How Conscious Cinema Can Help Heal Our Fractured World

Developmental Editing by Alexandra Hidalgo
Copy Editing and Posting by Elena Cronick

Nicole Wensel

“The power of cinema has long been apparent, from the time of silent film right through the implementation of 3D. Technology is one thing, but cinema’s storytelling capability and power to drive change is when it is at its most powerful.”  

I couldn’t agree more with this statement from Cheryl Wannell, general manager of SAWA (Global Cinema Advertising Association), which hosted The Power of Cinema to Drive Cultural Change seminar in 2016 at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity[1]. As a filmmaker,  I’m incredibly excited about the possibilities of cinema, particularly its potential to exert a positive influence on the world in terms of inner shifts of consciousness, as well as on a global stage of societal change.

I grew up outside of Houston in the small town of Katy, Texas. My favorite place as a kid was Blockbuster, which served as my gateway into film as an art form. I attended college at the University of Southern California, where I made many short-form projects and graduated with a BA in Cinematic Arts Production. For years, I worked in development at production companies and studios, in addition to working on film sets in various capacities. While I was receiving a lot of “high-level” opportunities, I found myself deeply dissatisfied with the industry. I didn’t like the way that people treated each other or the types of films that were getting made. I found it particularly challenging as a young woman and dealt with multiple instances of sexual harassment. I decided to leave the industry (at least the version of the industry that I’d been working in) and branch out on my own. I launched my production company, Lovevolve Cinema (pronounced “love-evolve”), not only as the entity through which I could produce films that I had written and planned to direct, but also with the intention of changing the industry for the better from the inside out.

As I asked myself precisely why I was so disappointed with many of the films getting made in Hollywood, I realized that I had a craving for movies that did more than just provide banal, meaningless entertainment. If I was going to take the time to watch something, I wanted it to actually move me in a profound way. I recognized that many of the movies that had stayed with me for years were ones that had, in some way, changed my life for the better—whether through providing emotional catharsis, a shift in perception, inspiration or even just a good laugh. I discovered a unique opportunity in the industry to develop this type of content—films that not only entertain, but that also have the possibility of inspiring positive change, both internally in the life of the viewer, as well as in relationship to profound social issues of our time.

Behind the scenes of Quarter Life Coach

The concept of “conscious cinema” is not new, though I believe potential audiences for these types of films to be underserved. There are some great people and production companies currently working in this realm, most prominently, Participant Media, which does a brilliant job of aligning social action campaigns with both narrative and documentary projects that touch on social issues. Most notably, they are behind the successes of films like Spotlight and Food, Inc., among many others. I believe there is an opportunity to go even deeper and attempt to address the root cause of the major problems the world faces. Cinema has the power to help audiences experience healing, inspiration, and a heightened spiritual awareness in their individual lives as well, which I find to be at the core of resolving global discord. Lovevolve Cinema’s current development slate has projects that fall under both of these categories.

Shooting a green screen sequence with actress/artist, Carol Surface, behind the scenes of Quarter Life Coach

When financiers do take chances on conscious films, there is typically a huge success rate. Take a look at the numbers of a few features in this realm, as described by the Illuminate Film Festival blog:

Avatar, the wildly successful imagination-explosion of film master, James Cameron, illustrates the living energy connection between humans, plants, and animals…AND grossed nearly $3 billion in box office worldwide! Forrest Gump made ¾ of a billion dollars in box  office alone, and Pursuit of Happyness more than $300 million. A rapidly growing number of movie-goers are crying out for such qualities in their movies. … The spiritually sentimental multi-faith film, The Life of Pi, being received well with $609 million in box office, and the  preciousness-of-life film, Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock, pulling in $365 million in box office. [2]

Why, then, are we still not seeing more films like these produced on a consistent basis?

Co-stars, Nicole Wensel and Sean Liang, behind the scenes of Quarter Life Coach

I love exploring the possibilities of conscious cinema through unexpected genres. I’m starting small, but striving to increase the number of movies produced in this vein over the course of my career as a filmmaker. I’ve been inspired to mix comedy, action-adventure, romance, and science fiction genres with greater purpose and substance than your average genre film. My first step forward was bootstrapping my debut feature film, Quarter Life Coach (2015), a comedy about a life coach who has a quarter-life crisis. The movie touches on meaningful topics, like finding one’s purpose and cultivating self-love, while simultaneously providing over-the-top humor. I wrote, directed, starred, and produced the film on a shoestring budget. It received the “Merit Award of Awareness” at the Awareness Festival, and I self-distributed it through VHX.

Movie poster for Quarter Life Coach

I’m currently fundraising for my next feature project, Suburban Blues, City Lights, which is a bit more ambitious. It’s a science fiction drama about an aspiring dancer who goes on a healing journey through the lens of virtual reality. I intend for the film to act as a positive, cathartic force for those who watch it. The project deals with rewiring harmful mental and emotional patterns in the subconscious mind and paving the pathway for a positive future. As the lead character, Simone, relives painful, unprocessed memories from her past, she is able to effectively process and release them and the hold they have on her present reality. My hope is that someone watching it, who perhaps has suffered trauma in the past, will be able to relate to Simone and find hope through her journey. I would be overjoyed if after watching it, someone is inspired to start the process of healing their own past wounds that might be holding them back.

Given the current political climate in the US and abroad, now, more than ever, we need films that help us to wake up as a society. Rather than seeking simply to “escape” from the pains of our personal lives and the world at large, it is vital that we face life head-on—and I believe that films and other forms of entertainment can help us do so through strong intentionality on the part of content creators. Stories have the potential to help us heal the pains in our own lives, inspire us to live at our personal optimum and strengthen our empathy muscles. In doing so, we cultivate a greater capacity to give to others and foster a space of connection, understanding, and acceptance of those with characteristics, backgrounds, and perspectives different from our own. In the wake of the recent U.S. presidential election, which has glaringly revealed the disturbing consequences of a “reality show culture,” it is imperative for artists to continue to fight to revere truth and substance. Cinema is one of the most powerful and universal methods of storytelling, and I hope to see more filmmakers and audiences turning to it as a tool to help heal our fractured world.

Check out the website and Facebook page for Lovevolve Cinema and Nicole’s profile here.