Still from ‘Earthbound.’ Photo Courtesy of ‘Earthbound’
Director and writer Farhoud Meybodi chatted about his new documentary “Earthbound,” which was executive produced by Orlando Bloom.
The film explores the life and achievements of Nzambi Matee, a Kenyan innovator driven by her unwavering determination to tackle the plastic waste crisis in her hometown of Nairobi.
Despite the risks, she perseveres in her pursuit of technology that transforms plastic waste into paving bricks, eventually earning her global recognition as a UN Young Champion of the Earth.
Nzambi’s story illuminates the boundless potential of human ingenuity and determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
What inspired you to write and direct ‘Earthbound’?
Earthbound came about because we saw a real gap in the environmental storytelling space for optimistic and solution-oriented content. A lot of what’s out there is very much in an echo chamber and focused on doom and gloom storytelling, pretty much scaring the crap out of people in hopes that they’ll go and do certain things to solve the climate crisis.
Now, this is an admirable approach, and I respect any creators who are trying to create change at scale, but I don’t think this is how culture change works.
For the past 13 years or so, I’ve been focused solely on documentary storytelling in the impact space, and what we found is that instead of scaring people, we should speak to their highest nature.
I think we need to remind people of all the joy, beauty, and magic that is Mother Nature and motivate them, via healthy role models, to create culture change in their own lives out of love, not fear.
I also feel like a lot of environmental films are made for the same audience, essentially a progressive base that by and large already agrees with one another on key issues.
We are very much living in times of environmental catastrophe, and I want to ensure that all people are involved and engaged with rewriting the story.
How did it feel to collaborate with Orlando Bloom and have him as an executive producer on this project?
Working with Orlando was a real pleasure. He’s very aligned from an ethos perspective, and one of the things that really resonated with me early on was how devout of a practitioner he is of Buddhism and how much that modality influences his relationship with the environment.
His heart very much beats with a deep love of Mother Nature. The best part about our collaboration was having his company, Amazing Owl, as a partner. Adam Karasick, who oversees that business, was an early supporter of the project and has always believed in the power of what “Earthbound” can do.
What motivates you each day as a filmmaker?
As a filmmaker, I am motivated to help remind people of the humanity that flows through all of our veins. In Arabic, the word for a human is ‘Insan,’ and this means ‘those who have forgotten.’ So, I very much believe that because of our collective socialization, we’ve forgotten core aspects of this shared human experience.
Through my work as a filmmaker, I’m not trying to entertain people; entertainment is one part of the bigger picture. What I’m trying to do is remind people of the magic and beauty and love and possibility that is our shared human experience.
A big part of my work is also focused on trauma and how trauma impacts our lives and also creates the conditions for our self-actualization. As Rumi said, ‘the wound is where the light enters you,’ and I think each and every one of us is unified by having some sort of trauma in our lives.
Instead of seeing the trauma as a terrible thing, what if we could see trauma as a grand enabler of sorts? Not to say that I want to bypass the realities of pain and hardship, quite the opposite.
I just want people to feel a sense of support and empowerment and to recognize that that which densely impacts our lives at one point doesn’t define us, and by taking the steps to integrate and heal these experiences, a wide world will open up that ultimately leads towards growth and joy. Or at least that’s what my experience has been.
How does it feel to be a filmmaker in the digital age?
I love being a filmmaker in the digital age. As an entrepreneur, I’m a big believer in innovation as creating space for our collective thriving. So if you take a step back and look at all the innovations from the past 50 years in regards to filmmaking, they’ve primarily lowered barriers to entry and created space for filmmakers to develop and execute their craft efficiently.
There are many people who are very afraid of AI and what it represents, but for me, I’m a big proponent of collaborative artificial intelligence because I also recognize its limitations.
I think AI is fundamentally a great collaborator that will liberate artists by giving them space to focus more on their area of genius. I don’t see many people out there complaining about missing the abacus.
Similarly, I don’t hear many people complaining about how digital editing is an aberration and how much they miss clipping together a film in a dark room. Is anybody complaining about insanely expensive cameras at a time when only the studios could afford them? Look at how democratized our businesses are now, with cameras being largely affordable and accessible to individual creators.
Filmmaking is unique because it’s as much an art as a science, and I think as filmmakers, especially in this volatile and ever-shifting media landscape currently dominated by technology companies and massive entertainment organizations, we need to do everything we can to stay on the cutting edge of our craft and welcome as many innovations as possible that will liberate us as creators and minimize the gap between ourselves and our audience.
I believe that technology, when utilized properly, can lead to greater creative expression, greater freedom, and fulfillment.
Now, that said, we need to create healthy safeguards around technology, but I see that as more of a government responsibility rather than a burden that should fall upon individuals.
What does the word success mean to you?
For me, I think success is related to purpose, joy, and freedom. I believe there are plenty of folks out there who make a ton of money but aren’t free and don’t feel connected to their purpose or their joy. This is not a success. Success for me is feeling a sense of connection to the people around me, to our audience, and to the world.
Success is having the freedom to choose my projects and collaborators and make decisions in the best interest of my passion without feeling a sense of desperation or scarcity. Success is laying my head on my pillow at night and feeling a sense of ease, joy, and gratitude for everything I am and everything that I get to achieve.
Success for me is very spiritual. Success means feeling a connection to my creator and weaving that belief system into everything that I do.
From my vantage point, the greatest success in this life is having an idea in your mind and then, through hard work, determination, and creativity, bringing it out into the world around you, letting other people interact with it sincerely, and making an impact on their lives. It has nothing to do with scale or size, just the depth of the experience and the impact.
What is your advice for young and aspiring filmmakers?
My advice to young filmmakers is to create wholeheartedly. I don’t believe traditional education is necessary anymore. My story is unique in that I didn’t go to film school and I don’t have a background in film whatsoever. I went from law into entrepreneurship into filmmaking, and I cut my teeth making corporate videos for pennies.
There are folks I know who went to film school or got an MFA and aren’t even making films; they spent so much time on the educational side that they missed out on the real-world experience aspect.
What’s so special about this present day is how accessible education is on the Internet. You can read books, listen to podcasts, and make films on your iPhone. Why go to school? And I saw this as someone who has been teaching upper division business courses for the past six years. So my advice to young people interested in film is to start making films.
Surround yourself with brilliant young people just like yourself who are masters at different things or on the path towards mastery of different things. If you’re a writer, find a director and make stuff with them. If you’re an editor, find a great gaffer and a great producer, and make stuff with them.
Do things for free, learn, and grow, and eventually, you’ll be in a place where people will pay you for it. But most importantly, if you love filmmaking, never give up. I think people give up way too soon. There were plenty of times where I wanted to give up, but I stuck with it and eventually the tides turned.
What would you like to tell our readers about ‘Earthbound’?
“Earthbound” is an invitation. I want people to feel a deep sense of connection with Mother Nature and see themselves as stewards of the environment. Sometimes, when discussing massive global environmental issues, we can become preoccupied with scale, making it difficult for people to grasp the impact they can make. I want to reframe things away from scale.
What if the most significant impact you could have on the environment involved your daily use of plastics or what you throw in the trash? I want this to be a personal journey, where we celebrate every victory, especially the small ones.
After all, what is the ocean but a collection of individual drops of water? So, I hope people will watch “Earthbound” with a deep sense of love, not just for the environment, but for themselves.
This world was created as an act of love, and I believe that each one of us, our families, our children, and our grandchildren, has a relationship with this world that is also an act of love. Instead of focusing on fear and worst-case scenarios, I’d rather focus on the beauty, magic, and possibility that this beautiful world holds. Without bypassing reality, in fact, quite the opposite, we should create space for people to genuinely relate to Mother Nature.
Director Farhoud Meybodi talks about his new documentary ‘Earthbound’
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