Walking the Edge: An Interview with Filmmaker Doug Karr

By Travis Newbill

IMG_2966 (1)Second generation member of the Shambhala community Doug Karr has brought a marvelous film into the world recently, and we at Shambhala Mountain Center are excited to share the news that our own Executive Director Michael Gayner has helped the film along, serving as Executive Producer (he’s an executive kind of guy). And, in related delightful news, Doug has generously offered up one of his producer points from the film so that a portion of the film’s profits will go towards the Shambhala Mountain Center. (Thanks, Doug!)

The film, titled Art Machine, tells the story of a child prodigy painter who must make the difficult transition into adulthood–as an artist and human being. Throughout the film, notions of sanity, inspiration, madness, dharma, fame, and love are explored in a fun and edgy way.

Recently, Doug took some time to speak with us about the film, which you can purchase in iTunes by following this link: Click Here

SMC: It seems that, in Western culture, art is not always seen to be an expression of sanity. There seems to be some sort of glorification of the disturbed, crazy, tortured artist. I wonder if that seems true to you.

Doug Karr: Yeah. I think that once the mercantile nature of the art industry took over, that sort of shifted things as far as who wanted to get involved in the practice of becoming an artist. Also, I think that people who gravitate toward making art tend to be more out there, more free thinking–lots of interesting insights into what they want to say about the world. That could go either way.

What do you mean?

I don’t necessarily look at mental health and think that it’s a negative thing when someone has a free-flowing mind, but I think there is a line. If someone is having a psychotic break, in our culture that is something that people have a hard time dealing with. There’s been ancient cultures where those people have been looked upon as seers. That’s interesting to me –the artistic possibilities of someone who has that sort of wide open mind. There can be a bit of groundlessness and also an opportunity for them to find freedom of expression.

Is there a fine line between creative genius and clinical mania?

Yeah, I think in my life, when I was growing up, there were quite a few people who were having psychological breakouts when I was a teenager. And I found that it was almost a very attractive thing when people would start to lose it, because they would manifest all this really amazing energy and communicate what felt like direct, super inspired insights. That was both frightening and attractive. When they were on the edge, before things got really crazy and the police got involved, there was this sort of amazing place at the root of the mania.


I think that there is this aspect of genius in that and people who are either highly intelligent, or highly artistically minded, or super inspired, have the potential to walk that edge. I think it’s really dangerous and evocative place. The reason I wanted to explore this film was to explore that.

And you did so through this character, Declan Truss, who is a child prodigy now coming of age. Why?

I got really excited about studying child prodigy painters and researching those kids. I started to see the potential to take a kid like that and see what may happen to him to in his teen years when there is the potential for bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia to manifest. And, especially when you combine that with psychedelic drugs, there’s a crazy mix of possibility there. I think that’s where that edge became important to this story and something that I wanted to talk about.

There is a buddhist tone throughout the film, which mostly comes through Cassandra, the romantic interest of Declan. How would you describe the role that the dharma plays in Declan’s progression?

Cassandra’s focus on impermanence and the true nature of reality was at first very interesting to Declen, and shifted him in a new direction. Then, those ideas become fuel for the mania. I’ve seen that happen before. People get a little hit of dharma, but they don’t have the foundation of years of practice. It can be very liberating–to the point where they don’t have much ground under their feet. It was exciting to explore the possibility of Declan going down the rabbit hole, and then having the ground forced back under his feet through his own actions. I wanted to show that progression, and see that arc.


Floral Notes and Bardo: Snow Beast Ezmerelda


Floral Notes and Bardo: The Creative Chronicles of a Shambhala Mountain Resident is a daily feature on the SMC blog in which a member of our staff/community shares his experience of existing as part of Shambhala Mountain Center.

I have a tiny friend named Harrison Hood. And a big, funky friend named Ezmerelda. I want you to know them, so I write this blog.


 Last night we watched a film called Art Machine at Dhyana–Kaleigh (my boss-homie) and Eric’s place. Director Gayer (aka Michael the supreme boss-homie of SMC) is the executive producer. I’m going to interview the writer/director (Doug Karr) in a couple of days and we’re going to help spread the word about the film, which was good.

It’s about a kid artist growing into his adult version of himself. I knew that at some point he’d be taking psychedelics. A few nights ago we had a dinner party at Dhyana, and the dominant topic of conversation was consciousness and psychedelics (something’s in the air). I didn’t say much. I haven’t read too much about it. The conversation was very masculine (lots of facts and citations–very interesting). I have done my share of experimentation. There wasn’t much space for me to talk about that, and I was able to refrain from trying to describe the indescribable.

The weekend was very weekendy–sleeping in, strolling around the land, leisurely meals. We built a snow beast outside Elkhorn, named it Ezmerelda and watched a French film called The Choir. It was about kids living in an institution which was much different from SMC.

Sunday Jim Tolstrip taught a group of us about how to lead Council Practice–so now we may offer that regularly within the community (so glad). Afterwards the sweat lodge was potent, a reset button. A deep touching in (rather like an earthy cousin of the psychedelic experience). I came out fresh and clear, and ecstatic.

It had been a warm day, then it turned very quickly. By the time we came out of the lodge it was snowy and freezing. I stood naked in the snow for the first time, howling, invigorated, as I fumbled around to put on my snow soaked clothes.

After the film last night we jumped on Kaleigh’s trampoline. She’s been talking about it since she got it. It suits her. Her energy is so sparkly, firecracker. Half way through my session I started cracking up, and she was cracking up, delighted that I was cracking up. I continued laughing for the next hour or so. Everything was funny.

I click into this mode here every so often (pretty regularly) where everything is funny. Every little thing is referencing every other little thing and it is explosively good.

Before turning in, I told Heather:

“If I could come remotely close to honoring the brilliant comedy of reality in writing, a lot of people would read my blog.”

Ezmerelda reads my blog.


–February 18, 2014


PortraitTravis Newbill is a curious dude on the path of artistry, meditation, and social engagement who is very glad to be residing at Shambhala Mountain Center. His roles within the organization include Marketing Associate and Head Dekyong–a position of leadership within the community.