Interview with Michael Franti Film Staying Human opens Byron Film Festival

Franti’s Staying Human opens Byron Film Festival

Byron Film Festival | Byron Centre | 12 October | 6.45pm | $80

Franti’s Staying Human opens Byron Film Festival

I have a confession. Unlike most people in our region I’ve never been a Franti fan. I couldn’t tell whether the social consciousness was real, or it was just part of the show.

I guess that’s my cynicism. Well, my cynicism took a back seat watching Franti’s latest film Stay Human. It was impossible not to be moved and to completely change my view.

The passion Franti feels for the human condition is very real. As is his call for change. But in this film it’s not a rebel yell from the stage. It’s quiet. Sad even.

This is not a film about a musician with a big career talking to famous people changing the world. This is a film where a weary man finds hope in the stories of very ordinary people: the key message being ‘Stay Human’, hence the film’s title. It is a film about those of us engaged in our small struggles, about the importance of our resilience, and about how powerful our ordinary lives are. In one film I became a late-life Franti fan. Yes, I even cried. It’s so moving it’s impossible not to. Even for cynics like me.

This film traverses the globe, with stories from Africa, Bali, and in the US, but the feel is intimate, as Franti takes us into his own story to explain where he’s come from and who he is. It’s very raw, and it’s powerful to see a public figure let the mask drop.

‘I realised if I wanted to share how to inspire people,’ says Franti from the US, ‘I had to share my own personal journey. I have battled depression and anxiety in my life – being brought up in a mixed-race mixed-sexuality family and a family that is not emotionally expressive. Growing up it led to my having this great desire to express myself – but there is still a part of me that wakes up that goes this world is fucked. What is the point. Nothing can change.’

The deep cynicism that Franti expresses in the film and in our interview is what really makes me like him. He gets it. It’s not just blind optimism, it’s something more powerful than that. It’s optimism forged in the furnace of despair.

Feeling that when it comes to change all hope is lost is something that has dogged Franti for years.

‘I feel like every day I have made 30 years of music that was trying to inspire and bring about social change and the planet and speak to the dignity of people, and yet the world is so messed up. I thought the world is so messed up and then I meet people who inspire me. Every little bit counts, and it all adds up, every little bit, to be our authentic selves, to be who we are with all our hidden scars, and show them.’

Stay Human has won an array of awards while on the festival circuit, including the RWJ Barnabas Health Award at the 2018 Asbury Park Music & Film Festival, the Audience Award at the 2018 Nashville Film Festival, the Audience Award and the Voice for Humanity Award at the 2018 ILLUMINATE Film Festival, and the Soul in Cinema Award at the 2018 Maui Film Festival. The film will continue to screen at film festivals this winter, including upcoming public screenings at the Woodstock Film Festival in Woodstock, NY, and the Mill Valley Film Festival in San Rafael, California. That’s a lot of accolades for the quiet stories of a midwife in Bali, two young people from South Africa, and an American couple who are dealing with the husband’s debilitating illness.

‘The stories aren’t about huge extraordinary things,’ says Franti. ‘They are people doing everyday things overcoming their circumstances, like the rapper in South Africa who lives in a tin shack and who puts himself through university studying by a kero light because he believes he can inspire his community. Or Robin Lim, who travels through Bali and Indonesia to deliver babies safely. And Hope and Steve. Steve has advanced stages of ALS (also known as motor neurone disease) and the way they stay together and nurture each other, and to see their love story… those are the things that get you up in the morning. It’s people’s tenacity.’

These stories are reminders of our simple human potency in world where most people feel constantly disempowered by the constant messaging that they are not enough.

‘That is what I feel so much of the time,’ says Franti, ‘this sense of inadequacy. I am not cool enough, my music is not enough, we are not enough, we are constantly trying to fill that up. The reality is that all of us are what we search for, and if we look for love we find it. The film is about my personal journey trying to retune the way I view life.’

One thing spectacularly absent in this film about hope and humanity is Donald Trump. It was a conscious choice for Franti, who has taken a view that I believe is the only way to silence the monster: don’t give it any air.

‘It was one of the things I struggled with making this film; the giant spectre that is covering everything in our lives is Trump. I didn’t even mention him in the film, and that was by choice. The film was about how each of us can find the humanity in ourselves; that is bigger than Trump. Everyone of us has this 10 per cent that is dark and it’s fearful. If you fan that side of yourself you can turn any person into a mean distrusting person, you turn everyday ordinary people into hate mongering (like Hitler did) if you tell people they have meaning; you can take someone who is teetering on the edge and turn them into an amazing full human again. That was the message of the film: it’s stay human – let’s do it, now is the time.

‘We need to turn our empathy into action.’

Stay Human is without a doubt one of the most extraordinarily simple and beautiful documentary films I have seen. It’s the kind of empathy revolution we can all be part of.

Please make sure you see this very important little film screening for opening night for the Byron Film Festival at the Byron Centre on Friday. Check the full program for all screenings over 12–21 October at



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