ASU’s Project Humanities, with funding from the Arizona Humanities, is bringing critically acclaimed filmmaker John Scheinfeld to Tempe for an exclusive sneak preview of his new documentary, “I Hope You Dance: The Power and Spirit of Song.”
The 95-minute film features interviews with poet Maya Angelou, pastor Joel Osteen and artists/songwriters Brian Wilson, Graham Nash, Vince Gill and Lee Ann Womack. It’s the first film of its kind to explore how one extraordinary song — Womack’s 2000 Grammy winner “I Hope You Dance” — has changed people’s lives. The tune has become a message of hope, self-empowerment and joy to millions. It has also become an anthem for high school graduations, weddings and other life milestones.
Project Humanities will host a free screening and discussion with Scheinfeld, who wrote, produced and directed the film, and will be joined by Dawn Shires of Lodestar Day Resource Center, a local homeless shelter featured in the film.
Scheinfeld spoke to GetOut from his production office in Los Angeles in this exclusive interview.
Q: ‘I Hope You Dance’ is a special song, which you now have turned into a full-length documentary. What does the song mean to you?
JS: To me, ‘I Hope You Dance’ is an extraordinary song. It does not tell a story like many country songs, but it is overflowing with hope, faith, optimism and chasing your dreams. In this song, people can see their own story, and that to me is what makes it such a remarkable piece of music.
Q: What is the concept of your documentary?
JS: The film contains five true stories of real people whose lives were dramatically transformed by the song. This is something where there was a serious issue in their life, and the song came to them at just the right moment to help pave the way for a dramatic transformation. That’s what we are celebrating in this film — the power of song to impact people’s lives.
Q: The musical luminaries who participated in this film are amazing. Who was especially memorable to you?
JS: As our ‘experts’ in our film, we reached out to legendary songwriters who have touched the world with their own music and know what’s involved in creating a song and then watching how it impacts the world after they let it go.
We spoke to Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills and Nash and The Hollies. He is an amazing guy — so not like a rock star. He is smart. He is self-deprecating and extraordinarily eloquent. He was able to touch on many of the themes tackled in the film, as well as what it takes — and what it means — to write a piece of music that moves people in a significant way.
Then we reached out to Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, who has written an enormous catalog of great songs that continues to inspire. Brian has had his own challenges in life, and he talks very emotionally and personally about how music has impacted him through those challenges and what it is like for him to have turned around and written a piece of music like ‘God Only Knows’ and other wonderful songs, and how that has impacted people.
Because ‘I Hope You Dance’ started life as a country song, I reached out to Vince Gill. He’s very much like Graham Nash. Regular guy. Came down and talked to the crew, talked to me. He and his wife had soda and donuts for everybody, and he was just cool. He brought a different perspective to everything. He’s played on and written songs that have really moved people emotionally, but he also knows the songwriters of ‘I Hope You Dance’ and the singer, Lee Ann Womack. Vince was able to bring a very personal take on the impact of the song and added a very nice dimension to the film.
I always like to have an unexpected choice in my films, and in this case it was Dr. Maya Angelou. One would not necessarily think of her in regards to a subject like this, but it turns out that ‘I Hope You Dance’ is one of her favorite songs. It moved her deeply when she first heard it, and she has continued to sing its praises ever since. She is so articulate and eloquent on the subject of the human condition and on this song. She added so much to this film.
Lastly, I wanted to tap into somebody in the field of faith and the faith that comes with being optimistic and hopeful. We went to Houston and interviewed pastor Joel Osteen. Again, he offered an entirely different and unique perspective on the power of music, song and faith, and how they all interconnect.
Among all of these amazing individuals, I can’t say that I had a favorite. What I can say is that we felt really fortunate that they agreed to be in the film and continue to be supportive of it.
Q: You shot a segment of the film here in Phoenix. Why?
JS: One of the reasons why we’re so excited about coming to ASU to do a sneak preview is the local connection.
When I set out to make this film, we cast a very wide net to search for potential stories. I must have looked at 50 stories from around the country, and one that really touched me was about a dance program for homeless people at a facility called Lodestar Day Resource Center.
The skills that are needed to perform well in ballroom dancing are also the skills that can be applied to life ... in this class, someone can develop skills that can help get them off of the street. I thought that was very special.
We spent about four days shooting there, and there’s a woman named Shannon who became the subject of the story in this film.... People who come and see the film will be as touched as I was by Shannon’s story and the wonderful work done at Lodestar.
Q: What is your hope for people who see the film?
JS: With this film I really wanted to be in a positive, feel-good space. I want people to come away from seeing ‘I Hope You Dance: The Power and Spirit of Song’ (feeling) really inspired — inspired by other people’s stories, overcoming the obstacles in their lives to lead a better life, but also inspired to find the strength within themselves to overcome their obstacles, chase their dreams and live their best lives.
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