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.

Right…

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: Wild and Dignified

 

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-Ching toss last night–“stillness.” The image of a mountain–first hexagram. Second: progress. The image of the sun rising.

Greg said: Taming the mind, meditative stillness, and waiting until the right moment to act. And, when I do, it will be effective. Something about the hexagram saying: Don’t allow your hips to become frozen. You’ve got to boogie. No cave-dwelling yogi life for you right now, Ngejung Tachok.

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And, be with the peeps. Being a leader, you’ve got to be with the peeps, not separate from them. You are a peep.

Greg was giving me an I-Ching reading upstairs in the library, meanwhile downstairs in the shrine room, the Beastie Boys, dance party. Pounding electronic music. I’d been dancing then saw Greg in the hallway and asked for a reading.

He’d given the ceremonial reading for SMC earlier in the day.

Shambhala Day (or, Losar)… The New Year. Big day of celebration.

It began at 6am toast to the new year, then we marched up to the Stupa–Kasung-style:

“Left, left, left, right, left…Eyes on the horizon!” and the sun was coming up–orange, radiant. The weather was lovely, clear, crisp.

At the Stupa–lahsang ceremony. Clouds of smoke and offerings, group chanting, juniper, waving flags. Then inside the Stupa for Elixr of Life sadhana, bathing ourselves in saffron water, reminding ourselves of death, preciousness of life, making aspirations to not sleep through it. To use our lives to wake up and help the world.

Lovely breakfast, socializing and then we gathered in the shrine room for the webcast of the Sakyong‘s Shambhala Day address–beautiful. Funky mountain-internet connection made it comedy.

Later in the evening, a formal dinner and the Shambhala Ball (Bhal?).

I dressed in tights, tie, and tu-tu. At dinner I toasted the Sakyong, from the bottom of my heart. Greg asked me to make the toast. When he told Director Gayner that I’d be doing it, Mr. Gayner said:

“In his tu-tu?”

and Greg said:

“He’s wearing a tu-tu?”

It went well.

These sorts of things can happen at SMC. That’s why I know I’m in the right spot. This may be the wildest spot in the mandala. Yeah…

The Bahl began with a choreographed waltz. Several of us had been rehearsing, lead by Greg (who is so darn graceful), in the week leading up to the event. So magical… So fairy tale.

Shambhala really has this whimsical, fairy tale quality to it. Dragons and kings, and ball gowns, horses, magic… And it’s all grounded in authentic buddhadharma. Ahh…

After a few waltzes, DJ Stephen Extro, who lives here and is a hot-as-shit awesome DJ, played music for us. Really high energy awesome electronic music. A bunch of us on the dance-floor together–Joshua, Director Gayner, Kaleigh-boss, Heather, friends–my peeps. Everyone together enjoying this high energy dance vibe.

A moment with Mr. Gayner, as he was doing weird powerful martial arts moves, directing energy with his hands. I joined him. Such a mystical scene. All of us holding and playing with, all of us within this, potent energy field. So much good energy from the day erupting in this dance experience.

May SMC always be wild and dignified.

Towards the end of the night, while the music was still pumping, a few of us set up the meditation cushions for this morning’s session. Just the slightest tinge of a hangover this morning and I rang the gong only 5 minutes late.

–March 3, 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. 

SMC and ‘Art Machine': A Conversation with Writer/Director Doug Karr

By Travis Newbill

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.

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. You can watch our interview below, or scroll down to stream/download the audio.

And, you can view and support this film in iTunes by following this link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/art-machine/id794840957?ign-mpt=uo%3D4

If you’d like to download the audio file, CLICK HERE and find the “Download” button. Otherwise, you can stream the audio below.

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.

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 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.

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–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. 

Floral Notes and Bardo: Howdy/Vanishing

 

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.

Snowflakes
vanish from palms
in a soft flash.

Thus have I heard:

Once, Trungpa Rinpoche asked William S. Burroughs:

“Why do you write?”

Burroughs:

“You’ve got to do something.”

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Yesterday, as planned, I spent most of the day practicing meditation to give some room to the explosions occurring in my chest and brain–
Sparkle bombs.
Love bombs.
Confusion in confetti form and twinkles of smile-inspiration.

Lots happening these days.

Moments ago, at lunch, Z (my teacher) said:

“You look more excited than afraid. That’s a good sign.”

He also said:

“You’re a surfer.”

That’s true. I grew up surfing mediocre waves in Florida. Now I live at Shambhala Mountain Center. The waves here are not mediocre.

~~~

A couple of introductory notes (written in pencil on confetti):

I started a blog back in November after taking a writing program here at Shambhala Mountain Center with Bhanu Kapil–a Naropa professor who is clairvoyant and lovely in all sorts of ways. She encouraged me to do it as a way to express myself, practice writing, and share with people what must be a rather interesting experience–living here.

Here: If I may say so–as many others have throughout the decades–Shambhala Mountain is a powerful-sacred-organism. I find the experience of residing here–as a lil’ part of it–to be incredible, and I love telling stories about it.

Recently, Director Gayner (who is also lovely as well as regal, and so on) offered an idea:

He felt it would be cool for someone from our staff/community to write a daily bit about
what it’s like to live/work/exist here.

!!! !!! !!!

I gladly volunteered!

The opportunity to do this as a daily part of my adventure/life on the mountain has me giddy and grateful. I’m amazed and un-surprised. This is the latest in a series of doors to swing open–revealing perks, lessons, gifts; prickly, sparkly, blunt…

Anyway, this is not the first installment. This is the part of the concert where, a few songs in, the dude steps to the mic and says:

“Hi. It’s great to be here.”

Thanks for listening. More to come.

May this activity offer a glimpse into this magical living-situation (living situation).

~~~

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. 

WATCH: Elephant Journal’s “Walk the Talk Show” Features SMC’s Michael Gayner

 

Yesterday, Elephant Journal’sWalk the Talk Show,” hosted by  Waylon Lewis, featured SMC Executive Director Michael Gayner.  In lively and huge-hearted conversation, the two longtime friends touched on some deep points about SMC life, land and vision.

For those who missed the live broadcast, or would like to watch it again, we offer the recording below. May it inspire you on this final day of 2013!