Sundance London: Harmony Filmmakers Tune Into Prince Charles' Efforts to Save the Planet
"The big assignment we had for this movie was to take very very big ideas and try to make them accessible to everyone," says Julie Bergman Sender. "And hopefully we’ve made His Royal Highness shine through in a different way than people are accustomed to seeing him."
There are few pinch-yourself moments in a filmmaker's career as potent (and head-spinningly daunting) as being anointed by the future King of England to capture his legacy on film. But when filmmakers Julie Bergman Sender and Stuart Sender managed to keep their wits about them when His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales asked them to collaborate with him on a feature documentary capturing his pioneering work to protect and presere the environment. Three years and several royal tea services later, the Senders have come to Sundance London bearing the fruit of that collaboration in the form of Harmony: A New Way of Looking at the World, which follows Prince Charles around the globe as he collaborates with ground-breaking artists, architects, and business leaders to heal the world.
In the following candid conversation on the even of Harmony's world premiere, Bergman Sender waxed nostalgic about her notable distinction as (perhaps the only ) filmmaker who was present at the inception of both Sundance London and the Sundance Film Festival in Park City and what it's really like to get the (unironic and unmetaphoric) royal treatment.
Sundance.org: How did you come to make a film about HRH The Prince of Wales' work on behalf of the environment?
Julie Bergman Sender: The Prince had made a film in 1990 for the BBC called The Earth in Balance about Global Warming and climate change and looming issues that at the time nobody really knew what that meant but now seems quite prescient. We have a clip from that film where he’s interviewing Al Gore and the two of them were in their thirties at the time.
So he told a colleague of ours that he really wanted to make another film, not a follow up but a film that talks about the holistic nature of the problems we’re facing and the equally holistic nature of the way forward and way to look at solutions. I believe there are many amazing solutions happening all over the world and they come from the shift in paradigms in the way of looking at those problems. So our colleague said, yeah I know the perfect people. But to be honest, I think we may be the only filmmakers he knew.
Initially, we knew very little about His Royal Highness except what most Americans know. So we began doing research and speeches he was making and people he was working with all over the world and we said this is amazing. Who knew? We were so excited to get through the process to where we finally met with him and then we all decided we were going to embark on this journey. And that was five years ago.
Sundance.org: Can you set the scene of what the meeting was like?
Julie Bergman Sender: When we first arrived, it was clear to us there were going to be a series of hurdles we’d have to clear before we got to meet him. There were people who had worked with him for a long time and we clearly needed to pass muster with them first. So once we did that, we were lead into this room in his private residence and we were lead into this beautiful English blue drawing room. And I’m looking around and one of his staff was in the room with me and they started to speak with me and I turned around and said, 'I’m afraid you’re going to have to give me a moment because I may never be in this room again and I’m looking at a Monet on the wall that clearly no one had ever seen unless they were in this room.' And that’s because the Queen Mother, his grandmother, was an avid art collector from the time she was a young girl, and Monet was one of the people she was a patron to. So I’m looking at this painting that had been on the wall since the Queen Mother had been in her thirties or something and underneath it was a round table with a glass top and a plastic framed photo of his children. So that’s where you realize, yes we’re a historic place but we’re also in a place where someone really lives. The we were lead into a very beautiful small dining area and we all sat down in a dining area where we were served tea and I was like, oh so now I have to sound smart, listen and drink tea all at the same time. This is going to be a challenge. And as is usually the case, when you’re meeting someone who is very well protected, when the principal walks in the room, they usually put you right at ease and that’s exactly what happened. And both Stuart and I were very moved by how introspective smart and kind he was. Then we went back to LA and started to flesh out the larger ideas of the film. I felt like I went to school and learned to many things I might not have otherwise known.
Sundance.org: Why did he choose this medium to tell his story?
Julie Bergman Sender: I think generationally, anyone who was born in the media age of which he certainly is a member understands the power of visual storytelling. He also produced several smaller films for the BBC. I think he understands the power and the value of film. The big assignment we had for this movie was to take very very big ideas and try to make them accessible to everyone and hopefully we’ve made him shine through in a different way than people are accustomed to seeing. We hoped people would get to know the work that he’s done and why he does it.
Sundance.org: Was he always comfortable being a central character in the film?
Julie Bergman Sender: I think that piece evolved. Initially he always wanted to be as central to the film as necessary. It just evolved into a situation to him playing the role of the visual storyteller and convenor of these ideas and the narrator who brings the people and places involved together.
Sundance.org: What’s the Prince’s relationship with film like? Is he a film buff? How involved was he in the process?
Julie Bergman Sender: He watched every cut. He was very integral to the making of the movie. And because he’s an artist – he’s a painter – he’s very visual and he appreciates film. I don’t know whether he’s a film buff exactly. Because I don’t imagine they have much time because they’re kept so busy. I don’t think he would have wanted to do this if he wasn’t. I think he understands multi-platform messaging even if he wouldn’t call it that. He was also incredibly supportive and respectful and kind all the way through. Those of us making movies aren’t used to that.
Sundance.org: How did you come to premiere the film at Sundance London?
Julie Bergman Sender: When I heard Sundance was going to London, which was maybe a little over a year ago, we were still in the process of editing the movie and I really felt like if that was when we were able to premiere the movie, from my point of view I just felt like the connection between film and the environmental issues and Robert Redford’s connection to the environmental movement as an authentic leader, I just felt like it was such a good fit. And what a great way to talk about all these issues from a film point of view and an issues point of view.
Sundance.org: What’s your experience been like there?
Julie Bergman Sender: I was at the first three Sundance film festivals. I was at the beginning of the Sundance Film Festival, too. So in a funny way, there’s a lot of symmetry for me at this festival, including that my mentor was Sidney Pollack, I worked for him for many, many years. I had known Bob before this. And last night I went to the T-Bone Burnett thing and they talked about the songwriters who wrote The Way We Were, the were talking about Conrad Hall, who shot Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who lived across the street from me when I was growing up and whose kids were my best friends. Everything that was going on on the stage was right out of my life. And it’s a silly thing to say, but the movie’s called Harmony and the way we’re showing this movie her for the first time is probably my version of harmony.
Sundance.org: How did the title come about?
Julie Bergman Sender: When you look at the definition of harmony, it means that things are in balance. It’s a visual thing, it’s an emotional thing, it’s a compass of what works and what doesn’t. You don’t have to define it with words, you just know it when you feel it. So we all decided it was the right title because it’s evocative and it means a lot of things.
Sundance.org: Your premiere is tomorrow night. How do you feel?
Julie Bergman Sender: It’s a little terrifying that this is the first time that people outside our inner circle will see the movie. It’s the beginning for us of the next step of where we take the movie and how we decide to distribute it because it’s an unusual situation in that we own the movie outright. We haven’t made deals with distributors yet by design because we really want to use the movie in a proactive way. We want to bring it to conferences and we already have a great relationship with the 350+ organizations that are part of the Climate Action Network. They’ll be pushing the film out to their hundred million emails, from light green to dark green. We’ve laid the track to turn this into a tool for raising awareness of issues in arenas where you can rejoin the heart and head around the environment crisis we’re in. We have a lot of work to do but this is a very special moment where we just have to see how it lands.
Sundance.org: Was the Prince always planning on introducing the film?
Julie Bergman Sender: No. This was always how I hoped it would go. I think we all felt like it would be really, really wonderful if he could be there for the very beginning of this process of getting the film seen by the rest of the world. But his schedule is always such that it’s kind of amazing that he was able to come.