Tag Archives: sxsw

Gotham Chopra: Is Kony 2012 trivializing genocide?

I know I’m supposed to be entirely focused on the premiere of my movie this Sunday at SXSW (obligatory trailer plug here), but I’m being distracted by a slightly more viral video that was shared here on Intentblog and around the world yesterday.

The ‘Kony 2012’ video that popped yesterday to the tune of 27+ million views by latest count now has been counter attacked by a great many critics. On the one hand, admirers of the video — and its stated mission to raise awareness about the brutal Ugandan killer Joseph Kony — would argue that enhanced awareness of the history of Kony and the Lords Resistance Army will help end them and their bloody regional presence. Critics point out that glossing over the nuances of the Ugandan conflict, and more generally others that have raged across the African continent over the last several decades, with idealistic YouTube videos and social media call-outs does more harm than good.

Buzz Kill.

My take: I get it. And I appreciate it.  I understand the instinctive backlash (really it’s irritation) against the thought of genocide becoming a trending topic on social media outlets the same way Kim Kardashian’s latest outfit or Lindsey Lohan’s latest boyfriend does. Of course it’s revolting and arrogant to canvas the nuances of tribal conflict, colonial legacy, and human atrocity with remote idealism, emotional myopia, and trendy hashtags.

But to me, there’s even greater danger in overly intellectualizing much of this. There are plenty of smart and committed people — as the Atlanic article points out — that spend days and nights figuring out how to wade through the messiness of what’s going on in the world. They should be applauded and admired. But the ignited wrath of the masses — however fleeting it may be — shouldn’t be underrated either. There is enormous value in the fact that millions of people are talking today about genocide in Africa that were mostly unaware of it yesterday.

Just the fact that these debates (like the inevitable one in response to this blog) are raging, propels forward some of the inherent inertia in global conflicts that have been flickering for years. Creative solutions come out of swirling chaos, which is exactly what the internet embodies. Critical masses of people demanding social transformation — as substantively superficial it may be — may in fact trigger it. If not Joseph Kony, who is long rumored to have left Uganda years ago, perhaps the next budding rogue dictator that bills himself a prophet but is really just another butcher. The continued unrest of the Arab spring, largely kept in the global zeitgeist by the relentless storm of social media, is certainly a good touchstone of just how powerful the masses attention can be.

Personally, I’ve been aware of Joseph Kony and his barbaric ways for more than a decade. About that long ago, I actually wrote a feature film script about it along with a friend that we never sold, on account if it not being very good, but also because we were told that no one really cared about African “tribal warfare.” Over time, it drifted from my memory until I was reminded of it again about a year ago when I read a graphic novel called Unknown Soldier (which is 100 times better than my script) by the wildly talented Josh Dysart.

Like many issues I often read about in the newspaper or see in news hits on TV or online, I’ve struggled to reconcile the barbarism of what’s happened — and happening — in Africa (and elsewhere) with the privileged and existential life I seem to often live out here at home. In light of the global spotlight on it all today, perhaps tomorrow, but inevitably not much beyond that when Justin Bieber, Ryan Seacrest and their pop culture gang find their next pet project to pimp, I’m not sure what more there is to say, except that maybe out of the millions of people that have been turned onto this human catastrophe, one person may rise up with a meaningful and actionable solution no one else has thought of yet.


And I think all of it then would have been worth it.

Read Lex Steppling’s response to this blog here.

Gotham Chopra: The Chopras meet President Obama + Decoding Deepak Trailer (video)

On a plane right now flying back to the left coast from NYC after attending a fundraiser yesterday evening and getting the chance to meet and have a picture taken with President Obama. My dad was one of the hosts at a colorful downtown fundraiser that raised several millions dollars for the President’s re-election campaign. In exchange for my dad’s patriotic pledge, the family – kids and grandkids – got to skip most of the lines and get a few minutes with Mr. Obama. The highlight for me was my son trash talking the President – a noted Chicago Bulls fan – by saying “Go Celtics!”

Not missing a beat, President Obama smiled and playfully chided: “I’ve heard the rumors there’s brainwashing going on in the Chopra household, but wasn’t aware that it was that bad…” Now that’s a story I’ll file away for keepsake.

But truth be told, that file is pretty full. Through the years, very often directly or indirectly on account of who my father is, I’ve had the privilege of meeting many illustrious folks – from Presidents (Clinton before Obama) to prophets (His Holiness probably the most noted) to athletes, celebrities, billionaires and many more. I have more amazing anecdotes than I can count involving legendary icons like Michael Jacksons, Madonna, and many many more.

And yet, occasionally I wonder how much of a privilege it all really is. Don’t worry: I’m wary of going down that cliched boohoo path and asking you to feel sorry for how great my life really is. I fully realize how amazing I’ve had it and how fortunate I am to be able to now pass it on to my own son. But where I get confused some times – more times than not if I really thing about it – is what it really is. What is this strange life I lead? Of spiritualists, sages, scientists, and celebrities that cluster around my father all searching for something – namely purpose, meaning, and significance. Amidst this nebulous cloud of celebrity and success that constantly surrounds us is much bigger question of identity: who we are, why we’re here, what it’s all about.

At times in my life, I’ve felt closer to some of the answers of these questions. Like a lot of people, when I had my first child, I felt a wave of meaning and purpose wash over me. It was blissful and every so often when I’m just hanging out with my now 4 year old, I get that same feeling of total satisfaction again. But…it’s fleeting, because just as often I lay awake at night wondering whether I am really doing what I was meant to do in this world, struggling with why it is I so often feel a nagging dissatisfaction with life in general. And then, when I read the news, watch documentaries about wars in foreign lands, horrible human rights violations, torture, and incredible social injustice, I become even more confused about this strange life I lead.

What is the real value of so much access to the planet’s elite, so much insight into the deeper mechanics of the Universe if it all doesn’t add up to something transformative and profound? Something that can make a real difference to the millions of people suffering around the world every single day? What if it just creates an even more confused contradiction, a larger sense of emptiness and insignificance?

The fascinating thing is that after spending a year or so on the road traveling around the world with my dad and documenting his life, I started to discover that he too struggles with a lot of these same questions. In moments of candor and vulnerability, he confessed confusion about who he is, what he thinks he”s here for, and how much he’s really doing. So, amidst this life of occasional presidential portraits and endless powerful moments, to know my father – the great guru that the world comes to for answers to all their questions – is himself often asking the same questions I am, that we all are, how should that make me feel? How should that make you feel?

My answer: I have no idea.

I am happy to share an exclusive peek at  my new film, Decoding Deepak, with Intent readers below. The film will premiere at SXSW next week.

Gotham Chopra: Decoding Deepak — The Journey

Last week, someone approached my dad at one of his speaking events and said to him, “I heard your son made a movie about you.”

He told me he smiled back at the person and replied: “Actually, he made a movie about himself.”

As much as I hate to admit it, he may be onto something.

It was about a year and half ago that I set out to Bangkok with a my dad, a creative partner named Mark Rinehart that I’d only met about 10 days earlier, some cameras and tape, and the vague notion of making a movie about my father that would reconcile the strange pop cultural icon he’s become to the world vs. the real man I thought I knew. A few days later, while spending the days interviewing my dad in quiet gardens at the 5-star Peninsula Hotel and then the nights with Mark rolling film on the neon blitzed sex market of central Bangkok, I realized I was trying to reconcile something much bigger.

As is the habit the has made my dad a bestselling author, he could wrap lyrical poetry around the frames of the film we’d started shooting, and yet the substance of those frames was often all too visceral — teenagers selling themselves in dank alleyways, Japanese tourists chasing young boys deep into maze of Bangkok’s endless underground. As has often been the case in my life, I struggled to balance the deep philosophical insight of my father with all too often horrible realities of real life on planet earth. Maybe that’s what the film really need to be about.

That’s the thing about documentaries: You start with one thesis and quickly find yourself tracking something entirely different. Don’t get me wrong — my film ‘Decoding Deepak’ is very much a journey into the identify of my father Deepak Chopra, the guy my sister and I have called ‘papa’ all of our life, even while people like Lady Gaga and Kim Kardashian started to call him their guru in the last few years.

After those triply days in Thailand, I tracked my dad around the world several times over. Thailand, Japan, India, not to mention places like NYC, Sedona, San Diego, Los Angeles and elsewhere. But even as the scenery continued to change from city to city, country to country, I saw that my dad hadn’t. Wherever we went, he kept on talking about whatever it is he talks about: consciousness, quantum entanglement, plank scale geometry. In and of itself it was sort of interesting, the inside of a rabbit always is, right? And yet the same nagging doubt crept into me — that my movie had to be about something more than the existential Truman Show I’ve always suspected I’ve lived in.  This movie couldn’t just be about my dad, it had to be about my finding him… which, indeed, really would make it about me.

There’s precedent for this, a history of Indian gurus popularized in the west — Ramana Maharishi, Swami Vivekananda, and more recently Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Osho, and these days a guy who goes by the name Sri Sri. By and large they’ve’ll have the same look – the saffron robes, long hair, and cheery smiles. It’s probably why I could never really think of my dad as one of them. That and… I mean, he’s my dad.

But traveling the world with him the last year, I started to realize that maybe my dad was indeed one of them, maybe he was some Indian Guru as strange as that may be. He just didn’t have the robe and long hair. He has sparkly glasses, red sneakers, and a crew cut. Be not alarmed, I’m not trying to tell you that I’m now a follower of my father or convinced he’s some prophet. Far from it. But you’ll have to watch the movie to glean my final verdict on that front.

But in looking more closely at my father, I was reminded of something Osho once said. Like my father and many of his Indian spiritual predecessors, Osho had his detractors, people who called him a “snake oil salesmen,” “fraud,” and “prophet for profit.” Osho shrugged it off. He claimed to think of those that loved and hated him with the same relative detachment. “They see in me,” he said, “what they want to see. They see in me that which they either love or hate in themselves.”

Indeed, that right there is very much he story of the spiritual guru. I think (hope) it’s the story of my father and my movie too. In my search for him, I did in fact start to search for myself. I stopped looking to him for answers about the atrocities of Bangkok and looked deeper into myself for them. I stopped wondering about what Lady Gaga saw in him, and started to find what I did.

And now I’ve realized something else about my movie. When it’s all said in done, when the final credits roll on the film, I hope I’ll actually prove my dad wrong. Because I don’t want this movie to be about him. Or me. I want it to be about you. See in it what you want to see in it, what you want see in yourself.

‘Decoding Deepak’ premieres at the South by Southwest Film Festival March 11th.

Intent Video of the Day: How Social Media is Changing the World

“What could be more in alignment with the yogic principles than Facebook and Twitter?”

Joshua Plant, a blogger and  self-proclaimed social media junkie, created this ‘enlightening’ little video about the power of social media for a video campaign leading up to the upcoming SXSW Conference in Austin, TX. According to Plant, “We grow as people and as a society through collective musings shared and shared again… This is where we get off the mat and onto the keyboard. This is our digital revolution.”

In just a couple weeks, the ladies of the Where is My Guru Show will be presenting Radio Free Yoga: Self-Realize x Social Enterprise at the SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas. To contribute to their video campaign, check out their call to action and post your thoughts about how social media effects your life on their Facebook page.

Everyday we spotlight one remarkable video to inspire you to fulfill your intentions and improve your life. Do you have a video you’d like to suggest? Send it to us at editor [at] intent.com.

Gotham Chopra: I made a movie — now what do I do?

So I guess the cat is out of the bag, which is what happens when Lady Gaga gets involved… and then you yourself post pictures of it everywhere. I made a movie about my dad Deepak Chopra called ‘Decoding Deepak.’ This past Friday Night, there was a small private screening at the home of Hollywood mogul Peter Guber and his wife Tara, who also happen to be longtime close friends of our family. It’s likely to be the only screening before the film’s worldwide premiere at the trendy South by Southwest Film Festival March 11th in Austin, Texas.

And yeah, Lady Gaga attended Friday night’s screening… which was, um, interesting. Not only because she’s a fascinating contemporary cultural icon – which is kind of what the film is about (my dad being one of those too) — but also because hardly anyone outside of the small circle of those that have worked on the film with me the last 18 months have seen it. So when one of the first happens to be someone who’s sitting at the zeitgeist of the cultural creative Universe — and also happens to have 19 million twitter followers — it’s a bit nerve-wracking. There’s the fact that she’s twenty-five years old too, but that’s another issue…

I guess the good news is that Lady Gaga claimed to like the movie, at least she said she did. In fact, everyone in attendance said they liked it. Then again, what were they going to say at an invitation only party up in the elite Bel Air Hills hosted by a mogul with the film-maker and subject of the film (my dad) sitting amongst them. Not exactly the venue to go all Roger Ebert, right?

I’ll share more on the genesis and substance of the film in the coming days and weeks, but the nuts and bolts of it are that I followed my dad around the world for the better part of a year. I wanted to answer that question I’ve been asked all my life — ‘what’s it like being the kid of Deepak Chopra?’ I also wanted to resolve the contradiction I’ve seen all my life — reconcile the saintly pop-cultural spiritual icon the world seems to believe my dad is (amongst millions anyway) with the real human being (full of virtues, vices, flaws, and foibles) that my sister and I grew up around.

I don’t think I’m giving anything away by confessing that this movie ain’t no hit job. I didn’t set out to undermine the “brand” my dad has built over his 25 year career. But I also didn’t set out to just emboss it either. I set out to be honest, and that was the quality I kept reminding myself to honor through the course of the film every time I peaked into the camera’s viewfinder. I feel pretty good about staying true to that.

Now, as word leaks out about the film, people are starting to ask when it will be out for the general public to see. And my answer is: I have no idea.

After the SXSW premiere, we’ve committed to a few other subsequent festivals. So limited regional audiences to start. Such is the independent film model. But after that, in terms of reaching the masses, no plan yet in place. And herein lies the issue: What is the best way to reach the audience, which in this case is already pre-established just by virtue of the fact that my dad has done quite a bit of work for me by, you’know, doing what he’s done the last two odd decades. 65 plus books written, 30 plus million sold, dozens of languages, millions of readers, 700k twitter followers, picking fights with Fox News, befriending Oprah etc.

The traditional model is to take the film to the festival, hope we get some good reviews and audience response, have some distributors in the house and play them off of each other for the best and highest sale. Then repeat the process for the foreign markets. Nice license fees, maybe some limited theatrical, and some upside on the home video and downloads and call it a day… Take the money and run and abide by their release schedule. After all, they’d have paid for it.

The hitch? We’re currently amidst the total transformation of the media industry as we know it. The model is twisting, turning, and totally transforming before our very eyes. Content creators (like me) with assets (like the film) with established audiences (like my dad’s) and the potential for broader ones (like Lady Gaga’s) present wildly intriguing possibilities.

Consider this roadmap: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc as means to promote the film. Off the (digital) shelf file sharing software to download the film, Paypal to charge for the film. No walls between you and me. We wouldn’t be the first: see comedian Louis C.K.

Or maybe there’s some hybrid version, collaborating with our friends at YouTube, Hulu, or Netflix. Surely there’s a way. We’re creating our own bloody YouTube channel in partnership with YouTube for God’s sake! (launched July 1, btw)

Alas…for all the hype around the collapse of the old media model as we know it, it continues to march on. New cable channels headlined by titans like Oprah, Ryan Seacrest, Mark Cuban and more in the pipe continue to mount their offensive, demonstrating that the so-called old model isn’t exactly going extinct. And for every Lewis CK success story, there are a dozen others in the new media graveyard.

I said that I set out to be honest, right? So here’s the truth: I set out to make an honest movie about my dad and my goal — like any film-maker — was and is to have it seen by as many people as possible. I had another goal too, to make it worth my and my investor’s while. I didn’t take any money myself to make the movie. The investment — from an amazingly trusting investor by the way- – went into the movie, not my pocket. As a result, my personal financial success comes in the financial success of the film. So yeah, one more bit of honesty, doing the whole ‘open source’ thing is not really in the cards.

So that’s where we stand, folks in ‘real time.’ At the precipice of a brave new (digital) world, but with lingering reminders that the old model ain’t dead yet. And to be honest – since that’s the theme of the day – we’re still tweaking the film in the edit room as I write this. We likely will be until the moment it goes on the big screen in front of that Texan crowd about a month from now. So really, these are just distractive fantasies anyway, because who knows what happens then? SXSW crowds to have that reputation for telling you what they feel. It ain’t exactly Bel Air.

At least, I’ll always have Gaga, right?


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