From 1990 – 2016, Dr. Francis Lu and Brother David Steindl-Rast led annual 5- or 7-day film seminars at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. Films on a particular spiritual theme were shown and discussed, focusing on the participants’ personal experiences.

In celebration of their 15th Esalen film seminar together (and Br. David’s 80th birthday), Francis Lu and Brother David presented a 7-day retrospective of great films that were highlights of past seminars. Themes included (listed in the order of the films shown):


+  Integrity
+  The quest for wholeness
+  The inner child
+  Animals, angels, and other spiritual allies
+  Forgiveness
+  Gratefulness
+  The spirit of humor
+  Faith and resilience
+  Contemplation
+  Serenity
+  Nirvana and salvation
+  Exuberance, creativity, and delight
+  Film and the remembering of love

This seminar included two films that Brother David and Francis share as their first and second favorite films of all time.  The first is Ikiru (1952) by Akira Kurosawa, which is about an elderly man’s transformation of consciousness as he realizes that he will die in six months from stomach cancer; “Ikiru” means “to live” in Japanese and herein lies the paradox of this profoundly moving film. The second is Tokyo Story (1953) by Yasujiro Ozu, which is about the serene acceptance of the transience of life through a contemplative, compassionate love of the now.

Films shown in this order:

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
  2. Babette’s Feast (1987)
  3. My Life as a Dog (1985)
  4. Into the West (1992)
  5. East of Eden (1955)
  6. Tuesdays with Morrie (1999)
  7. City Lights (1931)
  8. The Joy Luck Club (1993)
  9. Tokyo Story (1953)
  10. Rhapsody in August (1991)
  11. Ikiru (1952)
  12. French Cancan (1954)
  13. Bagdad Cafe (1987)
  14. Casablanca (1942)

Late-night Bonus Films shown:

  1. Queen Christina (1933)
  2. The Road Home (1999)
  3. The King of Masks (1996)
  4. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
  5. Gustav Mahler 8th Symphony (1975 DVD with Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic)

See also: Twenty Favorite Films

Photo by Ritvik Singh

Br. David Steindl-Rast
Francis G. Lu, M.D.

Francis G. Lu, M.D.

About the author

Francis G. Lu, M.D., is the Luke & Grace Kim Endowed Professor Emeritus in Cultural Psychiatry at the University of California, Davis. He co-led more than 20 film seminars at Esalen with Brother David Steindl-Rast from 1990 - 2016.

Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

About the author

Brother David Steindl-Rast — author, scholar, and Benedictine monk — is beloved the world over for his enduring message about gratefulness as the true source of lasting happiness. Known to many as the “grandfather of gratitude,” Br. David has been a source of inspiration and spiritual friendship to countless leaders and luminaries around the world including Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Merton, and more. He has been one of the most important figures in the modern interfaith dialogue movement, and has taught with thought-leaders such as Eckhart Tolle, Jack Kornfield, and Roshi Joan Halifax. His wisdom has been featured in recent interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Krista Tippett, and Tami Simon and his TED talk has been viewed almost 10,000,000 times. Learn more about Br. David here.