137: Conversation With an Ordinary Couple who Touched a Million Lives

All this week, we’re examining how to live in troubling times. If you’re wondering what that phrase means, just turn on the news to see the trouble blaring at you — or, for a different perspective, subscribe to our free Monday-morning Planner, because our mission at ReadTheSpirit is to connect you with spiritual resources that are hopeful and helpful. So, we’ve set aside this week to address our spiritual gifts in the midst of global crises.

    Today, we’ve got a real gem: Here’s a Conversation With an ordinary couple who dared to try something almost foolhardy — and yet, so far, their efforts in struggling to make their first-ever documentary film, “ONE,” have touched a million lives around the world.
    What Ward and Diane Powers achieved in their adventure is almost inconceivable. Before they were finished with the film, this couple had spent time with many of the leading spiritual lights of our age: Deepak Chopra, Ram Dass, Thich Nhat Hanh, Father Thomas Keating, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Robert Thurman — and even the Dalai Lama provided a few thoughts for this effort.
    No wonder this film has taken off like a rocket. It’s been shown in countless places, passed around on DVD and the Powers estimate that it has been seen by 1 million people, so far.

    Plus, we just received confirmation, this week, from The Spiritual Cinema Circle that Ward and Diane Powers’ documentary, “ONE,” also will be featured in the July edition of that international film club’s DVD collections.
    (If you’re not familiar with Spiritual Cinema Circle, this is a terrific time to think about purchasing their monthly service — and you’ll be in line to receive your own copy of “ONE” — or, click on the cover of the “ONE” DVD above and you’ll jump to the Powers’ own Web site, www.onethemovie.org, where you can learn much more about their project. On their site, they offer various “ONE” packages that you can order for your own viewing or for group discussion.)

    DAVID: Ward and Diane, your story about creating this movie, “ONE,” is amazing. I know some of the story: You weren’t filmmakers at all, but you felt moved to try to help the world with a message that you wanted to capture on film. But, before all this began, you came out of the business world, right?
    WARD: Yeah, I’m a lawyer.
    DAVID: So, tell us a little bit about what set you off on this adventure?
    WARD: Well, we are the parents of three daughters and life was good and we were living the suburban dream, but we were very conscious of world events. After 9/11, there was definitely a sense among so many people who we knew at our stage of life — people raising kids and wondering how we could make a difference — watching the world break up into these dangerous teams.
    A lot of us were wondering, I think: How do you make a difference in that kind of world? How does your voice find a place in the collective community out there?
    I think you’ve really got two choices: You can pad your 401k, take the safe route and head up to the cottage and serve out your time on this planet. Or, you can say: Well, we’re going to enjoy life but we’re also going to try — in some way — to make a difference in the world. We wanted to be an influencing force — a reminder that there is hope and there’s a beauty to life that needs to be celebrated and known and remembered.
    So, as offbeat as it sounds, the whole idea of a movie seemed to make sense to us. And, as you know, we had no background in that area at all.
    DAVID: You were an attorney — and Diane what were you doing at that time?
    DIANE: I was a retired hair dresser, raising three daughters. On my own, I was doing more of an intense kind of inner search — maybe 10 years after my last daughter was born at that point. After 9/11, like Ward said, we realized: We have three daughters, the war drums are beating and we’re hearing voices out there asking us to hate 1 billion people. We wanted our daughters to know that someone was taking action to show something other than conflict and hate. We wanted to help show people that everyone around the world matters.
    And, we wanted our daughters to know that anyone — any one of us — can make a difference in this world.
    I remember this so clearly: We were in Florida on a family trip — and Ward just woke up and said: “We’ll make a movie.” I had been married to Ward for 17 years and I knew that when this guy says he’s going to do something — he’s going to do it. There is no boundary that will stop him. He never sees barriers — only ways around them.
    He said, “People like movies — visual storytelling. They’ll listen if we make a movie. We’ll mail-order a camera and we’ll go around and make a movie.”
    And that’s just what we did.

    DAVID: How long after 9/11 was this?
    WARD: It was about six months, the spring of 2002.
    DIANE: That’s when we decided what we planned to do. But then it took a while to get the camera, learn everything we needed to learn about the camera — and then go out and hit the streets with it. It took a while to reach that point.
    DAVID: I’ve seen this film a number of times, since pretty much the moment you started to preview it in a little preview theater you guys booked for journalists. One of the things I love about this film is that it’s really more than one film. It’s several stories in a single film.
    You tell about ordering your camera and how this all started in the opening scenes of the film. But, then, there also are these dramatic sequences in which this nameless guy is seen in this very depressing urban setting — trying to search for some meaning in his life. He’s like an “everyman,” who appears in the film. Then, there also are these very powerful sequences in which some of the most important spiritual sages of our time speak directly to you — and to viewers — about the need to come together around the world.
    It feels like at least three stories woven together in a single documentary, which makes it quite fascinating to watch. There’s your story about trying to make a film, the story of this nameless guy searching for meaning, then the interesting responses of all these people you meet.
    WARD: Yeah, our story turned out to be an important part of this. When we first got the camera, I enlisted a friend and some other people and just learning about using the camera became a life’s journey for us all. I think that was part of the magic of this process. We weren’t out to prove a specific thing — or create a specific production — we enjoyed doing this and it involved going lots of places, enjoying each other, going out to eat together and talking. The process itself was very organic. It wasn’t a business enterprise. We weren’t preachers.
    DIANE: It was very personal. We wanted to see what the world had to say to us, so it wasn’t like we wanted to shout a certain message from a mountaintop. This was internal. We were looking for answers in the post-9/11 world.

    DAVID: You were setting out on quite an adventure. So, tell us a little bit about your starting point religiously?
    DIANE: We were both raised Catholic. As we were raising our daughters, we were CCD teachers, you know, in Catholic religious education. We hold onto the beauty of the Mass. Sometimes when people taste other spiritual waters, people begin to worry that you’re going to step out of the faith. And it’s really not about leaving our faith at all. It’s about trying to celebrate the larger world.
    DAVID: So, you started out in this adventure shooting these sequences with this “everyman” character. But then you also shot these interviews with famous people — and even interviews with some people you bumped into on the street, too. Was the vision originally a fictional film about this “everyman” — or did you intend to do interviews from the very beginning?
    WARD: The original vision was to have this down-and-outer everyman and we wanted people to see themselves through this guy’s experience. Along the way through this guy’s experience, we would encounter various people and pick up various responses to the questions we wanted to explore about life. That was about as far as we had developed the whole concept when we started. We didn’t have storyboarding or other specific details.
    But we quickly learned that filmmaking was much more difficult than we thought — and some of the early things we shot didn’t work out right. But what we had was freedom — the freedom to let our first attempts morph into something larger.
    What helped this to grow was this amazing man we met named Sam Ajluni, who at the time was the creative director for BBDO in Detroit. Sam, who now works with us on the project, had years of insight into the creative process — but, at that point, he didn’t know us from Adam. He looked at a real rough cut of this film we had at the time and he asked us: “What’s your goal here?”
    And we said: “We don’t want this to play just to people who are religiously involved already. We want this to cross over to reach other people.”
    And Sam said: “The real hook in this film is your story — what happened to you in creating this film.” This was three years after the day we had this idea. And Sam said, “What you’ve got here is interesting, but you need to examine what you’ve done and you have to add your story to this film — people stepping outside their boundaries of normal life and discovering this magic.”

    DIANE: When you talk to Sam now and reflect back on this experience, he will say: “I don’t know how many filmmakers who would go back, at that point, and do another 9 months to a year of work on a film like this.” But we did that — and that’s how this became such a deeply personal film.
    DAVID: Along the way, you were in touch with people who granted you amazing access to interview them. How did that happen?

    WARD: It’s important to talk about this for a moment, because Ram Dass, Thich Nhat Hanh and Deepak Chopra — they didn’t know us at all. We didn’t have any special access set up ahead of time. We simply wrote to these people and asked them if we could come to see them.
    And, here’s the important thing they told us: “When you came in the name of ‘one-ness,’ we had to talk to you.” You see, this is the most important emerging energy in the world right now — this recognition that there is one-ness even in our diversity. This isn’t about making everyone the same. It’s about seeing that the world can be one along with our diversity. People working at the level of a Deepak Chopra saw that they needed to be a part of this film.
    DAVID: Tell me more about how you made these connections. How did you get to your first big interview: Robert Thurman, Uma Thurman’s father who is this famous Buddhist monk?

    AT THIS POINT IN TODAY’s CONVERSATION, you can watch Diane and Ward talk about how they made contact with some of the remarkable people in their film.

    CLICK ON THE VIDEO SCREEN BELOW to hear from Diane Powers. (If your version of this story does not display a video screen here — then Click on This Link to visit YouTube directly and watch Diane Powers talk about “ONE” interviews.)

    CLICK ON THE VIDEO SCREEN BELOW to hear from Ward Powers about an interview that originally had not even been considered. An unlikely visitor pointed their way toward this important contact. (If your version of this story does not display a video screen here — then Click on This Link to visit YouTube directly and watch Ward Powers talk about “ONE” interviews.)

    DAVID: As a journalist myself for many years, I can tell you: You took an amazing journey.
    WARD: Well, one thing that’s important to tell people is that there was a whole lot of work involved in this, as well. People need to know this: If you want to work in this area of spirituality, then you’re raising your hand to service. You’re raising your hand to a lot of work.
    There is a flow to the work, but you’ve also got to button it all down in the end. You may be raising a sail in the wind and that feels so terrific, but you’ve also got to hold the rudder in the water and steer the whole thing.
    For several years, the journey and the gifts that we’ve been given — and we’re very grateful for everything we’ve experienced and received here — but it has come with a lot of commitment and a lot of hard work.

    DIANE: That is so important to understand. You might feel called to go do something. You might find something that you’d like to do to help the world. But, it’s more than feeling a calling. It’s more than seeing a vision. You’ve got to work. If you’re not willing to pick up the plow and walk into the fields and really work at it — then you’re not going to accomplish anything.
    DAVID: This is a really important point you’re raising. There’s inspiration and there’s the quest — but there’s also the discipline involved. In the work we’re doing at ReadTheSpirit, for example, discipline is an enormous part of this calling. Whatever is happening, wherever we are traveling around the world, our readers know that every single morning — Monday through Friday — we’ll have something fresh for them on our site.
    In your work, I know that you’re both super-busy people. You’re parents with three daughters. How did you build the kind of discipline you needed to complete this project?
    WARD: I didn’t have to build it. That’s the only way I know how to live. My personal prayer is always: Give me the work that best suits my unique set of abilities and gifts — and let me serve so that I can serve to the best of my ability. I don’t always know what that means, but that’s my affirmation: I want to be able to use what I’ve been given in this world for a positive purpose.
    DIANE: But, finally, we have to say: This isn’t about us.
    WARD: That’s so important to understand. This is not about us.
    DIANE: We were told this — and it’s so true that it stays with me every day of my life: “If people come to you with adulation, it’s not yours. Give it back to God.” And, also, “If people come to criticize you — do the same. Turn it all over to God.”
    We’ve really held to this. And this is exactly what we do.

(Thus ends these highlights of our Conversation with Ward and Diane Powers.)
    TELL US what you think, please. Click on the “Comment” link at the end of the online version of this story — or you can Email ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm directly.

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