yourself, and it’s about being a spiritual rebel in a way.
“And it’s intended to be a fresh film that’ll appeal to younger generations, who are kind of jaded. As they say, the New Age is middle-aged. We need something new.”