An Agnostic Filmmaker’s Film About Religion: Thomas Lennon (Best Documentary Oscar-winner) on his new PBS film “Sacred”

July 7, 2017




Pictured Above: Thomas Lennon in a Beijing Film Studio. Lennon's earlier

work in China earned him an Oscar and two Academy nominations.


Our Guest: 

This time on "Interfaith Matters," host Maggi Van Dorn talks with Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Thomas Lennon about "Sacred," his recent million-dollar global documentary for PBS.  Two years in the making, and utilizing more than 40 film crews in more than 20 countries, "Sacred" explores ritual practice around the world through stages of life the film terms "Initiation," "Practice" and "Passage."  As the film journeys through the milestones of private life and the faith practices of individual human beings, a singular story begins to unfold, of universal humanity. 


"Sacred" is premiering around the country this year, and, as a WNET-TV production, will be on public TV in 2018.  Jump to the link below to watch the trailer. Click here to check for upcoming film screenings in the United States and around the world.


Podcast Highlights:


On what motivated him as an agnostic filmmaker to produce a film about religion: "Jonathan Sacks said, 'Religion is fire: it can warm, or it can burn.'  The media have done a very good job of looking at the ways in which it can burn. And I thought why don't I go off by myself and take a few looks at how it can warm." 


On faith as a primary human experience: "The wisdom of [religious rituals], psychologically, does not require you to be a person of faith for you to recognize and be grateful for that transmission of advice from generations before you."


On his experimental approach to global film-making: "If there is a scene you want covered in Myanmar or in Madagascar... the chances are very good that there's a filmmaker there who's going to have an intimacy of relationship with that scene, with that language, with that culture, with that faith, that you do not have - and so it behooves you to invite them into a collaboration."


On the spiritual creativity of prisoners:  "It's an extraordinary act of existential choice to say, 'I'm not going to think about the fact that ... I'm not going to leave these prison walls except in a body bag...I'm going to think about this other reality that I'm going to insist is the dominant reality.'"









This episode of Interfaith Matters is underwritten by One Spirit Learning Alliance – an interfaith learning institute that trains spiritual leaders and offers workshops for the public to spark personal transformation. More information is at, where our listeners can find a free download of one of their teachings, “The Life We Are Called to Live."




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