About Cinema Noēsis

Unless you have found a way to tune them out, the stories you see and hear about life on planet Earth seem relentlessly hopeless and complex. Economic uncertainty, ecological collapse, political stalemates, religious extremism, ethnic conflicts, racial tension — the list goes on, an endless tickertape of frustration and despair. They depict a world filled with conflict, fear, and pain while reinforcing a belief that there is little we can do about it. We are locked in competition for scarce resources, disconnected from the natural world, at the mercy of political, religious, and economic power blocs, and spiraling ever deeper into greater disparity between the haves and have-nots.

But that’s not the only story.

There may be growth pains, but we are also moving toward an age of collaboration, authenticity, wisdom, justice, and sustainability. These new ways of engaging the world — and each other — are surfacing across the globe, in business, in our communities, and in our personal lives as we collectively experience the emergence of a profound shift in values and consciousness.

A powerful tool for communicating this transformation of perspective and its impact is film, and the past few years have seen an explosion in what have been called "transformational films" or "entertainment with a purpose," a subset of “conscious media.” I’ve always loved movies, and while working in the San Francisco Bay Area as Editorial and Communications Director at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, I discovered just how powerful these films can be — to educate, to inspire, and to ultimately change the way we see things. I also discovered how difficult it was for many of these festival-quality (and festival-selected) films to get noticed in the blur of big-budget, high-profile releases and Hollywood-driven mediocrity.

That experience gave birth to Cinema Noēsis: Films for Evolving Minds (noesis [no-ee-sis] comes from the Greek nous for "inner knowing"), which I began as a two-day immersive film event and may eventually become an online journal. [If you'd like to put on such an event for your group or community, contact me.] What differentiates the movies that Cinema Noēsis will track is their explicit intent to either affirm a positive vision of ourselves and the world or to actually change people — to challenge personal or cultural conditioning and beliefs. And to help me (and you) make sense of this genre, I’ve organized such films into three categories of transformation: Individual, Institutional, and Cosmological.


  • Individual (“Soul Seekers”): stories of actual personal transformation. They are anchored in that timeless mythology of “the hero’s journey” and are a staple of Hollywood filmmaking — but also show up in many documentaries and independent narrative films that profile protagonists facing inner as well as outer demons.

  • Institutional (“Drum Beaters”): the most popular, often characterized as “social change” movies. They present stories of widespread abuse or system failure along with remedies of healing and renewal and are the staple of documentaries and many film festivals.

  • Cosmological (“Mind Benders”): the newest genre of transformational filmmaking. They challenge current theories of consensus reality (“You mean the Earth isn’t flat?!”) and focus in some way on the mysteries of human consciousness and the evolving story of who we are and what we are capable of — which often occurs at the intersection of ancient wisdom, leading-edge science, and logic-defying events.


There are also powerful “hybrids” such as Thrive, Samsara, and Velcrow Ripper’s The Fierce Love Trilogy. All of these movies are intentionally designed to facilitate some kind of shift in the viewer’s perception, changes that essentially happen in one of two ways (but usually both):

Inside Out: where something happen inside of you — psychologically, emotionally, spiritually — that then gets translated into changes in behaviors and beliefs that are directed outward.


Outside In: Information about an external event or institution that changes the way you see it (e.g., the health care system) and sparks action and initiative.


What should be noted about films in this space is that they are not all created equal. However well-intentioned, they must still meet a variety of criteria that include good storytelling, high production values, and a commitment to engage, not lecture. The good news is that there are lots of them out there and the list is growing. Cinema Noēsis will be dedicated to such films and the filmmakers and the industry behind them.


— Matthew Gilbert