DANETTE WOLPERT is the Founder and Executive Director of the ILLUMINATE Film Festival. Prior to founding ILLUMINATE, Danette spent 10 years in film production, programming and festival management. Danette is the recipient of the National Association for Women Business Owners 2016 Visionary Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence. We spoke recently about the 2021 Illuminate Film Festival, happening now and running through May 26th and the conscious, giving, and healing powers of film.
Check out the Illuminate Film Festival here.
Dave Watson: Welcome Danette! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. The Illuminate Film Festival is an interesting and unique film festival. How did it come about?
Danette Wolpert: Thanks Dave, I’m so happy to be here. My career began in engineering and business. I had a corporate life before and wanted to be in touch with my purpose that was rising up within me, and that was to put people in touch with their passion. So I left that life and landed in Sedona, Arizona, it’s a metaphysical wonder with its red rock beauty and spiritual resources. I decided I want to elevate and inspire and entertain at the same time through film. I think film is a vessel to impart deep messages to people.
Most recently I was Associate Director of the Miami International Film Festival.
DW: How many years has Illuminate been going now?
DW: I got my team together in 2013 and we birthed the festival so we are seven years old.
DW: You have a lot of varied entries this year, some documentaries and shorts. As we might be coming out of the pandemic now, these films were in production last year and before, do you notice any distinctions on these entries?
DW: You know, I think our submission deadline was too close to the turn of the pandemic about the topic. You have to be a certain kind of filmmaker to get a film done in a few months.
This is what I did see, Dave: I started to see a deepening of the topics, and I think that had a lot to do with the pandemic. People got in touch with their stillness. When it started, people weren’t working, weren’t socializing, and I think it started a deep personal inquiry and a lot of people were having a big “Ah ha!” moment about their life. “I can’t see my mother!” “I’ve been putting my work in front of my family for the last twenty years!” So I think we’re seeing a lot of deep reflection this year.
DW: Absolutely. You also have a panel with Chris Vogler and The Writer’s Journey.
DW: Chris’s panel is about myth. Are you familiar with Joseph Campbell?
DW: Joseph Campbell really talked about the hero’s journey. Any story relative to the hero’s journey really takes the viewer to an incredible place, relating to that hero, and his panel is about myth storytelling in cinema. Chris is a trailblazer in that way and he’s coming out with a new book, the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Writer’s Journey. We are featuring him in an online panel and Convergence Conference for anyone and everyone involved in conscious filmmaking.
DW: Chris talked about how reflective we are last year. He had a very optimistic view, saying, “We’ll come out of this better.” What other panels do you have?
DW: That is what we do and that’s what film is all about: being able to transform ourselves, our society, and the planet. We also have a spotlight conversation with Pete Docter who just won the Academy Award for Soul, which is an exceptional piece of filmmaking
It was great timing for us, and we have a conversation with Pete which is about illuminating and impactful storytelling. He’s created impactful stories with Inside Out, Up, Monster’s Inc., and now he’s the Chief Creative Officer of Pixar and leading the company into the future of filmmaking. There’s something about his films and how they resonate with children, elders, so we’ll have a conversation with him about how he’s woven his impact into innovative filmmaking.
DW: Their work and yours appears to go beyond borders and touch audiences worldwide.
DW: Absolutely. When you’re gutting films and stories down to everyday life, they really appeal to every last person.
DW: Whether it’s a mainstream story, going back to Monster’s Inc. Your festival has a spiritual theme. Sedona seems to be a perfect location as well.
DW: This year we’re going virtual. In the past we had a major contingency
Who doesn’t want a little red rock vacation, go hiking, meditate on the vortexes, and you get to get together with your little filmmaking tribe. We’ve had film distributors reach out and get films made and distributed in the past. We’ll have a virtual lobby where our speakers will get to interact with people. We have films that will have impact, not just external impact but internal as well. We’ll have a star panel about conscious creativity with Adrienne Becker who is the COO of Annapurna. There are all these people who have studied impact at the granular level.
We’re spotlighting Regina Scully for the trailblazer award. She’s the Founder of the Artemis Rising Foundation. Bless her. Whenever my team and I go looking for movies, we go to see what films she’s put funding behind. She puts funding behind movies about underserved communities, people who are healing, and she’ll be speaking with Geralyn Dreyfous who’s the co-founder of Impact Partners.
DW: You have quite the lineup. What are some of the films that have stuck with you and had an impact the last few years?
DW: Well, there’s something I thought about sharing as it’s a personal journey, and this might be a good time to open up as it’s been a personal journey with my health and wellness. About two years ago I was diagnosed with a tumor in my pituitary and it was going to seriously impact my ability to work, live my life, and walk around the block. I went into Learning Mode on what i can do to help my health.
What I turned to was film, and turned to films that had an impact on me over the last five years. They gave me the inspiration and motivation to embark on my own journey, and in my mind, these films made me become tumor-free.
DW: You’re exemplifying the restorative power of film. Please share.
DW: I can mention a few of ten films that really helped me.
The Power of the Heart has some incredible emotional stories about people who have transformed through something the heart embodies. The heart is in charge of our intuition, whether we forgive or whether we don’t. For me that film armed me with an internal GPS for my healing journey. Sometimes we just want to listen to others for our direction, and this was about tapping into our intuition.
Heal talks about the mind-body connection, how our thoughts impact our physical health.
Then I watched a film, May I Be Frank. It’s a hilarious documentary at a Cafe Gratitude and says, “No one is ever going to love me anymore. I’m this 250-pound guy, I’ve alienated my family, I’ve got three chronic diseases!” The guy behind the counter says, “I bet if I put you on this forty-day program about health and well-being, you’ll be on a healthy and better path."
I took all of their suggestions, I embraced all of their modalities for health and healing, I even started taking wheat-grass shots, actually the most detoxifying substances in your body.
DW: It’s not the best-tasting thing in the world and it’s supposed to be one of the best things for us.
DW: You can go on a retreat and they feed you wheatgrass shots all day. The films gave me the tools and wisdom to connect with myself, what I can do with myself on the healing journey, the levels of consciousness, what actually happens with our energy when people
I know that might not be believable to many people, but when you see the studies done by Princeton University, you’ll see why.
These are the types of conscious films that can change many, and they certainly did for me.
DW: Were all three documentaries?
DW: Yes, feature documentaries.
DW: The film about forty days almost sounded like a self-help, and it followed a storytelling maxim that the more specific you are, the more universal it applies to everyone.
DW: Absolutely, when you impart wisdom in a character-driven story, that’s when it really lands. If you’re sitting there as a filmmaker trying to preach, but if you’re with a character who’s vulnerable and be with them, then you’ll feel their journey.
DW: It sounds like you have a few trailblazers then, with Regina Scully, Chris Vogler, and Pete Docter. You’d think a film about emotions such as Inside Out, well, that runs the risk of being preachy, and I didn’t get that when I saw it. You have a wide variety of films this year as well.
DW: Absolutely. We have thirty films, twenty-seven of them are available on line, and twenty-two of them are available worldwide which is unusual.
Through transformational entertainment and conscious cinema, the filmmakers have really wanted to show their films far and wide. They’re seeking spiritual evolution, Samadhi, which is the end game for a lot of people, so a lot of films touch on science and spirituality, healing and wellness, mindfulness. Mindfulness has become a big buzzword these days, right? You see it on the cover of Time Magazine, BusinessWeek...
DW: And growth mindset versus fixed mindset, so you’re really covering the scale. Do you have a favorite cinematic moment? One growing up or from the ten films that you saw?
DW: That’s a really good question because I feel like I have so many. The very first one that comes to mind is Hotel Rwanda. I watched that as a young adult right out of college. That was the first film I saw where I thought it could transform somebody in ninety minutes and change their world view forever. Because with that film, you’re watching a major crisis unfold in front of you on the big screen, and you think, “How can this happen? Can’t somebody help?” That profoundly changed my worldview, both politically and emotionally because I felt if there’s someone in the world that needs help, we all need to be there for them.
There was film after film promoting positive good and what we can do for each other.
DW: And it’s a film that transports you to a far away place and you can identify with these people. It set you on a life course in a way to be there for people. Where can we find this film festival?
DW: You can get tickets online at illuminatefilm2021.com.
Clip: Hotel Rwanda
Founder and editor of Movies Matter, Dave Watson is a writer and educator in Madison, WI.