We're a team of inquisitive filmmakers who are passionate about exploring what US President Barack Obama called the "empathy deficit". This concept captured our interest when we first heard it. But what really cemented it in our minds was the discovery of a university study that confirmed declining rates of empathy amongst younger generations. We asked, "Why? What was causing it? And, more importantly, what happens to society when levels of empathy drop?"
After grabbing a camera and meeting with experts and scientists across the US, we realized our huge questions could only be put to rest with the help of people who are just as interested as we are in finding the answers. That's when we meet Michael Moore collaborator Kurt Engfehr (Bowling for Colombine, The Yes Men Fix the World, Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead). As he is an award-winning, prolific filmmaker, we figured Kurt is just the man to direct this film.
SO, WHY THIS FILM & WHY NOW?
Do we have an “empathy deficit”? We see the costs of our “me-first” mindset: record breakdowns in relationships, endemic corruption, environmental degradation, inequitable social structures, and a whole generation increasingly unable to deeply connect--to anything or anyone. Now, scientists have confirmed we’re experiencing a steep decline in our capacity for empathy.
Empathy is at the heart of human connection. It's the glue that keeps us together. With it in short supply, what will become of us as a species?
To find out the answers, we're hunting down the best and brightest "social revolutionaries"--empathic leaders who are transforming the lives, structures and organizations around them.
These include the Dalai Lama and Marianne Williamson (One of TIME’s 50 Most Influential Women), both of whom advocate for a more compassionate culture; Bill Drayton (Ashoka), who teaches entrepreneurs to be empathic leaders; David Jones (CEO, Euro RSCG, One Young World) and Craig Davis (Publicis Mojo, Brand Karma), business moguls who argue that doing good is good business; Blake Mycoskie (TOMS), pioneer of the one-for-one movement; Mary Gordon (Roots of Empathy), founder of programs to teaching children empathy; organisational change architect Margot Cairnes, author The Moral Molecule and neuro-economist Dr Paul Zak, Roman Krznaric, cultural thinker and Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, or Meryl Streep, celebrities who speak out for a more empathic media culture. We’re also on the hunt for fresh-faced social revolutionaries to feature (see Become a Storyteller, below).
Our project is also informed by the ongoing work of acclaimed neuroscientist Dr. William Mobley, who is running a revolutionary research project to transform the brain’s capacity for empathy. We've been fortunate enough to be the first film crew to have access to this global pilot study from its inception. Could this research hold the key to restoring our empathy and transforming our world for the better?
MORE THAN JUST A FILM
But Stand In My Shoes is not just a film: it's an action cry and a platform for many voices on this topic--including yours. Here's how it'll work:
Become a Storyteller
We’ll be putting out a call to 500 filmmakers across the world to contribute to our unique online storytelling platform (currently in development). Storytellers will be asked to film interviews or stories about great acts of empathy in their own communities, and submit entries to us via the platform. Kurt Engfehr will be directing the action, giving filmmakers across the globe a chance to work with him. Kurt will also be handpicking ten stories for inclusion in the film!
Support a Storyteller
Backers directly support the work of our Storytellers.
For those who want to be a little more hands-on, we are offering the option to become Executive Producers. Executive Producers will indicate to Kurt which stories they’d prefer to see in the film by voting for their favorite Storytellers. Additionally, every time a backer becomes an Executive Producer, they will automatically appear on our online wall and receive a credit on our IMDB listing for the movie.
We want this journey to be rewarding for everyone, and so all backers also have access to some amazing incentives to participate, listed to the right.
Join us on a journey that could change the course of human history!
WHY SHOULD WE CARE?
What is empathy?
Empathy is the ability to identify with and/or feel another’s feelings. It is the act of imaginatively standing in another’s shoes and seeing the world through their eyes. It creates feelings of deep connectedness with others. Love can’t happen without it. Neither can justice or peace or any other kind of beneficial relationship. Empathy is the glue that holds us together. And in a world that encourages self interest and mindless consumption above all else, it’s a commodity in short supply.
What is the “empathy deficit”?
The term “empathy deficit” was first used by President Obama, who cautioned against the dangers of not identifying with or caring about others in a 2006 speech to University students. We use it to refer to a widespread shortfall of empathy in our culture, the evidence of which comes from this 2010 university study and the many stories we hear everyday: a grandmother bullied on a bus, a man denied health care in his hour of need, a politician pushing laws that will deny thousands vital assistance, a girl’s assault gone viral on YouTube, a company director turning a blind eye to workplace violations, and the homeless person you walked past in the street while updating your status.
What evidence do you have of the decline in empathy?
In 2010, the University of Michigan released the results of a study that revealed empathy levels in the West have declined over the past 30 years, with a particularly steep drop occurring during the last 10. Another study covering the same time period showed self-absorption has reached new heights, a development that is tied to our increasing inability and unwillingness to empathize with others. More recently, Professor Simon Baron Cohen’s 2011 book Zero Degrees of Empathy pinpoints empathic impairment as a serious condition underpinning maladaptive behaviours, which Baron Cohen has written extensively about in psychology and psychiatry journals.
What is a “social revolutionary”?
We coined the phrase “social revolutionary” to refer to individuals who are tackling some of our most pressing world problems from an empathic perspective. These extraordinary people are pioneers in the practice integrating empathy and compassion into their work. They are trendsetters for good.
Filmmaking is the ultimate empathy experiment, in a way, because it is a collaborative art form, and collaboration simply cannot happen without empathy. Since we're all about empathy and collaboration, we decided to open up the process to even more people and share our filmmaking journey from the funding stages all the way to the release stage. Kickstarter seemed like the best way to engage communities. So, here we are!
Our Kickstarter funding goal is $50K, but any additional amounts we raise will help us reach our full budget to support the film. For example, $150,000 would allow us to include special elements, such as more of your story suggestions in the film. It will help us collaborate with a greater number of creative minds. It will also help us campaign for an Oscar nomination against the Hollywood heavyweights.
Where does the money raised from Kickstarter go?
Funds raised on Kickstarter will immediately will be used to develop our online storytelling platform and to begin establishing production units in India, Australia and the US. These production units will immediately begin liaising with social entrepreneurs and filmmakers on the ground.
While this work is underway, we will continue to campaign to raise the additional budget to support the full year’s production. We are going to need a large team to manage an even larger global team (and to keep our Director sane in the process)!
Keep in mind that the sooner we raise funds, the earlier we can start!
Our plan is to start production in 2013, and to release the film at Sundance in January 2014. To stay in the know about the film's progress--and to receive news about special events and film activities--all of our supporters are encouraged to join our global Global Film Team Facebook Group.
- (60 days)