On a recent Sunday afternoon, Dawn Muncaster went to church, as she has every Sunday for the past 10 years. A sermon, however, was not part of the service.
The 53-year-old astrologer, along with 125 others, gathered at Unity of the Valley church in White Rock, B.C., to watch the world premiere of a film called Indigo Evolution. And they weren't the only ones settling down in front of the movie.
In 40 countries around the world, from Greece to Guatemala, Ind igo Evolution was shown on the same weekend at more than 400 New Thought churches (which include such denominations as Christian Science, Religious Science, Unity, Unitarian, and others), as well as at yoga centres and community halls. In Canada alone, the film was screened in at least 30 venues.
The feature-length documentary, directed by James Twyman, explores the phenomenon of so-called indigo children, a new generation of kids who are said by some New Age psychologists and parents' groups to be exceptionally intuitive, independent and strong-willed. Some believe that such children, named after the distinctive blue of their auras -- followers believe that a coloured energy field surrounds the body -- are a more highly evolved type of human.
"This film is really going to help people wake up and see how we have all these possibilities to evolve our consciousness," enthused Muncaster, who organized the screening. "If you think about what our kids are watching in movies and on television, we have a whole bunch of people focusing on negative messages. That only attracts negative energy. If you have a whole bunch of people focusing on positive messages, we could shift the consciousness of the planet."
Whether you believe indigo children are here to save the world, or simply suffer from attention deficit disorder -- as many psychologists have countered -- is beside the point. What does matter is that Indigo Evolution's synchronized screenings, which coincided with the second World Indigo Day, represent a revolution in the marketing methods and distribution avenues for independent films.
Just as significantly, they point to a shift in the tastes of moviegoers, many of whom seem to be seeking more uplifting stories than Hollywood has traditionally delivered. This growing genre -- which includes such upcoming releases as The Da Vinci Code, What the Bleep!?: Down th e Rabbit Hole (the sequel to 2004's What the #$*! Do We Know?!, a rumination on the meaning of life), The Celestine Prophecy and Conversations with God -- is known as spiritual or New Age cinema.
"So many films with heart and soul never find an audience," laments Stephen Simon, executive producer of Indigo Evolution and co-founder of the Spiritual Cinema Circle, a subscription-based DVD club designed to reach people who consider themselves "spiritual" but not religious.
Since the club was launched two years ago, more than 20,000 subscribers in 82 countries have joined. The Indigo Evolution screenings were organized by the Spiritual Cinema Network, a joint venture between the Spiritual Cinema Circle and Emissary Productions ( Indigo Evolution's co-producers), which has also spawned a weekly one-hour Internet radio show ( ), hundreds of on-line discussion groups, and what it hopes will be the annual Spiritual Cinema Festival at Sea (launched last May aboard a Caribbean cruise ship).
Simon, a former Hollywood heavyweight who now dedicates his life to producing and directing films that make people feel better about being human, explains what he sees as the distinction between religious and spiritual films. The former, he argues, which include Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, "reflect the teachings of particular organized groups that, in general, present specific rules, regulations and rituals that must be followed in order to experience a connection with the Divine."
By contrast, he says, spiritual films "generally entail a more personal, inner-directed and individual experience with the Divine." And although Simon says there are many successful movies that could be defined as spiritual -- from It's a Wonderful Lifeand 2001: A Space Odyssey to Whale Rider, the 2002 New Zealand film about a young Maori girl confronting centuries of patriarchy -- the films distributed through the Circle tend to be more obscure.
Last month's Circle package, for example, includes Hardwood, the National Film Board of Canada's deeply personal short film directed by Hubert Davis, about his womanizing father, former Harlem Globetrotter Mel Davis, and the reconciliation of his two extended families.
"Everyone has their own definition of spirituality," says Simon, formerly known as Stephen Deutsch, whose Hollywood résumé includes several spiritual films (1980's time-travel romance Somewhere in Time, starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour; the 1998 Robin Williams movie, What Dreams May Come) and many (including The Goodbye Girl and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure) that are decidedly not.
Simon stumbled onto his own spiritual journey during a 1993 press screening for Body of Evidence, a forgettable thriller that starred Madonna as a wealthy socialite arrested for murder after her much-older husband dies during sex. As Simon stood at the back of the theatre listening to the audience boo the film he had produced, he vowed never to sell his soul again.
And so he went into seclusion for a year, reading up on all the new metaphysical texts, meditating daily, and getting back to the spiritual roots that had inspired him to produce the favourite of his films, Somewhere in Time. (Around the same time, he dropped his adoptive father's name and began using Simon, the name of his biological father.)
Determined to make films from then on that would "uplift, inspire, open the heart and stir the soul," he started a new company, Metafilmics, with business partner Barnet Bain. Their first production, the afterlife drama What Dreams May Come, starring Williams, Annabella Sciorra and Cuba Gooding, Jr., went on to garner several international awards, including two Oscar nominations.
A few years later, at the urging of his friend and mentor, New Age guru Neale Donald Walsch, Simon wrote a book called The Force is With You: Mystical Movie Messages that Inspire Our Lives. The book points to such films as Jodie Foster's Contact, Tom Cruise's Vanilla Sky, Dr. Strangelove, The Matrix series, A Beautiful Mind, and, of course, Star Wars, as examples of movies that contain messages originating from a collective consciousness outside ourselves.
"I see spiritual cinema as the 21st-century version of a shaman sitting at a campfire, passing down the myths for a culture from one generation to another," says Simon, speaking from his home in Ashland, Ore. Simon's own cinematically spiritual odyssey began with a small flicker that ended blazing brighter than he had ever imagined. He had produced a film, 2003's Indigo, a fictionalized story about the same type of gifted children interviewed and discussed in Indigo Evolution. When he and his co-producers realized he was not going to be able to distribute it in a traditional way, they began reaching out to their contacts in New Thought churches, offering them a chance to premiere the film in exchange for a share in ticket revenue.
On opening weekend, in January of 2005, the film was screened at 618 alternate locations around the world, in addition to 100 AMC theatres in the United States. Using a targeted Internet campaign to generate buzz, the small indie film, which cost about $500,000 (U.S.) to make, grossed $1.4-million in two days.
A similar direct-marketing campaign helped turn What the #$*! Do We Know?! into last year's sleeper indie hit. The dramatized documentary, which draws parallels between spirituality and quantum physics, was originally released at a single theatre in Yelm, Wash. Then it slowly moved into art houses and community screenings, gaining speed when the Spiritual Cinema Network plugged it on its website and in its newsletter. The film, which cost $5-million to make, was eventually picked up for distribution by Samuel Goldwyn Co. It has since grossed more than $12-million in the U.S., making it one of the most popular documentaries of all time.
Simon's next film, which will get a preview screening through the same network this fall, is the feature-length Conversation s with God, based on the bestselling book series by guru Walsch. The three books, which have sold 7 million copies in 34 languages, recount the author's philosophical chats with God, which allegedly began when he was homeless and living in a park.
The film, starring the award-winning Canadian actor Henry Czerny, is the first production to be financed by the Spiritual Cinema Network. And although it will premiere with underground screenings, as did Indigo and Indigo Evolution, Simon is now in talks with several large independent distributors for a wide theatrical release planned for late October.
Despite the mainstream interest in that particular film, a growing underground audience for others in the genre, and Hollywood's own dismal showing at the box office in recent years, Simon doesn't believe the major studios have caught on to the call of spiritual cinema. "This is very definitely a niche market," he says. "The major Hollywood studios are in the business of appealing to the largest possible audience. They do not know how to market these movies, because they do not distinguish between religion and spirituality, nor do they care to."
Although Simon makes a distinction between religious and spiritual films, he is still idealistic enough to believe that they can find a common audience. "How many tens and hundreds of millions of people have died in the name of one true God? That has to stop. I know it sounds utopian, but when the world comes together and realizes that we all have a pathway to the divine, all this conflict can disappear."
It's certainly an uplifting thought. But some might say it will take, at the very least, a more highly evolved generation of children to get us to that point.