After being exiled and imprisoned from the age of eight, Abdu’l-Baha at the age of 67 set sail in 1911 and travelled to Europe and North America to visit the Baha’i communities and to share the teachings of Baha’u’llah with others.
Abdu’l-Baha spent a good portion of this trip traveling from coast to coast in North America – 239 days to be exact – sharing the message of peace and unity amongst the thousands of people He met, including President Theodore Roosevelt, inventor Alexander Graham Bell, explorer Admiral Peary, reformer W.E.B. DuBois, and poet Kahlil Gibran.
This important chapter in America’s history has now been brought to the screen by Tim and Anne Perry in a wonderful two and a half-hour documentary film titled: Luminous Journey: Abdu’l-Baha in America, 1912.
Aimed at general audiences, Luminous Journey brings to light the events which took place and the people Abdu’l-Baha encountered during His visit to the US and Canada. After watching the film, one of the viewers Roland Maddela wrote: “It was like I was travelling, too, with the Master and felt the excitement on His arrival in every city and the sadness when He left. The settings and costumes captured the spirit of the 1900s. The music and the narrations are superb.”
I managed to get a hold of Anne and Tim Perry to find out more about this important and inspiring documentary:
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little bit about the film and why you decided to do this?
Anne: We’ve been practicing artists for many years and finally decided to work together on a project we were both passionate about — Abdu’l-Baha in America. I have always been especially interested in Baha’i history, so the research and even the costuming was natural. We knew that many people would be excited about the film because of its subject —Abdu’l-Baha, who captivates us now even as He did in 1912.
Tim: The story is an important one to tell about American history, and we believe it will become more known and significant to Americans in general as time goes on. We hoped to bring this knowledge to a wider public–and to inspire the Baha’is, of course. We had made short films and I have been doing corporate videos and commercials for a long time, so this was an exciting creative project that brought together our worlds.
Baha’i Blog: How has the film been received so far and what role does this film play in the history of the Faith?
Anne: Many people who aren’t Baha’is have helped us with the film–interns, production assistants, extras, graphic designers, animation artists, a colorist, and so forth–and there have always been a curiosity and interest in the story. As people discover the film they are amazed by it, generally, especially as it is a kind of “first” in the Faith. Some are particularly sensitive to the film. I’ll share one comment we got from a young man we met in a cafe in Des Moines:
“I am not sure how a documentary with a ‘documentary’ tone of voice can manage such an atomic blast in the heart, but oh it does and it does so in a way that words simply can not convey. Luminous Journey leaves me speechless; at every viewing session it has been only a matter of minutes before I begin to shed tears of the overflowing love I feel for Abdul-Baha, at which point I stop watching and move on with a washed over heart and come back to watch a few more minutes when I feel too caught up in myself. You have created a modern-day means of falling in love with Abdul-Baha, of time and again falling in love with Baha, at will and on demand.” -Saman Mirkazemi
Tim: In general we have found people very positive about the story and person of Abdu’l-Baha. We have no way to gauge the future of Luminous Journey, but we hope it will be used by the Baha’is in ways that will help raise awareness and educate people on some of the enormous information that exists regarding the Master’s visit to North America. We always saw it as a vehicle for public discourse.
Baha’i Blog: How long did it take you to make the film, and what sort of challenges did you have to overcome?
Anne: Around three intense years–and several decades of artistic development. We had no idea how long it would take, how much money, time and resources it would require. In our lives, it was huge! Of course one of the challenges was working with our spouse —we had been pretty independent artistically before that. And cutting down the material was hard —my original script would have made an eight-hour film! Deciding what to leave out was very hard —and we didn’t always agree on what we could let go of. And then there was the scarcity of sleep for three years.
Tim: We started filming in the summer of 2011 and went to many places to shoot before the script was finished. That was an interesting challenge in itself! Beyond that the sheer enormity of editing a feature film was trying to figure out how to visualize the film in an interesting and effective way. It was like deciding to climb Mt. Everest and learning midway up what you had gotten yourself into… In the summer of 2012 I quit my full-time production job to work full time on the film, as it was impossible to finish it without my full concentration.
Baha’i Blog: Can you share any interesting stories with us about your (and/or others) experiences in working on this film?
Tim: We seemed to have had some divine help on more than one occasion; for example in San Francisco we checked a light kit out for an evening shoot that we would be having in Berkeley the next night. At the time Anne invited some random students to come to our shoot as actors. I would not have done so, being a cautious person. The next night they showed up with friends to be extras in the scene. When I went to light the scene with the borrowed lights, two of the three lights had burned out with no replacement bulbs in our kit and the remaining light was so small that it would not be able to light the scene alone. Anne asked the students if they still had the lights they had checked out and they did. If they had not been there — the scene would not have gotten shot. Anne’s intuition saved the day.
Anne: At our Lincoln Park shoot in Chicago, we could only afford to choose one location (each location cost $500 on top of the insurance we had to purchase). Tim chose the statue of Abraham Lincoln. Later we read that Abdu’l-Baha stood before the stature and reflected on it after being photographed with the children. That was an instance when Tim’s “intuition” led to a really fortuitous convergence of art and spirit. And it tied in with the American story. There have been many other amazing occurrences involving old cars, a 1912 lantern at Green Acre, being guided to certain places, attracting people to work on our film, and so forth.
Baha’i Blog: What do you hope audiences walk away with after seeing your film?
Anne: Hope, inspiration, joy, insight, depth of love for Abdu’l-Baha.
Tim: The knowledge of the capacity of the American nation to lead the world spiritually.
Baha’i Blog: What message do you have to other Baha’i filmmakers and historians out there?
Anne: Focus on what you can do uniquely–pursue your vision and have the confidence that support for it will come if you arise. Study the Baha’i writings on the subject of Art as well as the historical aspects you gravitate toward. Bring love and craft together.
Tim: Develop your skills and learn to work collaboratively. There’s much need for all kinds of media to evolve.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you so much Anne and Tim for taking the time to do this interview and a very special thank you to you both and all those that worked on this wonderful and important documentary!