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Made you look, made you care

December 13, 2022 - Filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg is blazing a trail as bright as his images on screen. From Fantastic Fungi to his latest release Gratitude Revealed, we asked him about the power of beauty, nature, celebrating life (and why a rotting mouse is not the end but the beginning of everything).

Louie Schwartzberg’s extraordinary work as a cinematographer, director, and producer is a sensation. His TED talks connect with a worldwide audience. His Soarin’ Around the World motion simulator at EPCOT and all the Disney theme parks is one of Disney’s most popular rides. He is credited with pioneering the contemporary stock footage industry. As visual stories, his theatrical releases – including the IMAX film Mysteries of the Unseen World, narrated by Forest Whitaker, the documentary Wings of Life, narrated by Meryl Streep, and the consciousness-shifting Fantastic Fungi, narrated by Brie Larson ­­– reveal the beauty and wonder of nature.

Just like his art, Louie is dynamic, always working on new ideas. For example, anyone who has seen the immersive Van Gogh or Cezanne exhibitions will look forward to what’s next for Fantastic Fungi. “Imagine what can happen when they work with an artist who’s alive, not dead, and moving images rather than still life,” he contemplates as he joins us from his Moving Art studio in Los Angeles. “Soarin’ Around the World” blows people away, which indicates what turns people on. I want to do more of that, create immersive experiences that take people on journeys through time and scale. There’s a parallel with Six Senses. If you go to a beautiful resort, time slows down as you escape the rat race, shifting your worldview through the extraordinary location and physically immersing in nature. My story might be digital, but the end result is the same. I want to help people feel better, heal, celebrate life, and elevate their consciousness.”

Using his trademark time-lapse, high-speed, aerial, and macro cinematography techniques, his Moving Art series highlights the beauty inherent in everything from vast, sweeping landscapes to a single snowflake. He is revered by the worlds of art and science alike, a best-in-class Science Media award-winner when he didn’t even set out to make a science movie. Not many people can say that.

“I appreciate you saying that because those awards mean more to me than my film awards. I’m recording the truth. A flower opening is the truth. The scientist sees photosynthesis. The poet writes about it. I’m just showing it in a way you haven’t seen before, which broadens your perspective, opens your horizons to other’s ideas, and also touches your heart. We’re all just trying to describe the world. Maybe the scientist describes how it works, and the artist wants to know why it works, and I swim in both lanes to blend them together. Take the miracle of a bee landing on a flower, for example. You can go into deep theories of pollination and complex interchanges. When you’re observing it in slow motion and you see the bee shake the flower and the pollen exploding, it’s beautiful. The fact that nature uses beauty to seduce the bee and reproduce is mind-blowing.”

When it comes to nature, and protecting it, it’s hard to shift behavior with pure facts. People tend to protect what they love. Achieving an emotional connection with his audience is Louie’s secret sauce.

“Putting out the facts about climate change or environmental degradation unfortunately hasn’t moved the needle enough. The messaging has to be emotional. My intention is to film beauty and film it beautifully. It’s part of the message. We’re hardwired to respond to beauty. We probably all agree that flowers or landscapes are beautiful; we have a shared understanding. That’s why nature makes babies and puppies cute, so we nurture and care for them.”

Of course, what makes Louie extraordinary is that he doesn’t fall back on filming puppies. One of his most spectacular time lapses is of a decomposing mouse in Fantastic Fungi. Shooting once every 15 minutes produced 96 frames every 24 hours, just four seconds of film. No wonder the documentary was a painstaking 15 years in the making. The end result, however, is he made mycelium beautiful (and made us care about it too). 

“You start with the story, then find the best way to tell it. What comes before the story is curiosity and wonder. Maybe fungi that break down matter aren’t the end of life; it’s the beginning of life. The rotting mouse is not decaying; it is breaking down into molecular components so that the soil can form and the grass can grow. That’s beautiful. I just try to make the invisible visible. If I just told you about it, you wouldn’t really feel it. By time lapsing it, over days, over decades, you really get it. It grabs you. Not everyone can go to Galapagos or New Zealand but what I’m trying to do is share the sacred message that is imbued in nature that can open people’s hearts to be more loving and live in harmony with the planet. You guys know this as well because it’s the business you’re in when it comes to making a resort gorgeous. I want to use beauty in a positive way to turn people on to celebrate life.”

He first found his voice during his early days of filmmaking, specifically documenting the anti-war protests while attending UCLA Film School in the 1970s. Since then, his voice has evolved.

“I started out fighting for social justice and environmental justice. However, over time, I’ve moved from a ‘heady’ conversation to one that appeals to the heart. Filmmaking has also opened me up to the greatest teacher of all time, Mother Nature. She taught me how to live a sustainable life, not waste a single molecule, and how everything works in harmony. I’m constantly observing, recording, and learning about nature’s intelligence. My parents were Holocaust survivors (Ed. Eva spent several years in Auschwitz, while Joseph was in the Lodz Ghetto followed by some time in Auschwitz) and the stories I like to tell are about resilience and overcoming adversity but still finding joy and love in life. And nature is also about resilience and sustainability and building community to build symbiotic relationships to survive.”

Louie recently joined the Harvest series at Six Senses Kaplankaya for a screening of his latest film, Gratitude Revealed, like a proud Dad watching his baby take on a journey of its own, and the riveted audience along with it. How did the film come about?

“With Covid, I wasn’t able to go out and shoot. I made a short trailer in 2014 as part of a TED talk that went viral. That made me realize there was an audience for it. I was targeting it towards my daughters. If I mentioned gratitude to them, they would roll their eyes and call me cheesy. My initial goal was to see if I could connect with young people. I had been collecting these magic moments over a long period of time and interviewed luminaries like Brother David Steindl-Rast and Deepak Chopra, but also remarkable but ordinary people like children and elders. We all have something to say and some wisdom to give. I didn’t want the film to be preachy. Nobody in the movie tells you how to live your life. These are just examples of people who are doing what they love to do, and in many cases overcoming adversary, and that is really inspiring. It’s up to people in the audience to lean into that and create context in their life based on this joy or magic moment that intrigued them in the movie.”

An antidote to Dante’s Inferno of celebrity culture, Gratitude Revealed is like a journey into the soul, and it has changed Louie’s own outlook on life.

“Instead of feeling rejected, or social injustice, given what happened to my parents, or being a victim, I can think about something positive. What can I be grateful for? Grateful that I am breathing, I can observe the clouds go by… You can’t have a negative and a positive thought in your head at the same time, so I have this little card I can pull out of my back pocket. It’s metaphoric, but it’s my capital G gratitude card. A lot of entertainment today is about fight or flight, macho conflict, or revenge. It engages you but only in the way you watch a car wreck. It perpetuates polarization, which is ridiculous, it’s just manipulating fear. Fundamentally, humans get along; we all want the same thing. We want the best for our children, we want a happy life. So, let’s drop those fear buttons that manipulate you in the wrong way. The higher goal is to turn people on with beauty. A mycelium network is all about harmony where ecosystems flourish without greed. I want to tell a new story. When it comes to the old story, I really think we’re done.”

Apropos of nothing, we can’t leave Louie without a few quick-fire questions.

  1. Lion’s mane or Reishi? Lion’s mane.
  2. Bright city lights or quiet country night? Quiet country night.
  3. Book or movie? Movie.
  4. Tidy or messy? A little bit of both. Tidy.
  5. East Coast or West Coast? West Coast.
  6. Meryl or Brie? (awkward pause while he considers) Brie.
  7. Long shot or close up? Close up.
  8. Spa or swim? Swim.

“Is that your customer survey?”

Maybe, Louie, maybe. Based on your answers, the Six Senses resort we’re sending you to next is …

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