I sat there, awaiting the Waterfront Film Festival’s debut showing of “Fierce Light” a documentary by filmmaker and activist Velcrow Ripper who took a seat one row behind and a few seats down from me with guest Daryl Hannah. As the film began, Ripper introduced audiences to his friend, journalist and activist Bradley Will. Will’s breath can be heard as his hands hold the camera that is displaying the images in the beginning of the film…the volatile streets of Mexico where enraged citizens and police clash with stones, bullet proof shields and gunfire.
And then a moment erupts on screen that rips through any narration or visual imagery. As conditions became increasingly hostile, and Will’s camera became something unwanted - almost before the viewer realizes it – the sound of a bullet cracks in the air with Will’s last breath, a gasp. His camera clattering to the ground, is picked up by unknown hands and left sitting sideways on a bench.
Will’s death resonated with the activists that had gathered on the same street where he moved about with his camera and his mission to record and act on their plight. An uprising occurred in his memory an uprising against what they must have seen as a murderous and unjust society around them.
The narration continuing, Ripper explains how the death of his friend sent him on a journey to discover what happens with spirituality meets action and activism. When we act on what we believe.
My initial reaction to what Ripper is searching for, was a combination of intrigue based on a journalist’s life lost in the attempt to tell a story filled with raw emotion and skepticism for my view of the new age theology of oneness.
But Ripper began his story with the Civil Rights Movement, a movement during which the belief in equality was so fierce so thick and heavy with necessity that many lost their lives, shed their blood and continued to fight against a deep rooted hatred. And then Congressman John Lewis’s face and voice fill the screen.
“I saw hate,” he said. “And hate – was too heavy a burden to bear.”
The film explores many injustices…from the beating of Rodney King, which ignited the Los Angeles riots of the 1990s to the story a plot of desolate space in the center of where such an uprising had taken place. There, members of the community pulled up dead surface and worked in new land, new soil and created a community garden. That garden produced fresh produce, fresh flowers and fed a community with not just its product but its service, as children spent their afternoons working with the soil instead of on dangerous streets.
And then, along came a company – more interested in space that substance and so began a tumultuous fight to save the garden from blank development. A fight that lasted over 30 days and ended in the arrest of two who refused to leave the property – including Hannah and a sea of salty tears as that corporation turned down the $16 million the community was miraculously able to raise to purchase and keep the garden. The question Ripper seemed to ask is at what cost do we abandon all our conscious and all our convictions? When exactly does the soul get sold?
At least…that’s what I took from it.
The film affected me more than I had expected it to. The idea of taking what it is we believe in and combining it with activism planted a seed in my restless little mind. Think…if we love and we act on that love – in every breath and every minute of every day – it would be hard to turn to hate. It would be hard to march into a museum filled reminders of what can come from such hate and take a human life. Environmentalist and activist Van Jones calls it 'soulfulness'. And if you ask me, there's always room for soul.
If we believe in independence – in freedom – if we live and breathe that freedom in every day and wake only to act upon it, it would be hard for us to allow ourselves to become prisoners of others.
Now, I am not what one might consider a pacifist in any such sense of the word. Will was an anarchist. I am not. But I do believe in the necessity of balance. There must be the dark so we know what it means to fight our way through and choose the light. It is that choice that I believe is the divine of life. And this is coming from a girl who enjoys her dark and twisty little places and her overwhelming ponderous thoughts. But without the suffocating and paralyzing reign of a man so filled with madness – we would not be witnessing an uprising by a people who have so eloquently shown the world there is a silent majority in Iran that chooses to be silent no more.
And now – how unbelievably profound. As we question the purpose of social networking such as Twitter – we now see that it is so rapid and so resonate that members of the resistance in Iran are turning to it to keep the world abreast of the violence and the tyranny that abounds on Tehran’s streets. In 140 characters or less.
As we question whether journalism is even relevant anymore – the ban of all foreign reporting reminds us how it so undeniably is. As we lose our eyes the brilliance of the written and spoken word can still spread a message – a message of what happens in the world around us – and how it affects each and every one of us, a half a world away.
And we can remember how purpose needs action. How even in the battles that are lost – there are wars to be won. As Jones says, toward the end of the film, after the garden had been bulldozed and years after Will’s death still leaves a hole in the heart of the filmmaker – “being a rebel is important, because a rebel opposes injustice. But a revolutionary...a revolutionary proposes justice of a new order.”
That revolution is evident today in Tehran. It can be as vast as a country’s uprising against dictatorship – or as intimate as the parenting of our children or the loving of one another. It's all about soul. And you've got to have soul. Learn more about “Fierce Light” at http://www.fiercelight.org.