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A new film will celebrate the lives, friendship and insights of two of our time’s most revered spiritual leaders: Desmond Tutu and the 14th Dalai Lama

In April of 2015, Desmond Tutu, the Anglican Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, flew to Dharamsala, India to spend five days with his friend (and fellow Templeton Prize laureate) Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. Their recorded conversations — more than 23 hours worth — became the basis for the 2016 New York Times bestseller The Book of Joy, co-authored with Douglas Abrams. Now, Abrams, activist and film producer Peggy Callahan and Academy Award-winning director Louie Psihoyos, backed with funding including $500,000 from the John Templeton Foundation, are at work on Act Like a Holy Man, a feature-length documentary about Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama’s intersecting life stories and the lessons they have learned — often through suffering — about the nature of joy and happiness.

The film’s interlocking narrative arcs will trace the two men’s biographies interspersed by footage from their conversations in Dharamsala. Born in Klerksdorp, South Africa in 1931, Tutu gained renown as a minister, theologian, leader in South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, and driving force for the country’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Enthroned as spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhism at age four in 1940, the 14th Dalai Lama has lived as a refugee in India since he was exiled during the 1959 Tibetan Uprising. Since then, the Dalai Lama has been a global religious and political leader, advocating for the Tibetan people and pressing for the cause of nonviolence and religious harmony. Tutu was awarded the Templeton Prize in 2013; the Dalai Lama received the award in 2012. 

When he received the award, Tutu said: “What God intended for each of us is that we would be members of one human family. We are made for interdependence, made to live in an incredible dedicated web of interdependence. A world where I make up what is lacking in you and you make up what is lacking in me.”

Act Like a Holy Man will include animated segments overseen by Darla Anderson, who won an Academy Award producing films for Pixar. Exact details for the film’s distribution are still in process, but the producers hope to reach as many people as possible with the film. Plans are also in the works for five shorter films to be released online in conjunction with the feature film.

“It’s hard to think of two people who are better examples of courageous leadership and humble spirituality than Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama,” says Christopher Levenick, the John Templeton Foundation’s Director for Public Engagement. “It’s a treat to be able to see even glimpses of these two great friends in conversation, worship, and laughter. Act Like a Holy Man has the potential to bring their friendship, wisdom, and infectious joy to a worldwide audience.”

STILL CURIOUS?

Watch a teaser video for Act Like a Holy Man.

Learn more about the team behind the film, including Louie Psihoyos, Peggy Callahan, Douglas Abrams, Darla Anderson, and Regina K Scully.

Purchase a copy of The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World.

Learn more about Desmond Tutu and the 14th Dalai Lama at Templetonprize.org