Unlocking Your Inner Mandala
By Tamara Vallejos
According to Redlands-based filmmaker Chris Pepino, part of the adventure of making movies is never knowing what project will come along next. That was certainly the case for his latest film, Inside the Perfect Circle, which chronicles the comeback of modern composer Joel Thome and receives a hometown screening Sunday at the Fox Theater in Redlands.
In this instance, Phish was the unexpected bridge to Thome. In 2009, Pepino had begun screening his documentary We Enjoy Yourself, about what was to have been the jam band’s final concert five years earlier. A mutual acquaintance—knowing Thome’s eclectic background, which included collaborations with Frank Zappa and Pablo Picasso, in addition to decades of respected work as an orchestra conductor—suggested Pepino send Thome a copy.
“I was nearby at the New Jersey Film Festival and he asked me to meet with him in New York that weekend,” says Pepino. “We had a really long conversation about his life and I found out he had a concert at the end of the month, his first after having had a really severe stroke many years earlier.”
The concert was a special performance at the Rubin Museum of Art that coincided with its exhibit of mandalas, intricately geometric pieces of art that emphasize concentric designs. In addition to holding spiritual relevance in Hinduism and Buddhism, mandalas have been looked to as a means of meditation and a way to unlock a person’s inner self. Following his stroke in 1998, which had left his left side paralyzed, Thome created a system of musical notation based on mandalas and the concert was his opportunity to perform from these unique scores.
The timing was perfect, and Pepino decided to stay in New York to shoot Thome’s rehearsals at the museum and to gather interview footage. The story moved him: a Grammy Award winner and Pulitzer Prize nominee suffers a stroke a decade earlier but uses music therapy to recover and return to performing.
“He spent four months in the hospital after the stroke, and it took him years to start working again,” says Pepino. “His message in general is very positive and encouraging, and I think that carries through to people.”
So far, the 60-minute film has only been publicly shown at five screenings, but audiences have been appreciative. Inside the Perfect Circle won Best Short Documentary Film at the New Jersey Film Festival and was a finalist for Most Inspirational Documentary at the DocMiami International Film Festival, ultimately taking home the Audience Award.
Now it’s time to bring the movie back to Redlands, where Pepino—a native of Connecticut—has lived ever since attending the University of Redlands in the late ’90s. Aside from being a chance for his friends to view Inside the Perfect Circle, the screening at the Fox Theater will serve as an all-important fundraiser, with a raffle featuring prizes donated by local businesses.
“I’ve financed the whole movie up to this point, and let’s just say it’s been a very expensive endeavor,” says Pepino, who is facing a hefty roadblock keeping him from distributing the film on DVD.
“There are news clips in the movie of Joel Thome over the years, and I found out that to license those from CNN and The Today Show would be in the range of $15,000. So I’m trying to raise the funds to pay those fees, so we can put this story out there.”
Inside the Perfect Circle at Fox Theater, 123 Cajon St., Redlands, (909) 792-3888; www.foxeventcenter.com. Jan. 29, 4PM. $15-40.