The Boulder International Film Festival kicks off next week and with it always comes an influx of filmmakers eager to connect, collaborate and leave even more inspired than when they first pick up their festival passes.
Academy Award-winning director Louie Psihoyos — who once called Boulder home — will make the journey back to the Front Range to screen his latest documentary “Mission: Joy – Finding Happiness in Troubled Times,” produced by Peggy Callahan.
The heartwarming film — that gives an intimate look at the playful friendship between spiritual icons the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu — will be shown on BIFF’s closing night, at 7:45 p.m. June 27, at Chautauqua Auditorium. Post-film, Psihoyos will sit down with Ron Bostwick, of The Colorado Sound, for a Q&A. Tickets are $35.
Not only did Psihoyos’ 2009 documentary “The Cove” take home an Oscar, it brilliantly exposed the yearly mass dolphin killings in Taiji, Wakayama, Japan. Permission to film wasn’t granted by the Japanese government, forcing crew to utilize a bevy of sly tactics — including hiding cameras within fake rocks.
As executive director of Boulder-based nonprofit the Oceanic Preservation Society, Psihoyos — an avid scuba diver — continues to craft films that spotlight critical issues faced by our fragile planet in order to facilitate change.
We caught up with the Iowa-born activist and former National Geographic Society photographer to find out what he loves about the hometown feel of BIFF, the profound and unexpected impact making “Mission: Joy” had on him and what future projects audiences can expect from him next.
Daily Camera: I know Boulder was your home for many years. What are you most looking forward to about returning for a brief visit to attend BIFF? Any must-dos on your list for your visit back to the Front Range?
Louie Psihoyos: I’m looking forward to seeing some old friends and walking around to see how the town has changed, but I’m excited to see the reaction to the film for the Boulder audience, live. Over the last year, we’ve been testing the film on Zoom audiences and it’s a really strange experience to watch people in their homes watching the film with all their real-life distractions, children, cell phones, having dinner. It will be a treat to watch people in a theater watch the film, with a community, especially a community like Boulder that has gone through so much in the last year.
DC: What would you say was the most rewarding aspect of making “Mission: Joy – Finding Happiness in Troubled Times” and what are you hoping viewers take away from the doc?
LP: The best part was working with talented people and trying to get the best out of each other with this compelling material. Our team started by getting two of the most revered spiritual leaders in the world together for a week and asking them the big questions. We had 15 hours of dialogues of Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama and after reviewing them, I found myself physically changed. I thought about everything differently. My priorities snapped into place, dealing with difficulties became easier and I learned to have more joy. This has been a hard time for people around the world, hopefully a lot of people will have similar transformations after seeing the film.
DC: Seems like 2020 was a year when many folks discovered new shows, films and documentaries and had more time to binge watch. What are some of your recent favorites that you found particularly moving or highly entertaining?
LP: I watch tons of documentaries, but my guilty pleasure is I like a lot of the series and action films/series. I’m always trying to imagine applying structures of narrative films to our docs. There’s a reason Rolling Stone magazine said, “The Cove” was like a cross between “The Bourne Identity” and “Flipper.”
“Racing Extinction” was highly influenced by the Bond films. The Tesla we had modified for the film was outfitted with disappearing license plates, an electroluminescent paint job, a forward-looking infrared camera with a mechanical gimbal that came out of the “Frunk” and the projector on a robotic arm that came off the back hatch. It was a better vehicle than anything Bond ever drove, because ours was real and had some real-world impact. “Racing Extinction” led to laws passed that protect some of the world’s most endangered species and it is cited as the inspiration to several leaders in the youth climate movement.
DC: How would you say BIFF compares to other film festivals?
LP: This will be the first film we made that didn’t premiere at Sundance, the timing didn’t work out for us to register, but it’s hard to navigate those large festivals — Cannes, Venice, Tribeca — they’re spread out over many miles, they’re big-city expensive and getting into a nearby hotel or restaurant is a mission. I prefer the small- and medium-size festivals like Telluride Mountain Film, Palm Springs, Savannah and BIFF that are centered around supportive film communities. It’s easier to meet people, easier to get into see great films and you can get a reasonable-priced hotel and the restaurants aren’t overpacked.
DC: Are there any current projects you are working on that should be on our radar? Any goals for 2021?
LP: All of our projects involve trying to scale social change. We’re creating an epic three-day projection event for the UN on the east side of the Secretariat Building in New York in advance of the next COP (Conference of the Parties). Kind of like the projection event we did for the climax of “Racing Extinction,” but 100 times bigger. It will be livestreamed. We’re still fundraising and we need to acquire and create nine hours of content with the mandate of inspiring a billion people to solve for climate change, inequality and severe poverty. It’s like the mission of a Bond film, but we really are trying to help save the world, or at least keep from it getting less worse for future generations.
We have 10 years to get on the fast track to solving these issues or I’m afraid the next generation will suffer greatly. In the West, summer is now called fire season. In a few decades, coral reefs will disappear if we don’t start acting now. The solutions are here now and they’re upgrades to our lives — we just need to accelerate the change. With our past projection events we had over 5.4 billion media views. The UN is now challenging us to convert those views to action.
We’re doing a film about a sisterhood of female big-wave surfers at Mavericks — the legendary surf break — that won pay parity for their sport. It’s called “Shechange.” It’s really a film about female empowerment.
We’re also making a film called “The Last Place on Earth.” It’s the last place where wild elephants, tigers, rhinos and orangutans are found in the wild and we tell the stories of Indigenous activists there who are working to save their habitat from illegal palm oil plantations.
I’m also co-directing a film about plastic pollution solutions. Films are the most powerful peaceful weapon for social change we have and we have a very good track record for making films that really do change the world — and are also entertaining. “The Cove” won an Oscar and became the first documentary to sweep all the film guilds, but more importantly it also helped reduce the killing of small cetaceans for human consumption, over 90%.
“Racing Extinction” was just nominated the best Environmental Film of the decade by the Green Film Network — an alliance of the top Environmental Film Festivals — and has ignited a movement. In the first 30 days, “The Game Changers,” a film about top vegan athletes, was on Netflix, searches for “plant-based diet” went up 350% worldwide.
My organization, OPS, really isn’t just making movies. We’re creating social change with the most powerful weapon in the world.