SBIFF Premiere: Packed House, Standing Ovation & Pick for "Best Of" Weekend!

Incredible.  We knew that Santa Barbara would be the perfect place to premiere Crossing Bhutan - but we had no idea that the film would receive such a reception.

Crossing Bhutan was selected for one of the most coveted slots in the festival - 7pm, friday night of opening weekend in the historic Lobero Theater, a beautiful 600-person venue in downtown Santa Barbara.  Two hours before the screening there were lines stretching around the block.  I couldn't believe my eyes.

We were scheduled the same time as the American Riviera event with Rachel McAdams & Michael Keaton, so I anticipated we wouldn't get a huge turnout - but we packed the house!

After four years of work bringing this story to life, sitting in the theater alongside friends, family, and the Santa Barbara community was surreal.  Even though every single decision you make bringing a film to life should in theory be made with the audience in mind, after countless hours alone in the editing room, it is so easy to lose connection to why, exactly, you're making the film.  When the final credits rolled and people shot up to give the film a standing ovation, it almost didn't register that they were clapping for our film.  It was incredibly humbling.  A good 90% of the audience stuck around for our Q&A afterwards, and got to dig into some of the behind-the-scenes stories of what it took to make the film and share a bit about the grassroots movement growing around Bhutan's policy of Gross National Happiness.

Our second screening was EARLY Sunday morning [8:30AM!] -- so I had set my expectations pretty low for turnout.  The programming director, Michael Albright assured me that there was a lively "Breakfast Club" that motivated for these early morning screenings.  Sure enough, the lines for the film were MASSIVE.  I walked into the theater to do the intro, and again, it was packed.  Just outside the theater a woman sitting at an outside table at the cafe next door stopped me, and asked if I was the Director of Crossing Bhutan.  She had just seen the film, and share how much the film moved her - and that it had brought her to tears.  i never anticipated such a reaction.

SBIFF chooses a select number of films to schedule for an additional screening - and given all of the buzz from our first two screenings, Crossing Bhutan was selected for another screening at the Lobero theater.  I showed up early the day of the additional screening to great people as they made their way into the theater ... and was blown away to find none other than Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, in the front of the line to get into the theater [!!].  Yvon's commitment to bringing human values into business has made him one of the business leaders that I have the most respect and admiration for.  I found out that he too has traveled to Bhutan - and, unsurprisingly, that Bhutan was one of his favorite places.  What a trip!

A week later, I learned that SBIFF had chosen Crossing Bhutan for another additional screening during its "best of" weekend -- and that our film was the best attended of the whole weekend, with 300+ in attendance.

I left SBIFF feeling totally complete, and with a very clear sense that there is a very strong audience for our film.  Onward!

 

Title Change: Film is Now Called "Crossing Bhutan"

For those who’ve been following my Bhutan film journey, you’ve learned, along with me, that making a documentary can be an incredibly circuitous, meandering, and lengthy process. 

 

As I've shared in previous updates, in the course of editing the story of the human-powered journey across Bhutan, another, entirely different cut emerged - blending my own journey as a seeker and filmmaker with an inquiry into Gross National Happiness and our collective quest for happiness.  Although this approach was promising, after careful consideration and lots of input, we’ve determined this second concept / film [which is assuming the name The Happiest Place] needs more development in order to do it justice, and is a separate project that is beyond the scope of what we promised our supporters.

In the last 3 months, we've re-approached the version of the film that we originally pitched on Kickstarter, centering on the human-powered expedition across Bhutan, and with several months of work and the help of an academy award-winning editor Lisa Fruchtman, we made a huge breakthrough.  This is the cut [now called Crossing Bhutan] that just confirmed for a February premiere, and that we'll be sharing with you in the months to come.

We feel that the title Crossing Bhutan more accurately expresses the original premise and promise of the film - a human-powered journey across Bhutan that explores Bhutan’s unique culture and policy of Gross National Happiness.  

Crossing Bhutan is nearing "picture-lock" [when all the visuals are finalized in the film] and will have our complete focus as we get the film over the finish line for our premiere and subsequent distribution. We’re currently building our festival strategy beyond our February premiere and should have more clarity on other screenings soon. 

Should the second film, The Happiest Place, get made, you'll be the first to know!

We can’t wait to share Crossing Bhutan with you.

In the meantime, enjoy a few production stills from the film! (below)

warmly,

Ben

 A farmer carries a load in Eastern Bhutan

A farmer carries a load in Eastern Bhutan

 Paro, Bhutan

Paro, Bhutan

  The expedition team shortly after their arrival in Bhutan

The expedition team shortly after their arrival in Bhutan

  Under Gross National Happiness, Bhutan maintains at least 60% forest cover

Under Gross National Happiness, Bhutan maintains at least 60% forest cover

  A women and her baby stand in front of Mt. Jomolhari, the tallest peak in Bhutan

A women and her baby stand in front of Mt. Jomolhari, the tallest peak in Bhutan