Feel Good Films: A Conversation with Producer Stephen Simon
Sep 02, 2010 04:02PM
By Ellen Mahoney
Among Stephen Simon’s many acclaimed films are the Academy Award-winning What Dreams May Come, Somewhere in Time, and the groundbreaking Conversations with God. He also co-founded The Spiritual Cinema Circle in 2004 with relationship experts Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks. As a subscription-based monthly DVD community, Spiritual Cinema Circle offers viewers a continuous array of upbeat and inspirational films that help us feel better about being human.
Why did you decide to produce spiritual films?
I’ve always loved films like It’s a Wonderful Life, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, that have a spiritual content to them, even though Hollywood refers to them as fantasy films. My dad was a big comedy director in the 1930s and 40s, and I always knew spiritual movies were the kinds of films I wanted to make.
When I was about 30 years old, I read this extraordinary book called Bid Time Return, by Richard Matheson, which I went on to produce as my first film, called Somewhere in Time. What Dreams May Come was also based on a Matheson novel. Later, when I read the Conversations with God books by Neale Donald Walsch and we became good friends, I just knew the story of his life would lend itself to film.
What is the difference between a spiritual and a religious film?
Mainstream media uses the words spiritual and religious as synonymous terms, but they are not. A religious film would be like The Passion of the Christ or The Ten Commandments, whereas a spiritual film would be like Whale Rider or What Dreams May Come.
I believe spirituality is a personal and private experience, where you have your own relationship with whatever you might call the Divine. You might call this God, but you also might call this spirit, life, the universe or nature. You can be a spiritual person but not be religious, yet I firmly believe that spiritual and religious people have much more in common than they differ.
Has mainstream America been receptive to this spiritual movement?
I don’t believe in the word mainstream. To me, it means that entertainment has lost all of its individuality. When you try to attract everybody, you have to be concerned with not offending anybody, and that is not what art and filmmaking is about.
Spiritual filmmaking is definitely a niche. We have subscribers in nearly 100 countries around the world and the primary demographic of our audience tends to be more adult. What we offer strongly appeals to individuals who are looking for this kind of transformative entertainment that both enlightens and allows them to feel better about themselves and the world.
Which filmmakers are producing films that are right for your audience?
A filmmaker produces a spiritual movie because it’s in his heart and it comes from his soul. We have a number of filmmakers we’ve nurtured whom I think are wonderful. For example, we’ve distributed five films from Santa Fe-based Scott Cervine and four films from Geno Andrews, headquartered in Los Angeles.
What are your overriding goals and hopes for Spiritual Cinema Circle?
When Spiritual Cinema Circle films help our community of viewers feel better about being human, that makes me happy. There is enough media that look at the dark, ugly, negative, violent, greedy sides of humanity, and there is no question that these dark elements seem to be part of human nature. But there’s little light shown on the beautiful side of our nature—the side that consciously evolves, forgives and loves.
Spiritual films allow us to look at our humanity when we operate at our best. This is what we look for when qualifying films for the Spiritual Cinema Circle. The films we choose are dramatic and the characters experience difficult challenges, but at the end of the day, there is always transcendence, a powerful transformation and a pathway through whatever the darkness may be. Our hope is that viewers are pleased with our movies and feel better at the end of the film than they did at the start.
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Ellen Mahoney teaches writing at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Email.