JOY Director & Desmond Tutu’s Daughter Talk Filming a Documentary – Deadline
When documentary filmmaker and anti-slavery activist Peggy Callahan received an invitation from her friend Doug Abrams to shoot and co-direct Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama Speaking of Joy in India in 2015, she didn’t reluctant to accept the job.
“I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Callahan told Deadline, who filmed the self-proclaimed “mischievous brothers” for five days at the Dalai Lama’s compound in India. Callahan co-directs with Louie Psihoyos and worked with an award-winning team including former Pixar Animation director Darla Anderson and DreamWorks Animation director Damien de Froberville to craft this project on the importance of positivity.
Mission: JOY – Finding Happiness in Troubles Times, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last year and has been acquired for the BBC Four and BBCiPlayer in the UK. It features special footage, wacky anecdotes, animation illustrating each man’s difficult journey through life, and interviews with their loved ones, including Tutu’s daughter Mpho Tutu van Furth and Thupten Jinpa Langri, the longtime English translator. of the Dalai Lama.
The two influential personalities present their examples of humanity, despite their very different and difficult backgrounds. Both men have made happiness a habit of life, finding joy in perseverance and deepening it with practice to live fully and face adversity and fight for a better world.
Inspired by The book of joyWritten by the two Nobel Peace Prize laureates and Abrams, the film is part of a larger campaign, Mission: JOY (missionjoy.org), a global initiative to challenge everyone not to expect joy but to create your own today and every day.
Ahead of the film’s BBC premiere tomorrow, Deadline spoke with Callahan and Archbishop Tutu’s daughter Mpho about developing this passion project, the challenges of filming this between Tutu’s chemotherapy treatment ( Tutu died of cancer in December at the age of 90) and why this documentary is now more important than ever to audiences.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
DEADLINE: Peggy, what was the genesis of this project and how did you get involved?
PEGGY CALLAHAN: Doug Abrams is a very dear friend and I knew Arch [Desmond Tutu] forever because I am an anti-slavery activist and Arch was on our board. Doug called me one day and said, ‘I have something I want you to do and you’re going to love me forever.’ He asked me if I wanted to go to India – I work a lot in India – and go to the compound of the Dalai Lama and shoot and direct for a week with Arch and the Dalai Lama talking about joy. And that’s how it started. It’s based on Doug’s book with the two of them, The Book of Joy. It was unusual because we didn’t have time to get the rights, but we moved forward because we thought at least it would be good for their archive and at most, maybe we could make one movie, which is what we finally have to do many years later. It’s been the most glorious, amazing, fun, and sensible act of love ever.
When we got the rights, the only thing they ever told us was to get the message out to as many people around the world as possible regardless of their ability to pay, which really impacted the way we did everything else. It would have been much easier to go to a studio or broadcast entity to get the money, but that might not allow us to get the message out to as many people as we would have liked. So we had to raise donor dollars on everything because our first allegiance couldn’t be paying back investors, it had to be paying it forward.
I have to say these two men have their own gravitational pull because all of these incredible talents – Darla Anderson, Damien de Froberville and more – just came out of the woodwork to help because they believed so much in this message of joy in troubled times and know that joy is an inside job.
DEADLINE: Mpho, how difficult was the trip to visit the Dalai Lama for your father given that he was sick?
MPHO TUTU VAN FURTH: The trip was less difficult than it could have been. A dear friend offered my dad and his group private transportation. That said, while the trip itself wasn’t difficult, it was still a journey across time zones for several days of work. My task was to ensure that he was well rested and that his rest time was protected throughout the series of events and interviews.
DEADLINE: Peggy, you have worked with other visionaries around the world. What’s it like to be in the bedroom with these two men?
callahan: They really are who they are and are present in the moment and there’s this energy that you really learn something every time they speak, even when they’re not doing anything but shaking their heads. fingers and tell them to behave. It was a masterclass in friendship and connection and they had only met six times. If you study the science of joy, you know that deep connection and friendship is the number one source of joy in our lives and it was a master class all week watching it happen. That almost didn’t happen, considering Arch was between chemotherapy treatments. Getting either of these men to commit for a week is a huge deal. But when it happened, it was a glorious thing to see because it wasn’t just the love they had for each other, they spread that love and those laughs to all of us. .
DEADLINE: Were there any major issues or challenges you faced during this week?
callahan: We were filming in the foothills of the Himalayas with crews from three different countries and we knew that if something went wrong, we would have no way to fix it. That said, as we were rolling the camera, not a single technical thing went wrong for five days and that’s almost unheard of.
DEADLINE: Mpho, what made your father and the Dalai Lama connect so well?
VAN FURTH TUTU: My father was a person of faith. He had a strong contemplative practice that underpinned his public persona. In this respect, the two men were alike. This undeniable strength is also at the origin of the joy and playfulness that characterize their encounters.
DEADLINE: What do you hope audiences take away?
callahan: We are not preaching in this film but I hope people see through their stories that joy is an inside job and then it becomes an external job when you interact with other people. I hope people see this kindness and compassion when you talk to someone else, you help yourself because it makes you feel better while practicing gratitude.
VAN FURTH TUTU: Deep faith should not be without joy. Religion is not all seriousness and solemnity. Giving, generosity, gratitude are all deep sources of joy.