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Audience's choice for "Indigo" debut in Santa Fe

How good does a movie have to be to be “relevant?”

Is it the implied message, or the delivery system, the power of the story itself that makes or breaks it. The obvious answer, of course, is the story. No story, no characters that are interesting and relatable, then no relevance. Or so it goes.

It’s a tried and true formula, be it from the biggest of studios to the tiniest of indie films shot on the run, but I witnessed an interesting twist on the premise this past week-end at the Santa Fe Film Festival, where a new independent film, “Indigo,” made it’s worldwide debut. The story behind the story, so to speak, turned out to be much more interesting than the movie itself.

Indigo is the story of ten year old Grace, a so called, “indigo child,” who helps her family find redemption and healing after a number of regrettable choices result in a complete and total family breakdown, through her psychic and gifted abilities. Shot on a $500,000 budget, which is considered quite small in feature film terms, it was produced by Stephen Simon, veteran Hollywood executive, who produced the films, “What Dreams May Come,” and Somewhere in Time.” The lead actor is Neale Donald Walsch, author of the “Conversations with God” series of books, which have sold a gazillion copies worldwide.

What Simon, Walsch, and financier James Twyman are looking to do is no less than launch a new genre of movie making named, “spiritual cinema” by offering what Simon coins as “movies that make you feel better about the human condition than when you walked in.” Spiritual cinema in their view is not religious cinema, but rather carries spirituality as a sub-text in the story that the filmmakers hope make the viewer ask the question: who are we and why are we here?

There have certainly been popular movies that attain this goal. “Field of Dreams,” where tourists continue to make a pilgrimage to the actual corn field from the movie. In Paris, the Montmarte area is doing a brisk tourist trade from fans of the hit indie film, “Amalie,” which featured a young woman doing good for people without expectations of reward or thanks. There’s a resonance in these films, a compelling and entertaining exploration of the innate goodness we possess.

The filmmakers sense a cultural opportunity borne of a number of factors; the collective American soul search following 9/11, the advertising industries unabated influence to lead us down the path to “stuff” as a salve, and the continuing deification of violence and those who propagate it out of Hollywood. Simon used the recent film, “Kill Bill,” by Quentin Tarantino, which featured woman trying to carve themselves into ribbons and more than a little blood.

While acknowledging there is a market for violence in movies, the Indigo big-wigs simply want to offer an alternative. The use of the so-called “indigo child,’ is an interesting first try out of the gate. The reviews, as they say, are mixed.

The indigo child phenomena has been bubbling quietly as an understanding that perhaps there is such a thing as a human being possessive of extraordinary and unexplainable talents. Indigo children, as expressed in the film, carry themselves on a psychic “grid” of sorts, where only other indigo children dwell. Able to understand where adults true hearts and motivations emanate from, they have the ability to foresee events and decisions, thus Grace is able to guide her lost grandfather to a place of inner understanding and redemption.

It was interesting to watch the reaction to Simon’s spiritual cinema goal from the decidedly jaded film festival glitterati. While the film itself was judged less for its intent than for its execution, which many found wanting, Simon and everyone else associated were nonplussed.

My gut tells me they may be onto something. The prospect of spirituality in any form is in a renaissance period, as a hunger for deeper meaning in all our lives has taken on a new importance, and in a strictly business sense, the move has financial merit. There’s a vacuum, and they have filled it. One can quibble the style points, but someone was going to do it eventually.

Whether spiritual cinema is the right creative vehicle for this type of expression remains to be seen. The effort will certainly be controversial on a number of levels, but like everything, the paying audience will decide on whether to applaud it or not.

Gene Grant

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