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Filmmaker's videos show the underlying bonds of humanity

Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee takes a lesson from his jazz background to make films about 'oneness.' Then he distributes them for free.

By Paul Van Slambrouck/ Contributor / March 1, 2010

Filmmaker and jazz bass player Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee in San Rafael, Calif. He has been traveling around the world to make a feature-length film about water.

Paul Van Slambrouck


Point Reyes Station, Calif.

Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee discovered the power of "oneness" in jazz music. An accomplished bass player who was performing and teaching jazz by his mid-20s, he recalls with reverence those rare moments when an ensemble melds into something special that transcends the skills of the individual players.

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For the past five years, Mr. Vaughan-Lee has put that concept of "oneness" into practice on a larger scale: The musician has become a filmmaker. He has traveled the world producing short films that, while honoring diversity, seek to demonstrate the underlying bonds of humanity. His Global Oneness Project was born in 2005, which just happened to position it perfectly for the explosion of video on the Web.

Supported by the Kalliopeia Foundation, Global Oneness has produced 27 films, ranging in length from three to 30 minutes. The topics range from an Australian aboriginal elder of the Yankunytjatjara nation explaining the unity of Earth and man to a middle-aged woman in Ecuador who has brought gang members into community service.

Some of the films are simple interviews. Others are more elaborate, with multiple characters and images that provide context. Laced through all of them is a theme of individuals who have committed their lives to connecting people, often to help solve chronic problems.

Films that give viewers a "how to" list of what to do about a particular problem sometimes irritate Vaughan-Lee. "Telling people what to do is missing the point," he says. Global Oneness is meant to inspire people to decide for themselves what steps make sense.

All of the Global Oneness films are available free of charge, shipped to anyone, anywhere in the world. All that is required is a commitment to "pay it forward" and share the DVD with at least 10 people. The DVDs are accompanied by a guide meant to help start a group discussion. Vaughan-Lee often receives e-mails of gratitude.

"Thanks so much for the DVD and the chance to show it here in New Zealand," enthused one recipient early last year. "The film night was a SUCCESS!!!! Full house (seated 85 and had to get out the bean bags and couches to fit extra people on the floor.)" The showing generated funds for a local tree-planting effort, and a later showing at a community theater acted as a fundraiser for a playground shed.

Sometimes a Global Oneness film brings support to its subject. Bob Stilger of the Berkana Institute in Spokane, Wash., recalls receiving an excited e-mail from Dorah Lebelo of the GreenHouse Project in South Africa. Berkana had worked with the project, and it had been featured in a Global Oneness film. "She said someone had called her, and they had seen the video," Mr. Stilger recalls. "They wanted to know how soon they could meet because they wanted to make a sizable contribution."