If you are one of the 23 million plus who have viewed one of Louis Schwartzberg's videos on YouTube you already know the power and beauty of his films. In his 30-plus years in the film industry he has been a director, producer, selected as one of Kodak's top 50 cinematographers of all time, and a pioneer in time lapse and high speed photography. His latest film Hidden Worlds is being released in IMAX3D by National Geographic next year. Now Louie's passion and energy are focused on what began as an experiment with the short film, Gratitude, which he screened at TEDx. Gratitude has become the most watched TEDx talk in history, with over three million views and has literally changed people's lives who have seen it. A quick glance at some of the comments from viewers gives a snapshot appreciation for the power of Gratitude.
"Simply Amazing. I shed a tear."
".....tears of gratitude fill my eyes as I realize my heart has led me to this place, this video."
"wow wow wow!!! JUST WOW!!!"
"This film touches my soul."
For a filmmaker, the incredible audience response and amazing number of hits on YouTube are impossible to ignore. As a result, Louie has now decided to honor the countless requests to make Gratitude into a feature length film and has begun a grassroots campaign on Kickstarter to make that a reality. Combined with his MovingArt< website and channel, tens of millions more will have the opportunity to discover the beauty, depth, and clarity of the world as seen though Louie's singular vision.
I spoke with Louie Schwartzberg this week about Gratitude.
JC: How did you come to be putting the Gratitude project together?
LS: A friend of mine, composer Gary Malkin, had recorded Brother David, the Benedictine Monk, and offered me the opportunity to see if my imagery would work with it. Initially I was sort of skeptical because I did not want to do anything that was New Age, I have daughters who always slap me around saying dad you are so cheesy, the stuff you hear when giving advice to your kids. So I put it together and I was surprised to find that the reaction was so extraordinarily positive from both young and old. I did not want it to be a preachy self-help video, as much as something that touched your soul by immersing you in the emotion of celebrating life. What has occurred is people commenting saying its changed their life, or they use it as a video alarm clock, or they were dealing with cancer or the loss of a child and it has given them the tools to be grateful for the time they had with their kid and its enabled them to move forward on a day by day basis. I have had hospitals, pediatric wards, chronic pain centers asking for copies of it so it has gone beyond my expectations.
JC: What do you envision as the final film as you expand on that theme going forward?
LS: Well I think that Gratitude is a sort of fulcrum that a lot of other values get channeled through. Mindfulness, kindness, purpose, service, generosity, forgiveness, focus, a sense of awe, vision, perspective, love, all of those things add up to the practice where at the end of the day if you are involved with any of those things you develop a grateful heart. You can't just become grateful, you can't go straight to grateful. Like the work you do, if you are helping people at the end of the day you feel grateful. You can't feel grateful and not do anything. Grateful is your heart remembering the emotions, the good feelings you had from enjoying the beauty of nature, being with your friends or family, helping someone in need.
JC: It is all predicated on positive action.
LS: Right. Yes it is. Remembrance of what you have done and the vibration of that because you can't just cut to gratitude. Can't. You have to be involved with something. Can someone who is socially unjust or environmentally unconscious be grateful? Is that possible?
JC: There's the question.
LS: There's the question. I don't think it is possible. If you are raising chickens in a overcrowded hen house in Mississippi where the chickens are suffering it's polluting the groundwater water and the workers are being mistreated, at the end of the day, if you are the head of that operation, how can you have a grateful heart? The corollary to that is if you are grateful and compassionate you are going to do the right thing. It is not a left or right issue. You can be religious or atheist, but if you are compassionate and grateful you are not going to injure animals, you are not going to damage nature, and you are not going to abuse people, you are going to respect and honor life. Developing an attitude of gratitude will force you to make the right choices -- you can't help it.
JC: Obviously you have been very successful working within the film industry and recognized for your skills and achievements there, why at this point with the Gratitude project have you chosen to go forward outside of that industry?
LS: Because there are really no channels for films that are about inspiration or celebration of life or social justice -- environmental justice. What I think we need right now, and the reason I made this film Gratitude a priority to work on, is because I believe what is really needed today is a shift of consciousness. We have the tools, and the knowledge to fix the environmental holocaust that is looming around the corner. Scientists have explained the things we need to do. It's not like we don't know what to do. We lack the commitment to transform ourselves. But how are you going to change people's behavior? The only way that is going to happen is through education and a shift in consciousness. When you fall in love with the forest you are going to think twice before taking that crumpled piece of paper and throwing it in the trash can. We protect what we fall in love with, it is nature's tool for survival.
JC: So you don't think a further push down the road of endless consumption and unsustainable priorities is the right way to go?
LS: No, I think gratitude is the antidote to consumerism. Let's not be victims anymore. Let's skip over lamenting the state of the (film) industry. The only way to change that is to make a great movie and create your own platform and therefore you have to create a new paradigm. Crowd sourcing the funds to make this movie. I am not going to get support from ABC, or Comcast, Viacom or any of these; FOX -- come on! -- Rupert Murdoch? Knocking on those doors isn't going to yield results. Rather than griping about this over a bottle of wine and just getting down, you have to create a new paradigm. If we don't like the story corporate media is laying on us let's change it and this is one way of doing it. I am hoping with Gratitude getting the support of ten thousand backers, not one who will control it. With Moving Art which is the platform I am building on YouTube, Hulu and which will launch this fall on all Panasonic Smart TVs, I am creating my own channels. We just have to realize a better world by changing the stories we tell.
For more information on the Gratitude campaign; Gratitude Kickstarter Campaign.
Louie Schwartzberg, Photo Courtesy Moving Art