“Man never made any material as resilient as the human spirit.”
— Bernard Williams
Top 10 Spirit-Related Films of All Time by Conscious Contributor Lorraine Hess
Spirit can be defined as several things – the nonphysical part of ourselves, the soul or inner being. It can be described as the seat of our emotions and character, and it can be regarded as the qualities that define our attitudes and thoughts.
Here, Conscious Good’s Acquisitions VP, Lorraine Hess, shares her top ten favorite Spirit films of all time.
Into Great Silence
2005 ‧Documentary ‧2h 49m
Director: Philip Gröning
For me, this film embodies the very essence of spirit in the form of silence. The tranquility of a Carthusian monastery hidden in the French Alps has no score, voiceover, nor archival footage. The only sounds are the daily activities of monks, and the natural environment that surrounds them. This transformative work of art was my first real experience of film as a form of meditation and remains one of my favorite films of all time.
2001 ‧Documentary ‧1h 33m
Director: Mickey Lemle
When Ram Dass, the famed spiritual leader and author suffers a massive stroke in 1997, filmmaker Mickey Lemle captures his brush with death and recounts the extraordinary life of this caring and brilliant individual. The very essence of spirit shines through at a transformational moment in the film when Ram Dass, faced with death, finds himself unprepared. “That’s the test,” he says,” and I flunked the test.” Through his brutal honesty and self-exploration, we learn valuable lessons about accepting our own mortality in a beautiful and compassionate way.
The Heart of the World: The Elder Brother’s Warning
1990 ‧Documentary ‧1h 26m
Director: Alan Ereira
This seminal documentary tells the story of a South American tribe from the Sierra Nevada mountains of northern Columbia, who after 400 years of seclusion, asks a BBC filmmaker to deliver its prophetic message to the world: if we do not protect our natural environment, we face our own extinction. No film I have seen before or since has managed to capture the spirit of indigenous wisdom as much as this extraordinary documentary. They entrust Ereira to bring us the gift of the Kogi tribe’s knowledge in the form of a warning against our foolish destruction of the planet that gives us life itself.
Seeing, Searching, Being
Director: Ken Burns
1. Part One – William Segal [19:20]
2. Part Two – Vézelay [24:15]
3. Part Three – In the Marketplace [28:10]
For me, this astonishing collaboration between documentary superstar Ken Burns and William Segal, philosopher, publisher, writer and painter, is the quintessence of spirit. The three films that portray Burns’ life and work are mesmerizing. His reflections on art, architecture, religion and daily life, have stayed with me as a beautiful example of spirit in both thought and action.
Truly, Madly, Deeply
990 ‧Drama/Fantasy ‧2h 7m
Release date: May 24, 1991 (USA)
Director: Anthony Minghella
This quirky movie appealed to me on a deep level. The story focuses on a pair of lovers played by Juliet Stevenson and one of my favorite actors of all time, Alan Rickman. When Rickman’s character dies, his lover is devastated. She cannot live without him. When he returns to her from the Afterlife, they continue their relationship until, at last, she must let him go. The spirit of love, acceptance and the nature of the Afterlife all shine through in this heartbreakingly beautiful film.
2011 ‧Music/Documentary ‧1h 42m
Director: Ron Fricke
Samsara is a Sanskritword that, among other things, refers to the karmic cycle. In the same vein as his previous film, Baraka, Ron Fricke’s mind-blowing filmic meditation set to music is an unforgettable work of art. Filmed over almost 25 years, in 25 countries, on 5 continents, the film captures in the most visually arresting way, the beauty and wonder of our planet. Even when it shows the surreal and sometimes tragic consequences of some of our own actions, spirit is never far away in this inspirational and timeless film.
1999 ‧Drama/World cinema ‧1h 49m
Initial release: January 20, 2000 (Germany)
Director: Doris Dörrie
I love this funny film about two brothers who seek enlightenment from their crazy lives by going to a retreat in a Zen monastery in Japan. Faced with the challenges of getting lost in Tokyo’s modern neon jungle and trying to learn the sometimes difficult and mundane tasks of being a Zen monk, what starts as a midlife crisis ends with sorely needed reflection and self-knowledge. The, at times, hilarious film shows how comedy and laughter are a crucial part of our understanding of spirit.
Music genre/Documentary ‧1h 43m
Release date: March 4, 1994 (USA)
Director: Tony Gatlif
This groundbreaking film captures the very soul of gypsy music, dance and culture in the most exquisite cinematic fashion. Director Tony Gatlif follows a family of Roma travelers for a year during their iconic journey from India to Spain. The traditions and way of life of this endangered people is vividly portrayed and their unique spirit, thanks to this classic film, has always stayed with me.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
2011 ‧Documentary ‧1h 23m
Director: David Gelb
In this unforgettable film about revered sushi chef Jiro Ono, spirit comes in the form of sushi. The perfectionism of the master, and the challenges of his son, unable to live up to the father’s standards and legacy, are deeply touching. The very beauty of creating something as exquisite as sushi, and the importance of tradition, craft and dedication, take the form of spiritual practice. The striving for perfection, and the many forms of love shown in the film, are deeply affecting, carrying with them a deeper level of meaning than a mere piece of sushi.
Man on a Wire
2008 ‧Indie film/Historical Documentary ‧1h 34m
Release date: July 25, 2008 (USA)
Director: James Marsh
This film, mixing re-enactments, archival footage and interviews, is a masterful re-creation of Philippe Petit’s 1974 stunt to perform a high-wire acrobatic act on a wire strung between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. If ever a film represents the human spirit this is it. The audacity of the feat, the preparation and daring that went into it, and the realization of a dream that most would think to be sheer madness, ultimately inspires us all to seek our own dreams, follow our own spirit and take a chance at personal greatness.
About Lorraine Hess, Acquisitions VP Conscious Good
Lorraine, is a specialist in the international film acquisitions and content curation world. After over a decade as a producer, Lorraine became VP Acquisitions and Programming for LINKTV for 16 years. She now consults for film festivals, TV networks and online channels to bring her sensibility and taste to a variety of outlets. Lorraine’s love of film emanates from its unique ability to combine so many strands of human experience. From the universes of sound and music to visual arts, storytelling and moving images, Lorraine says, “it has always amazed me how a well-crafted film can ignite both the intellect and emotions to literally transform the world we thought we knew’.
She is currently Distribution Consultant for the PBS Global Spirit series, co-curating KCETLINK’s documentary strand, LinkVoices, Acquisitions Liaison for Channel X, Advisor for the Bertha Foundation and Acquisitions VP for The Conscious Good.
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Interested in More Films Related to Spirit?
Well, you’re in luck. Conscious Good is now accepting submissions for the Spirit Film Festival! The Spirit Film Festival is a celebration of spirit, spirituality, inspiration, relationships, and consciousness. Films can touch on themes such as Spiritual Traditions, Universal Spirit, Afterlife, the Spirit of Other Sentient Beings, Gratitude, Relationships (as a connection of Spirit), Creativity (as an expression of Spirit) and more.
Eligible formats include narrative, documentary, or animation and films should be 3-20 minutes in length. There will be a live show on December 5th in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Monica Film Center and a panel of judges including filmmakers, celebrities and ministers/spiritual leaders will select two winners and a special mention. Attendees of the Festival as part of the Conscious Good Studio Series will vote for the winner of the Audience Award. The Winning Jury Prize is $2,000, the Second Place Jury Prize is $1,000 and the Audience Award is $2,000.
So, what are you waiting for?