Review by Glen Russell
(February 13, 2009 – Victoria, BC) Velcrow Ripper delivers his plan. The plan is his latest film, Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Action, which previewed over the Victoria Film Festival’s last weekend. One very pregnant moment crystallized the heart and soul of this film. It is the companion piece to ScaredSacred. The audience is captured totally in this instant seeing clearly where Ripper’s call to action must begin.
Velcrow Ripper is an award winning director, cinematographer, editor, writer, and sound man. In 2004, he brought us ScaredSacred where he visited the ground zeroes of genocide looking for the sacred in the Holocaust, the Killing Fields, and the Twin towers.
He argued: We must take the “sacred” and use this history for engines of peace and change. Fierce Light is his action plan showing how this can be done, how it is being done, right now, right this instant. You sensed the packed house, me included, came for the “plan.” What can we do, what must we do to end our killing of each other?
Many are too aware of the horrendous record of our own twentieth century. The first and second World Wars, Communist China, and Soviet Union, according to one historian, account for between 54,750,000 and 56,900,000 deaths. This does not include famine, disease, and starvation numbers.
These numbers: From a century of the 60’s “peace and love” contradicted by “never ending” wars brought to you by a CNN culture idolizing spoiled, self-consumed rock stars, or hockey fights where more young die.
How do we see past these contradictions? This film does not have time for such intellectual wrestling. It does not have time for the anti-spiritualism of Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, or Daniel Dennett.
This is a film about action, the spiritual action of “Spiritual Warriors.” The film talks about the ancient Tibetan Buddhist prophecy of Shambala Warriors who will come in the worst time. Armed with only weapons of compassion and insight, they will bring us peace.
Ripper has traveled the globe interviewing our “Spiritual Warriors” who have come. Thich Nhat Hanh, Desmond Tutu, Michael Beckwith, Alice Walker are such warriors with Shambala dedication, commitment, and discipline.
Fierce Light moves just like ScaredSacred. It is all “Ripper”: His interviews, his thoughts, his experiences, his voice-overs. It is very personal. He does everything in the film. He does it well. Watching Ripper’s own dedication, commitment, and discipline, you see another spiritual warrior showing “the fierce light” available to all of us. It is the heart of his plan.
Ripper tells us “fierce light” is what Ghandi referred to as “soul force”, and Martin Luther King called “love in action”. Where does this begin? How is it used? Ripper will show us midway through his film in one profound moment of the filmmaking.
The film is a careful, well-edited mosaic of “fierce light” around this moment where he demonstrates how it begins. He goes to the walled border between Palestinians and Israelis. They shot at him as he films both side’s suffering. He shows groups of Palestinians and Israelis, groups you never hear about on CNN, fighting to end the madness together. He is allowed to record Thich Nhat Hanh’s return to Vietnam after years of exile. We watch underprivileged market gardeners supported by notables like Darryl Hannah and Joan Baez fight California’s bulldozers of progress and development.
In the middle of it all, Ripper takes us to a blank screen, suspends his stories and pictures, asking us to take a moment of peaceful contemplation. He vividly demonstrates the peace Ghandi and King must have found to preach their non-violent resistance to the evils of the British and American empires. The peace is inside readily available. Ripper’s action plan will always begin here, the peace within.
This moment begins—going longer than just a moment. You’re uncomfortable at first as it goes on and on. You start anticipating, you want to rush back to the peace in this study. Ironically, you start to feel like you don’t have time for this actual peace. We want the film to continue while enjoying our popcorn.
The end doesn’t come. You can feel everyone surrender into this moment of purity. All rustling, coughing, unease were gone. Ripper brought us to this possibility for peace. Smaller group meditations, personal epiphanies have never been like this moment with 300 strangers.
Ripper is ecumenical in his beliefs and practices drawing “fierce light” from a multitude of sources. It is never about one god, one theology. It’s never about a political orthodoxy. It is about something beyond our senses, a living “thing” we can find in the peace of our own hearts.
This has been an incredible festival with audience sell-outs for its quality productions especially from Victoria’s own resident filmmakers. All supported by a host of sponsors, institutions, and many individuals, Victorians involved with and enjoying this cultural event.
Glen Russell is a freelance writer based on Vancouver Island and an occasional contributor to Northernstars.ca.