Movie Review: 'The Birth of Innocence' | Film | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Movie Review: 'The Birth of Innocence'


Published October 3, 2022 at 11:56 a.m.
Updated October 5, 2022 at 10:06 a.m.

Still from 'The Birth of Inoocence' - COURTESY OF HORACE WILLIAMS
  • Courtesy of Horace Williams
  • Still from 'The Birth of Inoocence'
Remember those early days of the pandemic when the world seemed to screech to a standstill? The world was … quiet. You could hear yourself think.

If you had the privilege, what did you do with that quiet time? Make bread? Go for long walks? Take up a new hobby or craft? Meditate? Question your existence? Question capitalism? All of the above?

Vermont-made film The Birth of Innocence is aimed directly at the people who, like U2, still haven’t found what they’re looking for. As the documentary points out, that’s most likely because they’re looking in the wrong places — such as U2 song lyrics — and end up going through the motions of what society expects of them. That means lining up, sitting in rows at school and work (and movie theaters), and, when they die, being buried in rows.

Close to two decades after it was conceived, The Birth of Innocence is currently on a limited run of movie theaters throughout the state. Available on multiple streaming services, it’s won awards at 11 film festivals around the globe, including a nod for best director and top honors as an experimental film.

The Birth of Innocence, directed by Malcolm H. “Mac” Parker and produced by Horace Williams, is not your typical movie.
The experimental film opens with a black screen and ends with one. In between, the viewer experiences an hour of meditative musings, affirmations and beautiful imagery from nature: nebulae and other parts of our vast universe (thanks, NASA!), sweeping views of various Vermont lakes and mountains, the requisite butterfly hatching from a chrysalis (because metaphor) and more. The narration at times verges on clichéd affirmations and saccharine language masquerading as spiritual prompts. I said verges.

The film is partially narrated by Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom and a spiritual teacher who’s been featured on “Super Soul Sunday” with Oprah Winfrey. Ruiz is the voice of “human experience,” while Vanya Vermani is the childlike “voice of stillness,” which is heard early in the film and again toward the end.

Ruiz leads filmgoers through a series of questions and challenges centered on how we’ve lost touch with our inner creative spirit, our “source” and our desire to keep learning throughout life. “We have grown arrogant,” he observes. “We insist we know all there is to know.”

Still from 'The Birth of Inoocence' - COURTESY OF HORACE WILLIAMS
  • Courtesy of Horace Williams
  • Still from 'The Birth of Inoocence'
The film doesn’t pretend to know the answers. Thankfully, it doesn’t espouse any single spiritual denomination, nor does it try to sell the viewer on a meditative practice or wellness product. It also doesn’t appropriate other cultures’ approaches to enlightenment or meaningful spiritual connection and repackage them for white audiences.

Rather, The Birth of Innocence is about learning to unlearn that which holds us back and keeps us from embracing an inner self that has always been there and always will be. It’s been with us since birth, the film tells us.

That’s perhaps why another “Super Soul Sunday” featured guest, Brother David Steindl-Rast, a world-renowned author, scholar and Benedictine monk, is one of the film’s many fans. His blurb of support was read aloud ahead of the film’s recent screening at Essex Cinemas.

“We live in a time when everything seems to fall apart because the center will not hold,” the statement reads, echoing the famous line from William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming.”

“But the film has exactly the opposite message. The film shows us how in nature everything is connected,” Steindl-Rast continues. “Just allow the quiet impact to lead you to that deep inner quiet and peace that unites all of us.”

As someone who has studied and appreciates poetry, has used meditation and long walks in nature to quiet my brain as part of my sobriety, and is open to the spiritual journey of others, I did my best to heed Steindl-Rast’s advice.
But while the film urges you, if not compels you, to slow down, I found my mind racing to spot the meaning in the ever-changing images — it’s a chrysalis! It’s snow! It’s a star-birthing nebula! We’re back on Earth with someone standing in a field! — and connect them to a syrupy script that includes such borderline clichéd lines as “Are you looking for me? … I’ve always been here … Find me.”
Still from 'The Birth of Inoocence' - COURTESY OF HORACE WILLIAMS
  • Courtesy of Horace Williams
  • Still from 'The Birth of Inoocence'
The film doesn’t always hold together, in terms of a visual or narrative arc. But I think people will see The Birth of Innocence more for its experience and tone than for some gift-wrapped, soul-searching aha moment.

Don’t get me wrong: The core message of the film is welcome in a world that is both on fire and drowning thanks to ever-present late-stage capitalism. In these inhospitable conditions, many of us still yearn for a life with purpose, joy and connection.

The film speaks strongly to that desire, as was evident from the comments of several of the roughly dozen folks at the showing I attended.

A friend of Williams’, Tony Federico, greeted the audience before the screening, shared Steindl-Rast’s praise and held an impromptu discussion session afterward. Some of the audience members identified themselves as investors in the film, of which there have been many over the years. Attendees praised The Birth of Innocence for its photography and message and for bringing to life, as Federico put it, “the deep sense of quiet that connects us all.”

Its name aside, the film’s provenance is anything but innocent. The Birth of Innocence has been the subject of lawsuits and media scrutiny — largely centered on the $28 million investment fraud scheme perpetrated by Parker and a Connecticut-based chiropractor-cum-spiritual-guru named Lou Soteriou. Both were charged in 2012; Parker received a four-plus-year prison sentence, while Soteriou received a seven-year sentence.
Despite the baggage his name carries, Parker is still listed as the film’s director, even though Williams said he has not seen this final version. The force behind the movie in its complete form appears to be Williams, whom Parker hired in the early 2000s to help bring the original idea to fruition. After legal tussles with Parker and others, Williams secured the sole copyright to what would become the finished film.

By Williams’ own account, he was never part of Parker and Soteriou’s schemes and was, at times, the sole person working on finding ways legally to complete the film. He describes himself as having toiled for more than a decade, with support from a handful of the film’s original investors — all of whom are thanked in the closing credits — to keep alive a project that they believe contains an important spiritual message for our time. (The film was also a means for the group to recoup some of their investments.)

As Williams told Seven Days in an interview before the Essex screening, “All of us need a reminder occasionally that we are mystical and have a reason to be here. That’s a valuable experience to bring to the public.”

It’s also a difficult experience to create in a film.

The Birth of Innocence plays Monday through Thursday, October 3 through 6, 6:30 p.m., at Bijou Cineplex 4 in Morrisville; and Wednesday, October 5, 6:30 p.m., at Springfield Cinemas 3. For more showtimes, visit