Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Quiet Power of Stillness

In a world as busy as ours is today, with its myriad elements competing for our attention at seemingly every turn, stillness often seems like a rare commodity. So how do we find it? Check out "Tapping Into the Quiet Power of Stillness," my latest Smart Women's Empowerment post, available by clicking here.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

‘The Prophet’ muses about the meaning of life

“Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet” (2014 production, 2015 release). Cast (Voices): Liam Neeson, Salma Hayek-Pinault, John Krasinski, Quvenzhané Wallis, Alfred Molina, Frank Langella, Assaf Cohen, Leah Allers. Director: Roger Allers. Segment Directors: Gaëtan Brizzi, Paul Brizzi, Joan C. Gratz, Mohammed Saeed Harib, Tomm Moore, Nina Paley, Bill Plympton, Joann Sfar, Michal Socha. Screenplay: Roger Allers, Hanna Weg and Douglas Wood. Book: Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet. Web site. Trailer.

What’s the essence of life? That’s a question mankind has been wrestling with almost from its inception. And, while answers may vary from individual to individual, there’s now a new animated fantasy that attempts to put this inquiry into a larger, thoughtful context, “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.”

“The Prophet,” the latest offering from the director of “The Lion King” (1994), is based on the best-selling book of the same name by Lebanese-born author Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931), first published in 1923. The film tells the story of a spiritually inspired poet and painter named Mustafa (Liam Neeson). For the past seven years, the charismatic foreign-born artist has been under house arrest near the mythical city of Orphalese, a seaport with a Mediterranean ambiance. Its residents, landscape and culture resemble an amalgamation of the peoples, religions and philosophies of the region, with scenic, architectural and artistic elements that look like those found in such locales as Greece, Turkey, Cypress and Lebanon.

Despite Orphalese’s seemingly idyllic character, there’s an undercurrent of tension in the community. The local authoritarian government keeps a tight rein over its residents. It’s also responsible for Mustafa’s house arrest. His ideas, which speak to empowering concepts like freedom and personal liberty, run afoul of those in charge, especially in light of their widespread appeal among the locals. So, to put a lid on such seditious thinking, Mustafa is kept quietly sequestered.

But, even though Mustafa is out of public view, he’s not without people in his life. He’s guarded by an affable though somewhat bumbling sentry named Halim (John Krasinski), who, in turn, is kept in line by a pompous but equally bumbling sergeant (Alfred Molina). Mustafa’s daily needs are attended to by a sweet, conscientious caretaker, Kamila (Salma Hayek-Pinault), a young widow and single mother whose mischievous daughter, Almitra (Quvenzhané Wallis), frequently gets into trouble. The youngster’s actions largely go unexplained, too, because she hasn’t uttered a word (other than occasional grunts and groans) since her father’s untimely death.

While under house arrest, the poet, painter and prophet Mustafa (voiced by Liam Neeson, background) befriends the mischievous daughter of his caretaker, Almitra (voiced by Quvenzhané Wallis, foreground), in the inspiring animated fantasy, “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.” Photo courtesy of GKIDS.

Mustafa’s routine undergoes an unexpected change, however, when the sergeant informs him that he’s about to be released – provided he leaves Orphalese and agrees never to return. He must also surrender his belongings, including the wealth of new writings and paintings he created while in captivity. So, with a mix of elation and disappointment and only the clothes on his back, Mustafa departs the home that has been his cage for the past seven years, accompanied by Halim and the sergeant, for an appointment with an outbound ship.

While the sergeant wants to dispense with his official escort duties as expeditiously as possible, those hopes are quickly dashed as Mustafa makes his way to the waterfront. His journey allows him to renew contact with hordes of welcoming local residents. They may not have seen him in years, but they clearly remember his words and wisdom and eagerly express their joy at seeing him again.

Much to the sergeant’s consternation, the journey takes much longer than expected. The locals coax Mustafa into making a number of impromptu stops, such as at the wedding reception of a young newlywed couple (Assaf Cohen, Leah Allers) and at a café in the port’s central marketplace. He even has a touching encounter with Almitra. And, during each of these unplanned respites, Mustafa avails himself of the opportunity to freely share his outlooks about life and love and a host of other philosophical topics, imparting the same kinds of “incendiary” insights that got him into trouble with authorities in the first place. In fact, the renewed dissemination of his views upsets the powers that be so much that it’s unclear whether Mustafa will be able to set sail as planned. It seems this unwitting prophet may have quite an eventful encounter awaiting him, one that could lead to despair – or destiny.

Even though Mustafa’s journey provides the means for carrying the film’s story, it’s actually the examination of his philosophical insights that’s what’s most important here. These sequences provide gorgeously animated meditations on his character’s insights. Each is different in terms of appearance and tone, with thoughtful voice-overs and beautiful musical backdrops. They poetically cover a range of life’s big issues, such as freedom, love and death, as well as its myriad everyday applications, including marriage, children, work, and eating and drinking. Each segment makes its points eloquently, both graphically and verbally.

Thoughts on raising children provide the focus for one of the insightful meditative sequences in the beautifully illustrated new animated fantasy, “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.” Photo courtesy of GKIDS.

In exploring these ideas, the meditations all have an underlying theme connecting them – their source of origin. Mustafa’s musings on these subjects clearly state that our personal experiences of these matters all stem from the feelings found in each of our respective hearts. In many ways, this is a poetic way of saying that our individual realities arise from within us, that our outer worlds are physically expressed manifestations of our inner selves. That notion thus parallels the core principle of conscious creation, the philosophy that maintains we create the existence we experience based on our thoughts, beliefs and intents.

The common source of these materializations not only suggests a connectedness linking them to one another, but it also implies an inherent connection binding all of us – and everything in each of our respective realities – to one another. The film thus infers that, despite our seeming personal differences, we are all nevertheless part of a greater collective, and this can be found in both our everyday experiences, as well as our explorations of life’s bigger questions. This is important to bear in mind when we look at what we believe divides us, that we’re ultimately not as different from one another as we might like to think we are. Mustafa’s captors would be especially wise to consider this in their handling of his fate, for, even though his ideas may diverge from theirs, he and they are ultimately all part of a larger human family, one that needs to look more at what we have in common than what separates us. The sooner they (and we) do this, the sooner we all stand a chance of getting along – and working toward the fulfillment of our mutual benefit.

It’s also intriguing how Mustafa’s journey to the docks is, in essence, a metaphor for “finding his way home.” His outward trek mimics his inner, personal passage, taking him down a path designed to lead him back to his true self. It’s a journey we must all take at some point in our lives, preferably with the sort of conscious awareness that he exhibits as he makes his way toward that destination. Approaching our destiny – and the true nature of our individual and collective selves – is always easiest (and most fulfilling) when we do so with our eyes, hearts and minds wide open, just as the protagonist does here. In the end, the outcome from doing so may prove to be far more rewarding than any of us could possibly imagine.

Thoughts on love provide the focus for one of the insightful meditative sequences in the beautifully illustrated new animated fantasy, “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.” Photo courtesy of GKIDS.

“The Prophet” presents an intriguing, inspiring mix of thoughts and ideas in a beautifully animated cinematic package. The meditative sequences are particularly impressive with their stunning imagery and profound thoughts. Viewers young and old are sure to glean valuable insights from these segments. It’s truly refreshing to see a picture that attempts to offer something meaningful to more youthful audiences without being condescending or silly.

With that said, however, the film also has one major flaw – an overlong (and surprisingly somewhat juvenile) opening sequence. While this segment is necessary to introduce the characters and the narrative that carries the story, its execution leaves much to be desired (and could easily turn off viewers whose patience is easily tested). So, in light of this, I heartily suggest that audience members do what they can to grit their teeth and hang on through this portion of the picture. They will indeed be richly rewarded for their persistence if they can successfully make it past a lead-in seriously in need of significant reworking.

The film is currently playing in limited release, primarily at theaters specializing in independent cinema. Visit the picture’s web site for locations where it’s being screened.

Those seeking the truth about the nature of existence have often come to the conclusion that “life is its own answer.” For some, that supposition may seem overly glib or simplistic. However, the more we look at it, the more likely we’ll come to agree with that idea, especially when we sincerely assess the source of our life’s origin. “The Prophet” helps show us the way in that regard, revealing just how beautiful, meaningful and rewarding it – and we – can be.

Copyright © 2015, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 14, 2015

‘Best of Enemies’ asks, ‘What have we unleashed?’

“The Best of Enemies” (2015). Interviews: Dick Cavett, Christopher Hitchens, Matt Tyrnauer, Sam Tanenhaus, Andrew Sullivan, George Merlis, John McWhorter, William Sheehan, Fred Kaplan, Reid Buckley, Linda Bridges, Ginia Bellafante. Voiceovers: Kelsey Grammer, John Lithgow. Archive Footage: William F. Buckley Jr., Gore Vidal, Howard K. Smith, Paul Newman, Arthur Miller, Sam Donaldson, Ted Koppel, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Robert Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey, Richard J. Daley, Norman Mailer, Patricia Buckley, Shana Alexander, James J. Kilpatrick, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin. Directors: Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville. Screenplay: Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville. Movie web site. Filmmakers’ web site. Trailer.

At times we may look upon what we’ve manifested in our lives with shock, surprise and utter distress. Like a genie let loose from a bottle, these creations disrupt our realities in unimagined ways, causing havoc that takes our breath away – and that’s not easily remedied. Such instances often leave us unaware of how to proceed, too, largely because we’re overcome by what transpires. It’s conditions like these that become all too apparent in the provocative new historical documentary, “Best of Enemies.”

In 1968, the fortunes of the ABC television network were seriously flagging. As the lowest rated of the three networks, its numbers seriously trailed those of rivals NBC and CBS in both its entertainment and news programming. In fact, the network’s ratings were so dismal that TV industry insiders often joked that, if the country wanted to bring the Vietnam War to a quick conclusion, it should be broadcast on ABC, because it was sure to be cancelled after 13 weeks.

With such low ratings, the network’s ad revenues left something to be desired, too, which, consequently, affected its budgets and the quality of its programming. The news division felt the impact strongly, and, with the 1968 presidential conventions coming up, it was unclear how effective the network’s coverage would be. The traditional gavel-to-gavel approach used by NBC and CBS looked unworkable for ABC, so the network faced quite a coverage challenge. What it came up with would change television forever.

In lieu of the traditional convention broadcast format, ABC opted to do something different to set it apart from its competitors and attract a new crop of viewers. Instead of the gavel-to-gavel approach, the network decided to present a nightly 90-minute summary of each day’s activities at each convention. And, to distinguish its coverage even further, ABC came up with a novel idea: The news team decided to include a nightly segment offering an analysis of the day’s convention developments by two expert commentators, with one from each end of the political spectrum. ABC hoped these opposing viewpoints would prompt some spirited discussions, making for interesting, informative viewing. However, as events unfolded, the network quickly got more than what it bargained for.

Liberal political commentator Gore Vidal (foreground) and conservative pundit William F. Buckley Jr. (background) prepare to match wits in a series of heated televised debates during the 1968 presidential nominating conventions, the subject of the absorbing, wickedly funny new documentary, “Best of Enemies.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

To raise the profile of this innovative segment, ABC sought to recruit a pair of prominent experts, and, in doing so, it successfully engaged two eminent social and political commentators, conservative William F. Buckley Jr. (1925-2008) and liberal Gore Vidal (1925-2012). Buckley was well known as the founder of National Review magazine and host of the PBS television talk show Firing Line, as well as the author of numerous books. Vidal earned fame as the author of an array of novels and plays covering topics as diverse as politics and alternative life-styles, including the highly controversial works The City and the Pillar (1948) and Myra Breckenridge (1968).

Together, Buckley and Vidal were quite a pair. They had each become icons of their respective political and social outlooks, often serving as vociferous advocates (some might even say lightning rods) for their particular viewpoints. But, even more importantly, Buckley and Vidal seriously disliked each other, and ABC didn’t find out just how much until the broadcasts began.

The hoped-for spirited political discussions quickly degenerated into angry ideological screeds. During the Republican convention in Miami Beach, and even more so during the Democratic conclave in Chicago, an event marred by violent demonstrations in the streets of the Windy City, Buckley and Vidal went at each other like a pair of pit bulls. Very little of their televised discussions focused on politics or the events that transpired at the conventions. Instead, their segments became vehicles for shamelessly advancing conservative and liberal platforms. And, when neither commentator was able to successfully convey his particular ideological viewpoint to his debate opponent, Buckley and Vidal resorted to brazen insults, blatant name-calling and even threats of violence. ABC’s hopes of a lively but civil public affairs forum turned into a series of venomous personal attacks, verbal onslaughts that frequently left debate moderator and reserved ABC news anchor Howard K. Smith speechless.

Liberal political commentator Gore Vidal (right) and conservative pundit William F. Buckley Jr. (left) prepare to debate one another during ABC television’s inventive coverage of the 1968 presidential nominating conventions, as seen in the humorous but unsettling new documentary, “Best of Enemies.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

One might think that such highly public spectacles would be seen as embarrassing at best, appalling at worst. But, much to ABC’s surprise, the public ate up the debates, and the network’s ratings soared. Who would have thought?

“Best of Enemies” chronicles the foregoing in remarkable detail through an excellent assemblage of archive footage, including the debates themselves. This material is punctuated with clips from recent interviews with those who were involved in the broadcasts, such as former ABC News president William Sheehan and ABC convention coverage publicist George Merlis. Additional interviews feature conversations with prominent commentators, such as former TV talk show host Dick Cavett, former New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan, New York Times critic Ginia Bellafante, and the late literary and political analyst Christopher Hitchens. Further insights are provided by those who personally knew the debates’ combatants, including Buckley’s brother, Reid, his executive assistant, Linda Bridges, and his editor, Sam Tanenhaus, as well as Vidal’s editor, Matt Tyrnauer, and his biographer, Fred Kaplan.

Regardless of what one may have thought of the discussions-turned-debacles, they represented a broadcast innovation, and such explorations of the untried embody one of the hallmark principles of conscious creation, the means by which we create our reality through our thoughts, beliefs and intents. If you doubt that, consider the many copycat derivations and imitations that have arisen since the initial broadcast of the Buckley-Vidal debates. Perhaps the first of these was the “Point/Counterpoint” segment featuring liberal commentator Shana Alexander and conservative advocate James J. Kilpatrick on the television news magazine 60 Minutes. This immensely popular feature would later give birth to the free-for-all political discussions on the PBS series The McLaughlin Group. And in the wake of this video circus came all manner of animated cable TV news network pundits, many of whom regularly and zealously pummel one another with reckless abandon. Even the entertainment world got into the act with Saturday Night Live’s infamous parodies of the foregoing.

However, even if conscious creation maintains that we and all of our endeavors are continually evolving through the pursuit of our “constant state of becoming,” are such forays into the unexplored always necessarily desirable or beneficial? Consider the progeny of the Buckley-Vidal debates. Look at the heated ideological brow-beatings that regularly air on any number of today’s television networks, and ponder their merits. Do they really offer us anything? Indeed, has the dissemination of meaningful information been sacrificed for the sake of bombastic political theater?

Conservative pundit William F. Buckley Jr. (left) and liberal political commentator Gore Vidal (right, back to camera) hurl insults at one another during ABC television’s groundbreaking coverage of the 1968 presidential nominating conventions, as seen in the often-contentious new documentary, “Best of Enemies.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Our power of creation is quite substantial, especially when we pool our efforts. Again, just look at the 1968 debates and how their impact has flourished in myriad forms since then. But, upon close scrutiny, these materializations remind us of the potency of our manifestation skills and the beliefs that underlie them, not to mention the responsibility that comes with all this.

In light of that, then, we must carefully assess our intents and what they’re being used to manifest. If we lose sight of that, though, we run the risk of birthing hideous abominations. Such ill-conceived creations can take on a life of their own, too, growing ever stronger and making it difficult, if not impossible, to let go of them when they’ve outlived whatever usefulness they might have had. Such was the case with Buckley and Vidal themselves after the broadcasts ended; their spiteful contentions and insults continued on in such highly public venues as Esquire magazine, with their virulent onslaughts against one another eventually leading to lawsuits that went on for years.

Sounds foolish, doesn’t it? Indeed, think of how all that energy got put to use – and the many other ways it might have been expended more productively.

To avoid such issues in the first place, it helps to identify what gave rise to them. In the case of the debates, Buckley and Vidal used the broadcast forum to further their respective ideologies. Prior to the debates, public awareness of their viewpoints was limited, restricted primarily to their core audiences of followers. However, with the national airwaves now available to them, they each had an opportunity to make the case for their particular agendas. And, while the stated purpose of their appearances was to comment on convention developments, they couldn’t resist the temptation to promote their own interests and attack their opponent.

Even though the debaters’ brands of conservatism and liberalism weren’t entirely unknown before the broadcasts, their televised appearances brought them into the national spotlight. Viewpoints that had been quietly simmering beneath the surface of the national consciousness for years were suddenly unleashed into the public domain. And, since these perspectives were diametrically opposed to one another, their advocates often disagreed, sometimes passionately, as evidenced by Buckley’s and Vidal’s televised diatribes.

But the debaters were not alone in their opinions; each represented a constituency that had at last found a spokesperson to represent its views. The clash of ideologies was thus born. With the emergence of two eloquent representatives who were ardent supporters of their particular outlooks and who greatly disliked one another personally, the embittered battle lines were clearly drawn – not just at the time of the broadcasts but for the future as well.

As one of the film’s commentators astutely observes, the issues that Buckley and Vidal raised during their debates – and the animosity they inflicted on one another – are the same as those we wrestle with today. In fact, as illustrated by the examples above, these conditions are even more prevalent (and nastier) today. But, if we want to see where everything started, we need only look back to these seminal broadcasts.

Liberal political commentator Gore Vidal (left) and actor Paul Newman (right), a delegate to the 1968 Democratic National Convention, look on in horror at television coverage of demonstrations in the streets of Chicago in the provocative new documentary, “Best of Enemies.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

A growing number of Americans have expressed increasing dissatisfaction with the ideological polarization that’s come to dominate national dialogues. It’s as if we’re becoming a people who speak the same language but are fundamentally incapable of communicating with one another. If we’re to find our way out of this mess, we need to recognize what we’ve created and how we brought it into being. Only then will we be able to take a step back, examine the beliefs that have wrought our present circumstances and consider how we might want to plot a new course for the future. In this regard, the experience of the Buckley-Vidal debates and what they birthed serves as a potent cautionary tale that we had better heed before it’s too late, no matter which side of the ideological fence one finds oneself on. It’s a lesson we can apply in any number of both public and private contexts, but it’s in our collective experience where attention is needed most – and fast.

“Best of Enemies” satisfies in so many ways. It’s an excellent documentary – informative, poignant, relevant and wickedly funny (though ultimately somewhat distressing). It features a great collection of interview footage and archive clips, both from the debates and the conventions, as well as from the protagonists’ lives outside these forums. Viewers witness scenes from their failed pre-debate political campaigns, as well as from their respective journalistic and literary works, such as Buckley’s Firing Line TV series and Vidal’s movies (those based on his books or for which he wrote the screenplays, including “The Best Man” (1964), “Ben-Hur” (1959), “Caligula” (1979) and “Myra Breckenridge” (1970)). The film also features narrated excerpts from their writings voiced by Kelsey Grammer and John Lithgow. The picture is currently playing in limited release in theaters specializing in independent and documentary cinema.

No matter which end of the ideological spectrum we find ourselves on, from the events depicted in this film – both at the time they occurred and in their wake ever since – it should be apparent that letting matters get out of hand is not the answer, regardless of how fervently we believe we must be in trying to make our points. To be sure, extremism in any form seldom solves anything; it nearly always results in a descent into chaos, creating more problems than the acts that prompted them. These are lessons we should consider carefully lest we suffer consequences that may be difficult – if not impossible – to rectify.

Copyright © 2015, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Check Out ConsciousCreation.com

I'm pleased to announce that the consciouscreation.com web site has added my books, Get the Picture?!: Conscious Creation Goes to the Movies and Consciously Created Cinema: The Movie Lover's Guide to the Law of Attraction, to the list of titles available through its online bookstore! On the bookstore page menu, click on the option "Various Authors/Titles" and then scroll to page 4 of the listings. For more, click here. And, while you're at it, check out all the resources this wonderful web site (and its Facebook page) have to offer!

Photo covers by Paul L. Clark, Inspirtainment

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Keep up with me on social media

Keep up with the latest about my books, Get the Picture?!: Conscious Creation Goes to the Movies and Consciously Created Cinema: The Movie Lover's Guide to the Law of Attraction, on Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest, as well as on their own web sites.

Follow Get the Picture?! on Facebook by clicking here, on Google+ by clicking here and on Pinterest by clicking here. Visit the book's web site by clicking here.

Follow Consciously Created Cinema on Facebook by clicking here, on Google+ by clicking here and on Pinterest by clicking here. Visit the book's web site by clicking here.

And keep up with me on Twitter @Brent_Marchant.

Cover designs by Paul L. Clark, Inspirtainment

Friday, August 7, 2015

‘Matt Shepard’ puts a face on a tragedy – and a triumph

“Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine” (2014 production, 2015 release). Interview Footage: Michele Josue, Judy Shepard, Dennis Shepard, Tim Galles, Walt Boulden, Zeina Barkawi, Cynthia Whisenant, Nikki Pearson, Julie Anderson, Rich Mack, Kate Chill, Romaine Patterson, Jason Marsden, Jim Osborne, Matt Galloway, Dave O’Malley, Rob Debree, Reggie Fluty, Rulon Stacy, Father Roger Schmit. Archive Footage: Matt Shepard, Logan Shepard, Aaron McKinney, Russell Henderson, Ellen DeGeneres, President Bill Clinton, President Barack Obama. Director: Michele Josue. Screenplay: Michele Josue. Movie web site. Television web site. Trailer.

It’s easy to forget how those who are the inspiration for very public events are also individuals, flesh and blood people with their own personalities, traits and sensibilities. We often look past those qualities, not realizing how such traits often play an integral part in helping to bring their accomplishments into being. Under such circumstances, the only ones who get to see the private sides of these people are those who know them intimately. But now there’s a new film that attempts to correct that oversight at least for one public figure, a highly personal profile that provides the basis of the heartfelt documentary, “Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine.”

In October 1998, the death of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard came to dominate national headlines, not so much because it happened but, rather, because of how it happened. The first-year University of Wyoming student was brutally beaten and left to die on the prairie outside the town of Laramie – because he was gay. His attackers, local residents Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, claimed that they pretended to be gay to win over Shepard’s confidence as a pretext to robbing him. However, as became apparent during the assailants’ trial, their victim’s sexuality clearly played a pivotal role in the incident. Shepard’s death thus spurred a push for passage of national hate crimes legislation that would include sexual orientation as one of the bill’s qualifying criteria, a goal realized in 2009 with the enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

The shy, small-framed Shepard probably never expected to play such an important part in this emotionally charged debate, one that stirred strongly held feelings on both sides of the issue. Yet this unlikely, unwitting participant became involved in a highly public way. And, in so doing, he moved a nation.

But just who was Matthew Shepard? Most people probably know him from the news stories. However, those who were part of his life prior to his assault knew a very different person. They were the family and friends of Matt Shepard, and it’s their relationships with him that provide the focus of this film.

Like many of those who knew Matt, director Michele Josue was still grieving the loss of her longtime friend 15 years after his death. So, to cope with her pain, she decided to make a film about the person she knew, partly to help her heal and partly to put a face with the name that came to symbolize a movement.

Through a mix of interviews and archive footage, the film paints a personal portrait of its subject. Viewers meet Matt’s parents, Judy and Dennis, as well as friends from throughout his life. Some particularly poignant clips feature conversations with one of Matt’s high school teachers, Cynthia Whisenant, his classmate and traveling companion, Kate Chill, and friend and former Casper Star-Tribune reporter, Jason Marsden. But perhaps the most enlightening interview is with Matt’s high school guidance counselor, Walt Boulden, the first person to whom he came out. Boulden would come to be a good, trusted friend, one who played an integral role in helping to generate press coverage about Matt’s assault and the plight of hate crimes against gays.

Over the course of the film, audiences come to see Matt for who he was as a person – a compassionate soul who loved people of all types. Viewers learn of his interests in acting and politics, as well as his passion for writing in his journals, excerpts of which are read throughout. The picture also features footage from the many diverse places in which he lived, including Wyoming, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and Denver, as well as photos and videos from the places he visited, such as Morocco. He clearly packed a lot of living into a very short life, and he touched many people along the way.

Sadly, it would be impossible to tell Matt’s story credibly without including a recounting of the end of his life, and the film does so in a thoughtful, forthright manner. The documentary’s treatment of Matt’s final days effectively conveys the heartbreak of his circumstances while impartially reciting the facts of that gruesome ordeal, as told by Sheriff Dave O’Malley, Undersheriff Rob Debree, Deputy Reggie Fluty and Hospital Administrator Rulon Stacy. Sensitive viewers should be advised, however, that the film includes several graphic photos of Matt after his attack, a troubling aspect of the story that is handled frankly yet tactfully (but that some may nevertheless find upsetting).

Once word of this incident made its way into the press, news of the crime – and what was behind it – swept the nation. Outrage over the attack prompted protests across the country and garnered the support of celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and politicians like President Bill Clinton. The attack raised awareness about gay bashing and hate crimes, sparking discussion of these topics to degrees never seen before. And from it came the aforementioned legislation, as well as the launching of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, a community outreach organization established by Matt’s parents.

Despite the positive benefits to come out of this tragedy, Matt’s story nonetheless represents the kind of manifestation that makes some question the existence and value of the conscious creation process, the means by which our reality materializes through our thoughts, beliefs and intents. Indeed, one might quite legitimately ask, why would any of us seek to bring circumstances like this into being?

Answering that question isn’t always easy, especially under seemingly unpardonable conditions like these. However, sometimes the results we ultimately seek arise through the unlikeliest of creations. As Walt Boulden candidly observes in one segment, Matt had told him he always wanted to change the world, and that he truly did – even if he did so in a way that none of the rest of us might have chosen.

At the core of this story is something very ugly, something that most of us would rather not face – hate. Yet it’s something that, for better or worse, we’ve incorporated as part of our existence. So, in light of that, then, the key question that we must address is, how do we respond to it? Do we react in kind? Or do we pursue a different path, one that takes us in a different direction and helps to dispel its power?

This is where the power of beliefs comes into play. By envisioning and employing different intents, one can only hope that they help to bring about the demise of what gave rise to these circumstances in the first place. Attacking hate with hate only brings more hate, but, by bombarding it with love and forgiveness, hate doesn’t stand a chance.

Those who knew Matt would contend that such thinking would truly honor him, for it would be in line with his worldview, one in which he freely shared his love for people. And several examples of this are seen in the film. For instance, in a re-created reading of a statement Matt’s father gave at Aaron McKinney’s trial, Dennis Shepard makes an impassioned case to the court to spare the life of his son’s attacker, contending that condemning him to death would not bring Matt back. He instead asked for a more compassionate sentence of life imprisonment. In doing so, though, he also wished McKinney a long life, one that would give him ample opportunity to contemplate what he had done.

In a similar vein, viewers also get to see clips from an interview with Father Roger Schmit, a Catholic priest who has visited McKinney since his incarceration. During this segment, Father Schmit discusses how to react to events like those perpetrated by Matt’s assailant. He freely acknowledges that it’s difficult to let go of the hurt and anger that naturally arises in connection with such incidents. However, he also suggests looking at the bigger picture, specifically at what good has come from this event, as well as the opportunity it has provided the guilty party to consider his crimes and find the more commendable aspects of himself, qualities of which he was probably unaware at the time of his wrongdoing.

Again, these are attitudes that mirror Matt’s sentiments about people, and honoring them honors Matt. But this is something that transcends the circumstances here; it’s an outlook and approach we can all draw upon, not just in our reactions to Matthew Shepard’s story but in response to the incidents that crop up in our own everyday lives. If we can recognize that, then it’s obvious Matt Shepard’s impact was considerable, touching many more people than just those who knew him.

“Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine” is a compelling, engaging documentary that lends a personal touch to a public event. It evokes genuine, heartfelt emotions that run the gamut, but it does so without veering into manipulative or overly sentimental territory. It maintains a sense of objectivity while still conveying an undeniable point of view, a rather tricky tightrope to walk when dealing with subject matter like this. The film is also nicely paced and well edited, successfully avoiding the trap of self-indulgence that can come with a filmmaker telling an intimate, emotionally charged story.

The film has been playing in limited theatrical runs since early this year, with additional screenings yet to come. It’s also currently airing on the Logo cable television network, as well as the Logo TV web site. For further viewing on the subject, audiences might also wish to consider the made-for-TV movie “The Matthew Shepard Story” (2002) and the cable film “The Laramie Project” (2002), both of which are available on DVD.

When we get to know about someone who has been highly influential in some regard, it not only draws us closer to the individual, but it also often helps to strengthen our feelings about what they helped accomplish, especially if said attainments have had widespread impact. By coming to know Matt Shepard the person, we can better understand and appreciate Matthew Shepard the public figure, for what he helped realize may likely not have happened were it not for the role the person played in its unfolding. And, based on what we see in this film, it’s a pretty safe bet that, had we been able to get to know him, many of us also likely would have been proud to say that Matt is indeed a friend of mine.

Copyright © 2015, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.