Looking for spirituality in political action

By Joel Cummings

Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Action explores whether one person can make a difference in an age of global economic collapse, war, terrorism and mega-corporations. The movie takes filmaker Velcrow Ripper across the globe in an attempt to understand the relationship between activism and spirituality. What results is a beautiful and powerfully compelling film which sadly does not quite reach its full potential.

The film begins with stunningly gorgeous photography of the Oaxacan countryside in Mexico. Ripper’s close friend and fellow documentarian Brad Will is covering the 2006 Oaxaca protests, a conflict which started between the government and teachers unions but quickly exploded into massive protests and riots.

As the government sends in riot police to control the crowds, Will catches a stray bullet and dies. Will’s death is the catalyst which propels the film forward. Ripper takes the audience around the world, examining sites of social activism.

Beneath it all, he is on a journey of self-discovery, trying to ascertain his own spirituality and how this informs his activist zeal.

Fierce Light‘s scope is staggering. Ripper covers the history of the civil rights movement in America, disenfranchised social classes in India, the life of Ghandi, the history of apartheid and much more.

His most compelling material comes from Los Angeles, where a treasured urban green space faces demolition by encroaching developers. He interviews activists, politicians, artists and spiritual leaders from all different walks of life.

Many of these interviews are both intriguing and entertaining, offering relevant insights into the themes Ripper develops. Some, however, seem thrown in with little regard to content or context — such as an interview with a great granddaughter of Ghandi who didn’t have anything relevant to add to the film.

Fierce Light is an expertly filmed and produced documentary. Ripper’s cinematography is often exceedingly beautiful. The film is edited well, effectively combining excellent footage with various stock materials. The soundtrack is approriate — if forgettable — and keeps the film moving at the proper pace.

The film’s ordering, both spatially and chronologically, is occasionally schizophrenic, jumping from place to place with little logical progression. This is rather unavoidable, considering the huge array of infor- mation Ripper condensed into the film.

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the piece was an exploration of Ripper’s own spiritual life. The film briefly touches on his reluctance to accept any one established religion, yet this idea is rarely touched on after it is introduced. His attempt to address spirituality in a documentary about activism results in a lot of aimless discussion of new-age spirituality and Buddhism.

Those eagerly looking forward to a comprehensive examination of spirituality will find a lot of half-baked, pseudo-religious ideas that are never effectively woven into the film.

Ripper runs into the same problem when covering various activist causes. He addresses so much that he’s hardly able to delve deeply into anything. Ripper would have done Fierce Light much justice had he narrowed his focus, favouring a more nuanced look at his various causes of interest.

Activists and the socially conscious will find a lot to like in this film. Those looking for an in-depth exploration of larger social and spiritual themes are going to leave the theatre unsatisfied.

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