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Awakin Calls » Phil Borges

Phil Borges: Artist, Activist and Filmmaker
Apr 30, 2016: Viewing Mental Illness Through Other Lenses



Read: Call Transcript

Phil Borges is an artist, activist and filmmaker who uses photography and film for storytelling. For over twenty-five years he has been documenting indigenous and tribal cultures, striving to create an understanding of the challenges they face. His work is exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide and his award winning books, which have been published in four languages, include Enduring Spirit, Women Empowered, Tibetan Portrait, and Tibet: Culture on the Edge. He has hosted television documentaries on indigenous cultures for Discovery and National Geographic channels. Phil also lectures and teaches internationally. Phil’s recent project, CRAZYWISE, explores his lifelong interest in the relevance of Shamanic traditional practices and beliefs to those of us living in the modern See full.
Phil Borges is an artist, activist and filmmaker who uses photography and film for storytelling. For over twenty-five years he has been documenting indigenous and tribal cultures, striving to create an understanding of the challenges they face. His work is exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide and his award winning books, which have been published in four languages, include Enduring Spirit, Women Empowered, Tibetan Portrait, and Tibet: Culture on the Edge. He has hosted television documentaries on indigenous cultures for Discovery and National Geographic channels. Phil also lectures and teaches internationally.

Phil’s recent project, CRAZYWISE, explores his lifelong interest in the relevance of Shamanic traditional practices and beliefs to those of us living in the modern world. The documentary CRAZYWISE reveals a paradigm shift that’s challenging the way Western culture defines and treats “mental illness” and highlights a survivor-led movement demanding more choices from a mental health care system in crisis. The film explores cultural differences with respect to consciousness, mental health and the relevance of Shamanic traditional practices and beliefs to those of us living in the modern world. When a young person experiences a frightening break from reality, Western experts usually label it a “first-episode psychosis,” while many psychologists and indigenous cultures define it as a “spiritual awakening”.

In various indigenous cultures throughout the world, Phil has met individuals who enter non-ordinary states of consciousness to heal disease, predict or influence events, and guide their communities—the people we refer to as Shamans. “I found that almost every indigenous or tribal group I visited had these ‘Shaman’,” Phil has said. “What intrigued me the most was the majority had a similar story when I asked how they came into their unique role. Almost every one, from Thupten Ngodrup to the last Shaman I photographed and interviewed in Pakistan years later, had an episode in their teens or adolescence that would have been diagnosed as a psychotic episode or schizophrenia in my culture. Instead they were typically taken aside by an older shaman or grandparent and told they had a gift and taught how to manage their altered consciousness and become a valued member of their community. It is this dramatic cultural difference in the framing of a fairly common human experience that has led me to revisit and continue to explore shamanism, non-ordinary states of consciousness and psychotic episodes.”

Phil’s program Stirring the Fire uses film and photography to explore what he calls humanity’s “most universal human rights violation”—the discrimination and oppression of women and girls. Phil has produced several short documentaries, a book and an exhibition highlighting some of the extraordinary women worldwide who are breaking through gender barriers and conventions in order to enhance the well-being of their communities.

In 2000 Phil founded Bridges to Understanding, an online classroom program that connects youth worldwide through digital storytelling in order to enhance cross-cultural understanding and help build a sense of global citizenship in youth. He also co-founded Blue Earth Alliance, a nonprofit organization that sponsors photographic projects focusing on endangered cultures and threatened environments.

Phil has partnered with like-minded organizations that address social and cultural issues worldwide for the past 25 years. Working with NGO’s like Amnesty International, UN Women, CARE, and the International Campaign for Tibet he has managed to make a living while doing the work that is important to him.


Five Questions for Phil

What Makes You Come Alive?
Well-crafted storytelling and creating beauty.

Your Greatest Inspiration?
My greatest inspirations have always come from people I have met. With regards to my photography it was Ron Zak, a photography instructor who introduced me to the great portrait artists of the past and showed me how photography and storytelling could take me into worlds I would otherwise never visit. Personally, I was inspired by living with my spiritualist aunt following the death of my father when I was 7.

An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
When I was struggling as a high school freshman an algebra teacher went out of his way to stop me in the hall to let me know I was intelligent and had a special gift for math. It turned me around and all my grades went from D's and F's to A's and B's.

One Thing On Your Bucket List?
Building a home using only Rock, Steel and Wood for the basic structural elements.

One-line Message for the World?
It would be a Dalai Lama quote: "My religion is simple--I practice Kindness."


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