It was a crazy idea that became a double-Grammy nominated film – but not before the two novice filmmakers had their sanity seriously tested.
Its success has now spawned a multimedia spin-off that explores society’s collective madness. And yes, the choice of subject matter relates directly to the creators’ own experiences throughout an intense eight-year process.
British concept band and production team, 1 Giant Leap, is the brains and bold risk-taker behind the projects.
1 Giant Leap Founders Duncan Bridgeman and Jamie Catto are two intrepid musicians, filmmakers, radical visionaries and all-round wisdom seekers who claim they want to “make self-reflection hip”.
Bridgeman and Catto’s partnership began with an epic expedition through 25 countries during which they recorded wide-ranging pieces of music and then fused them together. Their mission was to encounter, interact with and record as many artists, musicians and thinkers as they could in six months.
The end product was launched in May 2002: an album and film (a dramatically new genre of filmmaking that marries documentary and pop video) containing footage from the streets of New York to the jungles of Ghana, the mountains of Nepal to the deserts of Rajasthan based on the theme Unity Through Diversity.
What About Me? is the recently released follow-up. This time the underlying theme is “everyone knows we’re all one human family, the trouble is it’s a dysfunctional one”.
Once again Bridgeman and Catto set off around the world to capture human nature’s endless complexities in music and thought provoking interviews. They visited over 50 locations in seven months, their aim being to create the biggest music jam in history and intersperse it with insightful dialogue.
“The idea behind the dialogue was to look at how humanity is unified by its madness”, says Bridgeman.
The text looks at how we are all ego driven, needy in relationships, insatiable in desire, addicted to status, wounded by childhood and unable to stop thinking, but still manage to be inspired and creative.
It’s divided into seven chapters; The Wanting, Bombardment, Wounded, Men & Women, Love & Need, Freedom, Grace.
A host of impressive names signed on. Artists kd lang, Alanis Morissette, Michael Franti, Stephen Fry and Krishna Das feature alongside Bedouin musicians, Chinese rappers, Gabonese pygmies and Tuvan throat singers and join Eckhart Tolle, Tim Robbins, Sir Bob Geldof, Gabrielle Roth, Bhagavan Das, Deepak Chopra, Billy Connelly, Neale Donald Walsch and Susan Sarandon and a host of equally profound but unknown people.
“Dealing with your own madness is a theme that’s close to everyone’s heart”, says Bridgeman quoting the lyrics that Catto wrote for the song Wounded In All The Right Places, which kd lang performed in What About Me?
“The analogy is a tree that’s been hit by lightning or damaged in some way and branches have grown off in this weird way and it’s absolutely beautiful because of the wound. In other words, it’s saying we are who we are today because of all the shit that’s happened and all the mistakes we’ve made”, he says.
Referring to ‘our Prozac generation’ Catto says, “We’re all in such avoidance of feeling hurt”.
“We’ve got a whole culture that says numb your pain; you shouldn’t have to have a blue day. If you’re not feeling good come and get a pill to make it okay.
“I’m against that. I’m for feeling and experiencing and being present.”
Both self-confessed, highly opinionated, alpha males, Bridgeman and Catto confronted their own shadow sides during the making of the films.
Besides both losing their fathers in the middle of the production, the pressure of two perfectionists living in each other’s pockets for months on end while working on projects that entailed super-human levels of coordination skills and sales abilities resulted in the stripping of many layers.
“As much as it’s a luxury to go around the world and meet all these amazing people it wasn’t done in a relaxed way”, says Catto.
“We had two or three sessions a day and no time off and we had to be on form and on the money every moment because people are giving their time.
“So when halfway through the production we both started losing it we lost our solidarity and our connection with each other and for a time it became a real labour and a nightmare.”
They sought therapy and underwent healing and came out the other side determined to continue their project.
Asked if he and Catto will keep working together Bridgeman laughs and says, “There’s something deep and special about our relationship that’s beyond what either of us know; 1 Giant Leap is so much bigger than Jamie or me and there’s nothing else we should be doing”.
Although he’s not a believer in past lives, he admits feeling a powerful sense of destiny with Catto and says to consider dissolving their partnership would be an insult to “whoever put us together in the first place”.
Prior to linking up Bridgeman and Catto were both professional musos doing what they now concede was essentially rubbish simply to make money.
A shared abhorrence of world music fusion and a passion to present some of the artists in a more original way marked the start of their relationship. A desire to include in the film writers and philosophers who had influenced them took the project to another level.
They set off around the globe unscripted and with just a pre-composed backing track that grew and evolved with the addition of each artist’s input. As they journeyed the duo watched their original concept for What About Me? – which was the idea that every truth has its opposite that is also true – morph into our collective insanity.
“What emerged from the interviews was universality around society’s wounding, shadow and pain”, says Catto.
“It became the collective neurosis of us all pretending to each other that we’re fine and confident and winners, when often in our hearts we’re in a desperate and obsessive state.
“We’re all so stuck in circles that go round and round and keep us nutty and unhappy and separated from each other and ultimately we feel we have to hide this from each other during the day-to-day living of life.”
The film flags a mutual acknowledgment of our insanity and the manifesto of What About Me? notes that the amount of energy we could inherit by taking down the mask and removing the mutual pretence that we’re all okay would be enough to solve any global crisis.
“We’re taught from a very young age to shut down our feelings and responses in order to fit in and be good and making the film showed me that we’re all as f—— crazy as each other, which is a great relief”, chuckles Catto.
What intrigued Bridgemann and Catto were the different slants that the artists and thinkers took and the mosaic it created.
In the chapter ‘Wounded’, vocalist Michael Stipe referred to pain as a universal constant, Tim Robbins and Bob Geldof spoke about it leading to the over use of ‘happy pills’ and a Japanese Shinto priestess saw it as a very important and necessary part of the whole picture because it teaches compassion.
The bottom line is that emotional dishonesty and fear of who we really are is the root of all the world’s problems and being honest with each other about how mad, wounded and vulnerable we are will allow us to express our joy and creativity. The weightiness of the subjects meant Bridgeman and Catto had to work hard to avoid anything that came across as preaching in the narrative.
“We were asking the big questions of life and everyone has an answer and thinks they know. But no one likes a smart arse. There has to be a certain surety and humility in the sound bite”, says Bridgeman, nominating Eckhart Tolle as the perfect interviewee because “he knows but he doesn’t need you to know that he knows”.
The film is sound bit driven in 10 to 30 second bites that are presented as a stream of consciousness.
The balance that Bridgeman and Catto were striving for needed an injection of humour and Bhagavan Das provided that.
Describing him as “a genius because he doesn’t take himself seriously” Bridgeman says “he wants you to know but he doesn’t need you to know and he wants you to laugh at your imperfections”.
The primary directive of 1 Giant Leap is to entertain.
“We’ve got no answers. We’re just thought provoking,” says Bridgeman.
“If people walk away having been entertained and with a few lovely little tunes in their head and some sort of concept about looking at their stuff, we’ve done our job.”
Initially rejecting the suggestion of a message he ponders the question and says, “The message, if you could call it that, is that, if we accept our own madness – which is ultimately all the things that make up our ego such as lack of self love, a feeling of separateness and an abundance of fear, anger and insecurity – and take responsibility for it, this will grow out into the world and ultimately bring about positive change.”
In conclusion he says, “We began this five years ago but it’s pretty relevant to what’s going on for the planet today; it’s all just a manifestation of the same madness.”
DVDs available in stores now, while the fabulous soundtrack of the film will be available in February.
Jill Fraser has 25 years experience in the media as a radio producer on 2UE and a journalist for News Ltd, Australian Consolidated Press and Key Media. She was senior writer for Ita Buttrose. Recently she co-produced a television pilot hosted by Ms Buttrose. She is a regular contributor to the Herald Sun.
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