Film Review: ‘Scared Sacred’

I have finally got round to watching Velcrow Ripper’s award-winning documentary, ‘Scared Sacred’.  Against the backdrop of a world overwhelmed by turmoil and suffering, Ripper sets out on a unique, and often difficult, pilgrimage.  His task is to visit what he calls the ‘Ground Zeros’ of the planet, and in doing so, he poses the question – ‘is it possible to find hope in some of the darkest moments of human history?’

To answer his own very pertinent question, Ripper travels to the toxic wasteland of Bhopal, the minefields of Cambodia, war-torn and fear-ridden Afghanistan, New York in the aftermath of 9/11 and the ruined cityscapes of Bosnia.  He talks compassionately to the survivors of Hiroshima and gains insight from those who have suffered most in the Israel-Palestine conflict. This he does with consummate skill, resulting in a beautifully crafted and emotionally intense documentary which charts Ripper’s five-year sojourn to discover if wounded humanity can transform the ‘scared’ into the ‘sacred’.

The heroes of the film are the ‘ordinary’ people Ripper interviews; their humanity and bravery, and ultimately their profound insight into the sacred, is laid bare.

In Bhopal, Ripper meets an intensely brave woman who lost her husband and young son as a result of the Union Carbide disaster; he also talks with a young doctor who has sacrificed much to do all that he can to relieve the suffering of the poorest of the poor in the locality.

In Cambodia, Ripper meets a former child soldier who was forced to lay landmines for the Khmer Rouge, but who today wanders the jungles of his ravaged country with a simple wooden stick, decommissioning thousands of landmines in the process each year.

In the warring wasteland of Afghanistan, Ripper meets a Sufi musician who was banned by the Taleban from performing, or even listening to, music. Undaunted, the musician discovered a way out of his predicament – he filled his house with songbirds!  Ripper also meets with some incredibly brave and inspirational Afghani women who run illegal schools for girls and risk their own lives by protesting for greater rights in the streets of urban Afghanistan.

Sufi Musician (picture from

In post-9/11 New York, Ripper unearths stories of pain and conflict, but also hope and resilience.

Throughout this amazing journey, Ripper finds unforgettably poignant stories of survival, defiance and recovery.  Underpinning it all, is a message of hope, expressed in many different ways by people of different faith traditions – Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and Muslim.  A skilled film-maker, Ripper effortlessly weaves together stunning footage of evocative and inspirational stories with a beautifully diverse soundscape, thus making for a remarkable and unforgettable film. No doubt growing up as a Baha’i nurtured Ripper’s extraordinary spiritual sensitivity and his openness to people of faith, wherever they may be and however that faith may be expressed.

‘Scared Sacred’, although difficult to watch at times, is a film that exudes hope.  Even in the midst of incredible pain, hope shines powerfully through and always has the last word, no matter what the situation.  Compassion, that is, sharing and understanding the pain of others, is the binding motif that undergirds that sense of hope, as does the notion that although we cannot influence what happens to us, we can influence how we respond to it.

Watch this film.  It will uplift you and restore your faith. It will make you a more compassionate person.

For more information on the film, and the grassroots movement it has inspired, visit the ‘Scared Sacred’ website:

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