The documentary film Planetary is a thought-provoking documentary, directed by Guy Reid, written and edited by Steve Watts Kennedy, and produced by Christoph Ferstad, Guy Reid, and Steve Watts Kennedy in association with Reconsider. Planetary is the concept and product from the brilliant minds at Planetary Collective, a creative organization, which “is dedicated to worldview interruption” (www.weareplanetary.com). This documentary is a visually enticing and multifaceted journey exploring the connection of all human beings to each other and all life on our planet. The astounding cinematography covers historical footage from NASA Apollo missions, the Milky Way, Buddhist monasteries in the Himalayas, and segments in the cities of Tokyo and New York City. Today we explore the film with the director, Guy Reid.
So how did you get started out as a filmmaker?
Well, it’s a sort of strange story, because I never intended to be a filmmaker. What happened actually goes back 15 years. Basically, I grew up in a city called Bristol in the UK, and my buddy, Steve Watts Kennedy, and I grew up together, we’re both making this film. There are actually three of us, three core members of our troupe now, and two of us grew up together in Bristol. When Steve and I were fifteen years old, we came across a book, called, “The Awakening Earth”, which is a book that was published in 1982 by a British physicist called Peter Russell, and it had been long out of print by the time we came to it. We read this book and it was really quite a mind-blowing book. It was essentially a history of the universe and the evolution of life, and it had at the beginning a description of an astronaut coming back from a lunar mission from Apollo 14. The astronaut was Edgar Mitchell, and he described his experience on returning to the earth and from space. It had this amazing effect on us, and we said, “Wow, this book’s really is incredible”. So we went and bought as many copies as we could find, and we would give it to friends. We’d say, “Listen, you gotta read this book.” Basically, no one read the book. [laughs]
So, we decided to make a film. The origins of the filmmaking really go back to the fact that no one would read this book. [laughs] We thought that if we made a film, we would be able to convey the feeling that we got from this book, which was a feeling of being a part of something much larger; of being part of a kind of evolving and interconnected living universe. At that age of fifteen years old, we ended up learning more about film by watching documentaries and adding new thinkers to this kind of film, which we mapped out back then. Fifteen years later, the film we envisioned is finally finished, but the intention was always to communicate an idea. It was more that film-making was a really great vehicle we found to do be able to do that.
The book was the catalyst for you; what happened after that?
Steve and I, for years, we kept saying we gotta make this film, we gotta make this film, but we ended up going to college first. We ended up getting jobs in London, and then a camera came out called the Canon 5D Mark II. As soon as that camera came out, we realized that we could make films, because there was this ability and a technological ability to make the films we always wanted to make. We quit our jobs, [laughs] and to the disdain of our girlfriends, we moved back home, and ended up learning and shooting lots of short films. Eventually, we made a short film called Overview, which was on Vimeo, and a precursor to Planetary. We always wanted to make something that was an introduction to these ideas. Overview, which is this 18-minute short, was basically the beginning of Planetary, which we conceived when we were fifteen years old. We had 7 million views of that film and we were kind of astounded, and that allowed us to crowd-fund to kick start buy a Red Camera. We were then able to begin this kind of journey of finally making the film we always wanted to make.
How did you start Planetary Collective?
Well, the initial idea was Steve and I were always going to do this? In university, I went to a really great university in London called the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). I met a chap there called Christoph Ferstad. He comes from such an amazing international background. He lived on three different continents. His mother’s from India and his father’s from Norway, and he grew up in American, Europe, Asia. He just has this amazing way of seeing the world and we connected immediately. Christoph ended up working for Gary Kurtz, a producer for George Lucas. Christoph was crazy enough to leave that job and join Steve and me on this adventure to make this film. He just brought knowledge of the film industry and an incredible eye for film. We all have a background in still photography. Christoph was able to bring this insight, and we decided we were going to become Planetary Collective. Our main mission is not just to make films, but to communicate that feeling that we’d felt a sense of the awe and the wonder of the world that we live in. Planetary Collective was founded as a way to find artistic and creative means to give birth to that feeling. The main preoccupation with the collective is to look at this idea of worldview, how we see the world, how we relate to each other, the biosphere to the larger cosmos.
How did you become involved with the National Geographic and the Worldwide Life Fund?
Well, we always wanted to connect to lots of different organizations. Certainly, we wanted to connect with organizations. Once people could see the film, they could then see a connection to those organizations would be helpful. The film is really about taking a step back and reconsidering the world that we live in. We always thought partnering was how we wanted to proceed. We were lucky, because Lou Leonard had seen the film and connected with us. He’d seen the film, and then he connected with the Environmental Film Festival, which hosted the film at the National Geographic building in D.C. It was also in partnership with the World Wild Life Fund (WWF). We want to continue with lots of different partners in different sectors. The message of the film is really quite universal, and many different organizations could use this idea of being planetary to direct their messaging.
How did you find all these wonderful, really insightful people in your film?
I think about that quite a lot actually. We’re still in a real state of gratitude and a sort of amazement that we were able to bring these people together in a narrative form. Basically, it started off with the author Peter Russell who wrote the book (mentioned previously), and we ended up reading and re- reading it. We just ended up adding all these different thinkers to the process through research. After we matured, and as we read more, we just came across more amazing people to include in the film. About halfway through the process of filming, we realized that we were really skewed towards the western and the scientific way of thinking, to some degree. We then shifted to the cosmological and ecological and the Asian idea of interdependence, or rather a Buddhist perspective on interdependence. When we realized that shift, we also realized there are also these incredible indigenous traditions from all over the world, which incorporate and understand the same idea of being planetary. We wanted to kind of open that up, and we ended up going on this kind of amazing journey around the world and connecting with phenomenal people from Eastern Tibetan nomads who had become Tibetan lamas, like the 17th Karmapa, to Native American Indians from the Sierra Nevada in Columbia. We were able to bring in all these different voices. We really wanted to introduce people to thinkers that people don’t really know as well.
Dr. Mae Jemison and how her feeling of belonging to the entire universe while she was up in space; what are your thoughts on that?
So essentially our first film, Overview, the real takeaway of the film and the real message of the film was that we are all part of the planet, and we have an identity which is much larger than our usual myopic identities, or our national identities. We actually have this larger identity as a species which is embedded in a biosphere. We have a planetary identity, and that’s the message of Planetary. When we spoke to Dr. Jemison, she had this other perspective, which was really another larger identity. She was identifying with our solar system, the idea of being part of the fabric of the universe.
It’s kind of interesting, [laughs] because that kind of thinking usually is associated with counter-cultural narratives. It’s really interesting, her thoughts coming from someone who has a PhD in biochemistry, and is a very accomplished astronaut. I’m really interested in expressing these ideas through people where mainstream audiences can really understand the legitimacy of their perspective. So, that’s one of the reasons why we included that quote in the film.
Peter Russell, the philosopher, says, “We’re all one species with a common destiny.” What are your thoughts?
Well I think the realities that we face now, there are global problems. The issues like climate, deforestation, planet extinction of species, water shortages, or global migration are the issues that affect all of us in some way or another. We need to re-imagine ourselves as a singular species. In order for us to survive and thrive in the way that we want to, and in the way that we imagine ourselves and our children and grandchildren surviving; we need to think of ourselves as one species with a common destiny. It is the main identity shift that will allow policy change and will allow new types of infrastructures to be built that will allow a new type of humanism to exist.
Wes Nisker speaks in the film about how humans have become very arrogant in thinking that the universe was entirely made for them.
We have these narratives that have positioned ourselves as central, ‘we’re a central species and every other species is irrelevant’, and that we think of ourselves as specially created and separate. Wes Nisker says it’s a dysfunctional story right now and I think it’s true. When we live with the awareness and we live in the reality that we are one species embedded in a biosphere, which we share with countless other species. We are intimately connected and a kin with every other life form on the planet, that’s the reality.
Drawing on that, there was a quote from Angel William’s in the film, “We’re not from the earth, we’re of the earth”, what are your thoughts?
Exactly! I mean the story that we’ve been told and the story, and we’re still telling each other is that we were kind of created and dropped onto the planet. We talk about being on the planet; we talk about going to other planets as if this planet is simply a shell, a vessel. It’s the idea that we’re somehow separate from the biosphere that we have arisen within. When you look to a lot of other cultures around the world, there isn’t that same idea, which we were dropped in. In other cultures, the idea is that we grew from the planet, and really that is the case.
Barry Lopez, discusses what makes us human and what makes us happy in the film. He says ‘if he was out on the street and asked an ordinary person; what is it that you want? Their reply is intimacy’. Lopez speaks about how western culture has ‘created a landscape of desperately lonely people’. How do those ideas connect to the message in the film?
Well the thing is, if we look at the environmental crises that we face, and we look at the social crises that we face, we often don’t tie them to the personal crises that we’re facing. The anxiety, depression, loneliness; these are real ills of post-industrial society people experience on a scale that has never been experienced before. You’ve got to ask yourself; why do we have these maladies of modern culture? Where do they come from? I think that’s rooted deeply in this sense of alienation. Barry Lopez is talking about is this sense that what we really crave is a sense of connection and a sense of intimacy, which is not just in personal relationships. This idea that intimacy is linked to only romantic relationships is wrong; we can actually be intimate with the world. We can be intimate with strangers. We can be intimate with a waterfall in the sense that we often don’t give ourselves the space to experience the genuine appreciation and wonder of life.
In our busy modern-day lives, you don’t have the time and the space to step back and reflect on these ideas and this amazing world that we live in. I think that’s a type of intimacy, being intimate and appreciative of the world that we live in. I think that we need to be not just intimate with each other; we also need to be intimate with the universe actually.
It’s a wonderful insight. If you’re willing to share, how do you think that making this documentary has changed you?
I think it’s definitely changed me, of course. I mean it changed the three of us; Christoph, Steve, and me. Ultimately, [laughs] the feeling that we all shared, the feeling is that it’s kind of like when Einstein created, “In the World as I See it”. He said that it was ‘the world of art and science to awaken our sense of a cosmic religious experience’. I would probably drop the religious part, and I think now a cosmic feeling makes more sense.
I liken it to that feeling I had it when I was eight years old, and went to a planetarium. I had it when I first saw the fjords in Norway. I think we’ve all experienced that sense, that feeling, and that was the driver. We wanted to make something that really opened people up. In order to make this film, we had to come back to that curiosity, the raw curiosity we had when we were fifteen years old. That feeling was the marker for us; we were always coming back to that sense of does it connect us back to that feeling that we felt? [Laughter]
Will the public be available to view Planetary soon?
We did a global release on Earth Day, April 22nd. It will screen in 75 cinemas mostly in the U.S., and some international. We did a release with Vimeo on Earth Day. So if you go to http://www.weareplanetary.com, there’s a Vimeo link and you can either stream the film, or download the film through Vimeo. There are also select theaters around the country where you can see it on the big screen. We are also going to be doing all sorts of different events across the U.S., and eventually Europe and Asia.
Are you planning on making any more documentaries in the future?
Yes. Well, actually, Planetary is the first in a trilogy. The film that we etched out really, we couldn’t fit all of it into one film. We’ve decided to do two other films that are in the pipeline. One’s called Kin, the other’s called Lucid, and the other film that we’re working on is a feature film of the documentary of Overview, the short film about the astronauts. We’re beginning production on that in the fall and it’s telling the story, the human journey basically, out of East Africa and into the space station. It’s told through the eyes of international astronauts. It’s really about human cooperation and the story of international space exploration and how that’s been this incredible cooperative story. We can apply those issues on the earth to solve some of the problems that we need to face together.
Thank you so much, I appreciate your time.