Soul force at work


Daryl Hannah up a tree trying to save an urban farm in LA from being bulldozed.

IN THE 2004 feature documentary Scared Sacred(, activist filmmaker Velcrow Ripper went to what he called the “ground zeroes” of the planet – post 9/11 New York, Bhopal, Hiroshima – in search of hope in humanity’s darkest hours.

With his latest feature documentary, Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Action, Ripper leads us once again through the shadows, although here his quest for truth and understanding stems from a more personal tragedy. In October of 2006, Ripper’s friend, journalist Brad Will, was shot dead while filming protests in Oaxaca, Mexico. “Brad’s death shook me to the core,” says Ripper in the film’s narrative. The tragedy sets him questioning the relationship between two aspects of himself – the activist filmmaker and the spiritual self and how they work together.

As he crosses the globe, following stories of activists that took huge risks for a cause, you begin to get a sense of what he means when he says, “I feel tremors of a volcanic spirit starting to build all over the globe to the cry ‘Another world is possible.’”

In what is a poetic call to heartfelt action, Ripper asks how, with the batons and blows raining down, activists maintain their composure and the certainty of their convictions. Civil rights activist, now congressman, John Lewis, says even after being beaten and left for dead during the Bloody Sunday march of 1965 in Selma, Alabama, hatred and violence were never an option. “We just gotta love the hell out of them,” Lewis recalls his mentor Martin Luther King saying to him.

Ripper reflects on the ideas of Gandhi, who called this inner strength “soul force” or “truth force” and whose non-violent doctrine has been taken up by generations of activists. The documentary regularly revisits a protest to save a large, urban farm in South Central Los Angeles from being bulldozed for development. Clearly, this little piece of Eden is cherished by and has enriched the hundreds of people, young and old, who cultivate it. The farm’s plight is splashed across the news, as actress Daryl Hannah and Julia Butterfly Hill, famed for her two-year tree-sit in the “Luna” redwood, decide to hold out in the branches in an act of civil disobedience. As the drama unravels, Ripper succeeds in showing the importance of the action in bringing people together and raising consciousness, even if the goals of the action are not fully realized.

Considering the film covers so much pain and violence (I’d forgotten quite how awful that Rodney King beating was), its stories are often quietly inspirational. Ripper melds mythology and spiritual practice with a meditative soundtrack and fluid, metaphorical imagery so that it almost washes over you. The theatrical release is set for May 15.

The Pacific Cinematheque has a mini season of BC film and television work – awards for which take place May 8. Well worth a look is Carts of Darkness, profiling North Vancouver men who combine binning with shopping-cart racing down steep North Van mountain roads. The doc, nominated in six categories, shows with Warrior Boyz on May 1, with director Murray Siple in attendance. Now that the NFB has opened its archive for online viewing, you can watch the full film at

The controversial and lucrative trade in wild dolphins is the subject of The Dolphin Dealer (PCP, May 2, 5pm). The Leo-nominated doc follows former Vancouver Aquarium trainer Christopher Porter, who exports dolphins from his Solomon Islands base for $100,000 a head to marine parks around the world. Critics include Ric O’Barry, a former trainer for television’s Flipper. The 44-minute doc screens as a double bill with Blowdown, a documentary about the demolition of a Cape Canaveral rocket launch tower.

Robert Alstead writes at

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