About The Big Question

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On Oct. 2, 2006, the nation was riveted by yet another school shooting, the third in the span of a week. This one however, appeared even more shocking than the previous – a peaceful Pennsylvanian Amish community was the last place anyone thought an attack on school children would occur.

Classroom violence is never easy to accept but when five young girls were killed and another six injured, questions of the gunman’s intentions arose immediately; what could motivate such an act? How could this happen to the simple Amish people?

What occurred next seemed even more puzzling. In the wake of such tragedy and so much loss, the Amish community came together in resounding support of the gunman’s family and even attended the shooters funeral after he had killed himself. In a remarkable show of compassion, the Amish people forgave the killer.

Just one story among many, the feature length documentary The Big Question explores how victims of some of the most tragic acts of the twentieth century found the courage to heal and forgive. From the experience of a young Japanese-American woman sent to an internment camp during World War II to the oppressive treatment of people under South Africa’s Apartheid rule, the film chronicles the beneficial power of forgiveness and the positive effect it has on the soul as well as society as a whole.

These remarkable testaments of forgiveness and compassion are explained by some of the world’s most renowned spiritual leaders including; Sister Helen Prejean, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Dr. Deepak Chopra M.D., Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Civil Rights leader Reverend Joseph Lowery and Rabbi Elliot Dorff.

Along with cutting edge scientific research and expert psychologists, director Vince DiPersio and producers Father Frank Desiderio, CSP, and Kaluska Poventud examine forgiveness on a variety of different levels.

 

About the Spiritual Leaders

 

Sister Helen Prejean

Sister Helen Prejean
Sister Helen Prejean (Photo: Joplin Wu)

Sister Helen Prejean was born on April 21, 1939 in Baton Rouge, La. She joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille in 1957 and received a bachelor’s degree in English and education from St. Mary's Dominican College, New Orleans, in 1962. In 1973, she earned a masters degree’s in religious education from St. Paul's University in Ottawa, Canada. She has been the religious education director at St. Frances Cabrini Parish in New Orleans, the formation director for her religious community and has taught junior and senior high school students.

Sister Helen began her prison ministry in 1981 when she dedicated her life to the poor of New Orleans. While living in the St. Thomas housing project, she became pen pals with Patrick Sonnier, the convicted killer of two teenagers, sentenced to die in the electric chair of Louisiana's Angola State Prison.

Upon Sonnier's request, Sister Helen repeatedly visited him as his spiritual advisor. In doing so, her eyes were opened to the Louisiana execution process. Sister Helen turned her experiences into a book that not only made the 1994 American Library Associates Notable Book List; it was also nominated for a 1993 Pulitzer Prize. Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States was number one on the New York Times Best Seller List for 31 weeks. It also was an international best seller and has been translated into ten different languages.

In January1996, the book was developed into a major motion picture starring Susan Sarandon as Sister Helen and Sean Penn as a death row inmate.

Sister Helen has served on the board of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty from 1985 to1995, and has served as chairperson of the Board from 1993-1995. She is also a member of Amnesty International and an honorary member of Murder Victim Families for Reconciliation. She presently is the honorary chairperson of Moratorium Campaign, a group gathering signatures for a world-wide moratorium on the death penalty.

 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
(Photo: Michael Barnard)

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was born in 1931 in Klerksdorp, Transvaal. After leaving school he trained first as a teacher at Pretoria Bantu Normal College and in 1954 he graduated from the University of South Africa. In 1960 he was ordained as a priest. He lived in England from 1962 to 1966, where he earned a master's degree in theology. In 1975 he became the first black African to serve as Dean of St. Mary's Cathedral in Johannesburg. From 1976 to 1978 he was Bishop of Lesotho. In 1978 he became the first black General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches.

In 1984, Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. Two years later, Desmond Tutu was elected Archbishop of Cape Town. He was the first black African to serve in this position, which placed him at the head of the Anglican Church in South Africa.

In 1990, Nelson Mandela of the African National Congress was released after almost 27 years in prison. The following year the government began the repeal of racially discriminatory laws.

In 1994 President Mandela appointed Archbishop Tutu to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, investigating the human rights violations of the previous 34 years. As always, the Archbishop counseled forgiveness and cooperation, rather than revenge for past injustice. In 1996 he retired as Archbishop of Cape Town and was named Archbishop Emeritus. Today he is a professor of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga

 

Deepak Chopra, M.D.

Acknowledged as one of the world's greatest leaders in the field of mind-body medicine, Deepak Chopra, M.D., continues to transform our understanding of the meaning of health through his creation of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing in California in 1996. Dr. Chopra is known as the prolific author of more than 49 books. His book Peace Is the Way (Harmony Books) won the Quill Award and The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of your Life was awarded the Nautilus Award.

Dr. Chopra's popularity as an international presenter and keynote speaker is exemplified in an impressive list of honorariums. As the keynote speaker, he appeared at the inauguration of the State of the World Forum, hosted by Mikhail Gorbachev and the Peace and Human Progress Foundation, founded by the former president of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace prizewinner Oscar Arias. In 1995, he joined the distinguished company of President Nelson Mandela, Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, Tom Peters and Garrison Keillor as a recipient of the Toastmasters International Top Five Outstanding Speakers award.

Dr. Chopra has been a keynote speaker at several academic institutions including Harvard Divinity School and Harvard Business School. He is the recipient of the Einstein Award through Albert Einstein College of Medicine in collaboration with the American Journal of Psychotherapy. Along with Nobel Peace Laureates Oscar Arias, Betty Williams and others, Dr. Chopra is a founding director of and President of the Alliance for a New Humanity. The Alliance for a New Humanity is committed to creating a critical mass of consciousness in the world for social justice, economical freedom, ecological balance and conflict resolution. Dr. Chopra joined The Gallup Organization as a Senior Scientist in 2005. He regularly mentors corporate and political leaders through his Soul of Leadership workshops.

 

Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh was born in central Vietnam in 1926 and joined the Buddhist monkhood at the age of 16. In Saigon in the early 1960's, he founded the School of Youth for Social Services (SYSS), a grass roots relief organization that rebuilt bombed villages, set up schools and medical centers, resettled homeless families, and organized agricultural cooperatives. Despite government denunciation of his activity, Nhat Hanh also founded a Buddhist University, a publishing house and an influential peace activist magazine in Vietnam.

Thich Nhat Hanh has been living in exile from his native Vietnam since the age of forty. In that year of 1966, he was banned by both the non-Communist and Communist governments for his role in undermining the violence he saw affecting his people. Hanh has earned a reputation as a respected writer, scholar, and leader. He championed a movement known as "engaged Buddhism," which intertwined traditional meditative practices with active nonviolent civil disobedience. Although his struggle for cooperation meant he had to relinquish a homeland, it won him accolades around the world. When Thich Nhat Hanh left Vietnam, he embarked on a mission to spread Buddhist thought around the globe.

In 1967 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the same honor. Hanh's Buddhist delegation to the Paris peace talks resulted in accords between North Vietnam and the United States but his pacifist efforts did not end with the war. He also helped organize rescue missions well into the 1970's for Vietnamese trying to escape from political oppression. Even after the political stabilization of Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh has not been allowed to return home.

 

Reverend Joseph Lowery

Reverend Joseph Lowery
Rev. Joseph Lowery (Photo: William Hooke)

Outspoken civil rights activist Reverend Joseph Lowery was born in Huntsville, Ala., on Oct. 6, 1921. Considered the dean of the civil rights movement, Rev. Lowery attended Knoxville College, Payne College and Theological Seminary and the Chicago Ecumenical Institute. Rev. Lowery earned his doctorate of divinity as well.

Dr. Lowery began his work with civil rights in the early 1950s in Mobile, Ala., where he headed the Alabama Civic Affairs Association, an organization devoted to the desegregation of buses and public places. In 1957, Rev. Lowery and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and Rev. Lowery was named vice president. In 1965, he was named chairman of the delegation to take demands of the Selma to Montgomery March to Alabama's governor at the time, George Wallace.

Rev. Lowery is a co-founder and former president of the Black Leadership Forum, a consortium of black advocacy groups.

In 1979, during a rash of disappearances of Atlanta's African American youth, Dr. Lowery provided a calm voice to a frightened community. After becoming president of the SCLC in February of 1977, Dr. Lowery negotiated covenants with major corporations for employment advances, opportunities and business contracts with minority companies. He has led peace delegations to the Middle East and Central America.

 

Rabbi Elliot Dorff

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Ph.D., is visiting professor of professional skills at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Rabbi Dorff was ordained in 1970 and earned his doctoral degree in philosophy from Columbia University in 1971. He has since then served as rector, professor of philosophy and director of the rabbinical and master's degree programs at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. 

Rabbi Dorff's publications include more than 100 articles on Jewish thought, law and ethics and the author of eight books. A member of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, Rabbi Dorff sits on its commission on philosophy and its commission to write a new Torah commentary for the Conservative movement.

In the spring of 1993, Rabbi Dorff served on the ethics committee of Hillary Rodham Clinton's Health Care Task Force, and in March 1997 and May 1999, he testified on behalf on the Jewish tradition on the subjects of human cloning and stem cell research before the president's National Bioethics Advisory Commission.

In Los Angeles, he is a member of the Board of Jewish Family Service and has served as its vice president. He is also a member of the Institutional Review Board of Midway Hospital and the ethics committee at the Jewish Homes for the Aging and UCLA Medical Center.

 

His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a renowned spiritual leader and humanitarian whose mission of uniting the world into a violence-free global family has inspired millions the world over. An icon of non-violence, human values and universal brotherhood, he seeks global peace through service and fostering human values.

Through personal interactions, teachings and humanitarian initiatives, Sri Sri has reached out to an estimated 300 million people worldwide. Sri Sri has revived ancient techniques that were traditionally kept exclusive, and made them available to the world. He has designed many self-development programs that help people to calm their minds and heighten enthusiasm.

Sri Sri travels to more than 40 countries a year to share his message that all the great spiritual traditions share common goals and values. He inspires leaders to balance business with ethics and social responsibility. His teachings of love, practical wisdom
and service promote harmony among people, and encouraging individuals to follow their chosen spiritual path, while honoring the path of others.

 

Awards for The Big Question


  • Winner, Best Documentary – 2008 Breckenridge Festival of Film
  • Winner, Best Documentary – 2008 Santa Fe Metaphysical Film Festival
  • Honorable Mention, The Accolade Awards

 

Showings of The Big Question

  • Official Selection 2008 Sedona International Film Festival
  • Official Selection 2008 Washington DC Independent Film Festival
  • Official Selection 2008 Atlanta Film Festival
  • Official Selection 2008 Mendocino Film Festival
  • Official Selection 2008 Newport International Film Festival
  • Official Selection 2008 Maui Film Festival
  • Official Selection 2008 New Orleans Film Festival
  • Official Selection 2008 Big Muddy Film Festival
  • Official Selection 2008 Religion Today Film Festival
  • Official Selection 2008 Swansea Bay Film Festival
  • Official Selection 2008 International Film Festival England
  • Official Selection 2008 Winnipeg International Film Festival
  • Official Selection 2008 Non Violence International Film Festival
  • Official Selection 2008 Ojai Film Festival
  • Official Selection 2008 Mount Shasta International Film Festival
  • Official Selection 2009 British Film Festival, Los Angeles
  • Official Selection 2009 International Film Festival Egypt