Archive for April, 2023

A Spiritual Almanack

A few years ago Jo Manuel and I wrote a monthly spiritual Almanack for Yoga And Health magazine. I had a look at what we wrote for April recently and since it’s the last day of April I thought it would be apt to include it as the 10th post.I’ve a few alterations to bring it up to date. I’ll add them monthly from now on.

A Spiritual Almanack

April : Blossom

I Ching – Hexagram 1: Heaven (The Creative Principle)

A flower opens to the sun; our hearts open to the universe.

The rising sun radiates energy throughout the sky, filling the space below the heavens and covering the earth, its heat penetrating all things, quickening them into life and nourishing their development. Whatever the light touches it illuminates and clarifies, exposing hidden shadows, just as the energy of our consciousness – our awareness, thoughts and feelings – illuminate and clarify everything within and without.

Commentary On The Symbol (Heaven):

The creative principle acts with vitality and persistence.

In correspondence with this

The cultivated person stays vital without ceasing.

Heaven covers everything on earth, and originates all creatures. It is a single flow of energy, continuously circulating, never ceasing, moving forward endlessly and inexhaustibly. The way of the creative is constant change and transformation, allowing each being to evolve into its own nature and opening a path to its true destiny.

The creative, Heaven, is the ultimate of health, vitality and strength, and is the source of our own health and soundness. If we follow the Way of Heaven, we are in harmony with nature, and can adapt to the changes we face, knowing when to move forward and when to stop, when to seize the moment and when to let the moment pass by. Adapting correctly to all change, we find a way that is prosperous and smooth, the obstacles we encounter do not block us, and our path reveals itself in time, each footstep and each decision opening new vistas, new possibilities.

A lily produced in spring is a marvel of creativity. It embodies the ultimate unfolding of yang, the true positive energy of creation. When positive energy is born, all things cannot help but blossom. They are all in process, are transforming and happening, are flowing events rather than fixed and solid objects.

Someone asked Chan Master Wen-Yen,

“What is the fundamental idea of Buddhism?

The Master answered,

“When Spring comes, the grass turns green of itself.”

The rain falls, clouds disperse, the sun emerges, and all forms develop of themselves. To follow the way of Heaven is to actualise Tao in your daily life, to interfuse the sacred and mundane in your own body, mind and spirit. This opens the doors of perception, as it did for William Blake:

To see a world in a grain of sand

And a heaven in a wild flower

The energy that opens the flower wakes you in the morning. The quality of strength in people is this same primal creative energy of heaven. This energy comes spontaneously to everything from nature, is strong but has no need of force. It is bright and lucid, illuminating everything like the sun at midday. When it appears the earth is covered with growth, the world is filled with golden flowers.

They gave her the name Shi Die Lin. She was twenty months old and at one month her mother had abandoned her at the steps of an orphanage. The passport picture they sent us showed a sad, perplexed little girl. Did we want to adopt her? Having waited for six frustrating years, there was no hesitation, no matter how deep her sadness. She was healthy and needed a home, no more to be said. They delivered her to our hotel room, a scrawny, tight-jawed, bowl-legged tyke with dozens of ugly mosquito bites on her legs, and a strangely-shaped head. What had we taken on? Six years later, she has blossomed into a smiling, bonny, slim, straight-legged 8 year old who loves life. Love, human warmth, food and security have made her bloom. We call her Lily.

Vanda Scaravelli writes,

As the sun opens the flowers delicately, unfolding them little by little, so the yoga exercises  and breathing open the body during a slow and careful training. When the body is open, the heart is open.

Yoga gives us openness and flexibility of mind and body, and opens our spirit, so that we feel the relationship between heaven, earth and all sentient beings. This feeling of one-ness and unity gives us a sense of connectedness to all creation, so that we never feel alone.  The asanas help develop a core strength that gives us an inner confidence and centeredness that allows us to blossom into our true self without fear and doubt.

The Brihad Devata says: ‘All that exists is born from the sun’.  The ancient yoga exercise, Salute To The Sun (surya namaskar) puts us in touch with the universal energy of the cosmos.  The harmonious pattern of postures united in circular movements flowing into each other are part of a whole, just as a petal is part of a flower.  Traditionally  the sequence is performed at dawn facing east towards the rising sun so that in raising our hands upwards we offer the sun and the universe a respectful salute.  The golden warmth of the sun is received by our hearts and welcomed with great love and thanks.

We need to open ourselves to the light so that we can learn to trust ourselves and the universe.   As the Mundaka Upanishad says:

The Lord of Love shines in everyone’s heart. When we are wise and see the Lord of Love in all living things, we lose ourselves in the service of all and find ultimate peace and joy. With truth, meditation, self-control and discipline, we can find ourselves in this state of joy and see the inner spirit, our real essence, shining in our hearts.

Every day the sun rises to say “You are alive – enjoy it!” and every night when you go to bed, reflect on how wonderful it is just to be alive, to breathe and feel the joy of existence itself.

© 2003/ 2009 Mark Forstater and Jo Manuel

April 12, 2023 at 3:37 pm Leave a comment

The Future Of Film

This is a talk that I gave at The Temple of Art and Music, Smithfield, on Thursday April 6th, 2023

I’m going to tell you about Dreambird, our revolutionary new online platform for film production. But first I’d like to give you a potted history of the film business to show you how we got here today.

Around the year 1900 films began to be made in Britain, France and the US. In the states, penny arcades or nickelodeons were stores where customers paid a penny or a nickel to look into a peep machine that showed them a short piece of moving pictures.

These store front sites later began to project 10 and 20 minute black and white silent shorts, and this became a thriving business.

1n 1912 a decisive moment came when Adolf Zukor, who co-owned a few of these store front cinemas, decided that the future of film lay in what he called features- 60-90 minute films -to be shown in theatres. Everyone thought this was foolish and wouldn’t work. To test his theory, Zukor bought the US rights to a long French film starring the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt and put it in a theatre on Broadway to fantastic results – it was a huge hit.

Now everyone jumped on the feature bandwagon, and Zukor set up Paramount Pictures, which became a studio to make films, had a distribution arm to send them around the world and theatres to show them in. This was the vertically organised structure that all the famous Hollywood studios copied- MGM, Universal, Warner Brothers, Columbia and Fox. These major companies dominated the industry and they staffed their companies with actors, writers directors and producers to make a slate of films to play every week in cinemas. Film became the 5th largest industry in the US.

The first World War destroyed European production so US made films dominated the world.

In 1927 sound was introduced and in 1939 colour made its debut. Except for a slight dip during the depression, the film industry in America was on an up ward curve.

Problems for the industry started 1n 1948 when the government forced the studios to divest themselves of their cinemas and in the 1950s Television began to take away their audience. The studios fought back with 3D, wide screen displays, epic productions and stereo sound but the end of the studio system was permanent.

Now independent companies, funded by the major distributors, who retained the sales rights, became more important.

Marshall McLuhan, a famous critic of media, made the point that it was the decline of the studio system and the advent of television, that created the art film. Television gave the audiences westerns, family drama and comedies, forcing the studios to make different productions. Gaining inspiration from European directors in the 1960s, American filmmakers like George Lucas and Francis Coppolla made better films in the last quarter of the 20th century.  

Studios also expanded into home viewing, with VHS and DVD, leading to Blockbuster stores, and a small DVD mail order service called Netflix.

The Covid lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 closed down cinemas and production and gave Netflix the chance to grow. These two years were financially the worst in cinema history – production shut down and distributors had no cinemas to supply so they had no income. This has had a strong knock-on effect to independent producers.

Almost all the majors now followed the Netflix model and set up streaming services of their own, fighting against themselves and television for paying audiences.

Cinemas have not yet returned to their pre-pandemic level, so there is a funding gap in film production. This has made it very hard for independent producers to fund their films, and once funded it is even harder to distribute them. If producers place their films on a streaming service, how will audiences even know they exist without promotion and marketing. Making a 2nd film becomes nearly impossible.

This is the serious problem Dreambird set out to solve.

So now we are in an age of streaming. Here is my view of what this means:

Most producers are now seeking funding from the streamers, but their economic model does not give producers any profit share. Producers have become hired guns, collecting handsome production fees but no profits.

Streamers also use algorithms to calculate which films have done well on their platforms, and they then make more of the same. This leads in my view to very unoriginal and poorer quality films and series. If producers know that they will be paid no matter how good the quality there is little incentive to create better productions.

The streamers gatekeepers also have a woke agenda, where the definition of a good film is a good issue. In these circumstances, entertaining films are not the norm, and audiences who are generally not woke, feel badly served by the streamers, searching for up to 30 minutes to find something they want to watch, and often not feeling satisfied.  

Someone said that the streamers seem to have a death wish. Can they survive making films that the majority of the audience don’t want to watch? We believe that the current state of cinema is slowly crumbling away.

So Dreambird has re-imagined the film industry and is going to build a new eco-system. In our system, creators such as writers, directors and producers are put in touch with fans, fansumers and prosumers. Together, they can communicate, collaborate, fund, create, market and distribute films they all want to make and view. Dreambird will have its own streaming service, open to all producers without gatekeepers.

This is a combination of a social media site, a streaming platform and a marketplace all in one location. Engagement and interactivity will be easy. In fact, we intend to make the first completely interactive film ever made.

We believe that Dreambird can rejuvenate the independent film sector. There will be a virtual film studio on the platform and films made and streamed on the platform can be sold to cinemas, TV, and other streamers.

New entrants to the film industry, who find it so difficult to get skills and employment, will be able to join the platform and find collaborators and mentors. Investors will be able to join the platform to get an early look at projects that are gaining traction with audiences.

Smart contracts via blockchain will protect peoples investments and producers are able to keep a large share of the profits of their films, in some cases up to 85%.

Dreambird aims to create trust in the platform and will not sell data or allow targeted advertising. Instead we plan to build a unique community that will en gender a tsunami of creativity.  

Dreambird is the future of cinema.

April 11, 2023 at 8:05 am 2 comments

The Blog That Fell From The Sky

Reflections on an age of anxiety.