Speaker: Steve Elkins

Seeing the Invisible: The Search for Stillness and Silence in the Digital Age

A blind man runs alone through Death Valley. Journalist Paul Salopek walks 21,000 miles across the world to retrace our ancestor's migration, manifesting “slow journalism”. Scientists try to detect dark matter in an abandoned 19th century iron mine in Minnesota. Ethiopian monks free climb up nearly vertical mountain cliffs to get to rock-hewn prayer caves. Science writer Anil Ananthaswamy seeks out the silent places on earth where "extreme physics" is being done both by cosmologists and monks. Photographer Rachel Sussman struggles to capture the oldest living organisms on the planet, while astronomers and physicists -- from the Atacama Desert in Chile to the Hadron Supercollider on the Swiss/French border -- attempt to penetrate the furthest depths of space and time.

These ambitious explorers journeying to the Earth's furthest reaches – seeking in part to uncover their deepest inner reaches – are connected by a tireless search to touch the deep silence of the human heart in a world of noise and division. Such are among the mosaic of profound quests interwoven in the film, Echoes of the Invisible, a stunning new documentary that is as much a meditation and prayer as it is a film. It is that rare kind of viewing experience that has the capacity to penetrate to the core of our being and find resonance in a wordless place within.

Echoes of the Invisible manifests Director Steve Elkins’ vision of turning his lens onto explorers who are pushing the human body and technology beyond known limits in the most extreme environments on Earth to find the connective tissue between all things, seen and unseen. “Slowing down enough … to see something that was previously invisible … is what connects all of the people in the film,” Elkin says. “Stillness and silence allow us to see things that were previously invisible, regardless of your walk of life.”

The film (see teaser) was ten years in the making. It has its theatrical premiere in Southern California on July 1, 2021, and is also available for streaming. It premiered at SXSW 2020 and received, despite the festival’s cancellation due to the coronavirus pandemic, the ZEISS Cinematography Award for “the very best imagery in storytelling.” The film, according to Elkins, is “about people devoting their lives to studying either the largest imaginable things or the smallest imaginable things. It contrasts people using either the most expensive and complicated technology we can build, or their own bodies, to observe things at these scales. It’s about the seemingly mundane daily rituals and habits we create for ourselves that actually affect how we perceive the world, and also what we don’t see.” Elkins aims for the audience to “experience a gradual shift in perspective, in which the extraordinary people in this film eventually become perceived not so much as exceptional individuals, but as mirror reflections of each viewer and what they already carry within them.”

Elkins’ previous feature documentary, “The Reach of Resonance” (2010), won the prize for “Best Film Essay” at Montreal’s International Festival of Films On Art. The Reach of Resonance juxtaposed the creative paths of four musicians cultivating a deeper sensitivity to the world around them by searching for music in plants, riots, insects, sports, fences, military technology, the U.S./Mexico border, the northern lights, and other unlikely places.

Steve Elkins has spent most of his adult life as a musician and filmmaker of ambitious globe-spanning documentaries, including an eclectic background as a private investigator, Venetian gondolier and touring musician. His photography, music and documentary filmmaking have been presented in over 20 countries via television, radio, film festivals, universities and art galleries, including a permanent exhibition of his work with Western Arrernte Aborigines at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. Elkins’ account of being asked to lead a riot in the largest slum of India, The Grammar Of Fire, was published by Ad Astra Books in 2007.

Elkins also serves as a film production mentor for at-risk youth in southern California public schools, through the Youth Cinema Project founded by Edward James Olmos. A passion for rare and under-appreciated cinema from countries typically excluded from film history led Elkins to found the Hibbleton Film Series, where he introduces and moderates community discussion about cinema from regions such as Iran, Mongolia, Mali, Uruguay, Kazakhstan, Tunisia and El Salvador.

Join us for a special dialogue with the director of Echoes of the Invisible, Steve Elkins, and other extraordinary voices from the film. 

Linda Hess

Linda Hess

Mar 30, 2019

Devotion to a Truth Beyond Form

Lorenz Knauer

Lorenz Knauer

Oct 12, 2019

Overcoming Transgenerational Personal and Collective Trauma

David Rothenberg

David Rothenberg

Feb 25, 2023

An Interspecies Musician Making Nature and Science Come Alive Through Art