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