How Conscious Cinema Is Making Its Way Into The Mainstream

As art reflects the changes in social and cultural conventions as they happen, the current movement in film where “conscious cinema” is reaching the mainstream hopefully indicates a shift in the consciousness of millions of movie lovers. While blockbuster remakes remain prevalent in Hollywood, there is a sea change afoot. Festivals like the upcoming Illuminate in Sedona are featuring movies with a deeper message yet with plots and characters that keep audiences enthralled. I was fortunate enough to attend last year’s Illuminate event and saw powerful films about transition (death), raised consciousness by some of the great thinkers of the 20th century (Tim Leary and Ram Dass and their friendship), the horrors of human trafficking, and the amazing wisdom traditions of indigenous peoples around our planet.

The screenings were packed and this year’s event anticipates even greater attendance and more powerful energy. Part of this movement is that the centralized power of Hollywood is giving way to distribution of content that is not controlled only by giant corporations. Independent film makers thrive at festivals like Illuminate and their films can take off by word of mouth and social media. And while movies cost lots of money to make, profit is no longer the only driving motive, although movies like the 2016 mainstream hit Miracles From Heaven might have been the tipping point for underscoring how profitable this ‘niche’ can be.

The trend is so strong that even mainstream producers like Barnet Bain are able to focus their energies on projects that don’t seem “commercial,” like the current film based on Eckhart Tolle’s children’s book, Milton’s Secret. Barnet Bain is the producer of such films as What Dreams May Come and The Celestine Prophecy, and the author of The Book of Doing and Being. At last year’s festival, audiences were able to hear his feelings about his current passion for “rediscovering creativity in love, work and art” (the book’s subtitle). Other bestselling books about consciousness are also becoming hit movies. Eat Pray Love features mainstream mega-star Julia Roberts as a seeker of enlightenment in India, serving as yet another introduction to the world of mind/body/spirit for many. And the trappings and merchandising of spirituality have also hit the mainstream. Yoga and meditation are everywhere and Yoga pants are now worn by people who have never even thought about taking a class... Just this week, yoga brand Gaiam sold for $146 million. In the mass media we can see that “woo woo” spiritual teachers like Deepak Chopra, who has written about alternative medicine for years, are being joined by mainstream authors like Dr. Oz, who is raising awareness of the obvious mind-body connection among millions. Meditation is finding its way to Silicon Valley and corporate America as the stresses of mundane work and the desire for a more fulfilling lifestyle become part of the “zeitgeist” of the younger generation, whose path through life is no longer marked by a single career path or specialty but instead often takes many different turns. Conferences like IONs, Wisdom 2.0, and Science and Nonduality are sold out as people search for meaning, and many find it in alternative cinema.

The small documentary Awake: The Life Of Yogananda become a mainstream hit, grossing over $1.5 million through the support of the ‘conscious’ community. Audiences’ minds are opening to the possibility of alternative history and archeology through shows like Ancient Aliens on television and the work of thought leaders like Graham Hancock. Concurrently through the “normalization” of attitudes toward substances like psychedelics and Ayahuasca, use is hitting the mainstream: 2016 episodes of House Of Lies, The Path, and Chelsea Does all feature characters (and Chelsea Handler herself) using the drug in a traditional therapeutic form. We’ve come a long way from the time that movies like Star Wars had to sneak Zen messages into their story lines; now “the force is with you” is in the common vernacular and we can see the growth of these kinds of memes as other consciousness-oriented films find a mass audience. In just two years Illuminate has seen a tremendous response—and growth.

The festival has drawn an audience from 25 states and 10 international cities. Attendance topped 2,700 in 2014, and they expect 4,500+ in 2016. Sponsorship dollars doubled in its second year—and interest from national brands continues to grow. Mainstream stars are also taking part. Last year saw the premiere of Sold with Gillian Anderson on hand with the film makers to discuss the project. This year’s lineup includes movies that further blur any distinction between mainstream and “new age” topics and feature the likes of Morgan Freeman, Maya Angelou, Tony Robbins, Russell Simmons, and Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith, among others.

The festival doesn’t just show movies but builds community around them.

There are artisans from Sedona. Workshops on many topics including screenwriting are available to attendees along with parties and social functions where one can connect and network with like-minded souls.

There are meetings for those interested in working in conscious cinema on all levels and many opportunities to exchange ideas and perspectives. Illuminate’s purpose resonates with many of the most popular movies of our time: “To showcase cinematic gems that empower those who see them to live kinder, wiser, more enlightened lives.” This year’s festival takes place once again in the magical energy vortex of Sedona, Arizona in the first week of June. It is definitely a trip worth taking. .

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