Defiant. Eclectic. Inventive.
Original Thinkers are the brilliant outliers willing to upend the status quo to build a world that works for everyone.
Show 1: A Tortoise’s Journey
Rich Roll is a living testament to the power of personal transformation. At age 40, having overcome an addiction to alcohol that almost completely derailed his life, he found himself out of shape, overweight and in need of a major change in lifestyle. He switched to a 100% plant-based diet, lost 50 pounds and soon shocked the endurance world by achieving top finishes in grueling endurance races like the Ultraman World Championships, while garnering praise as one of the "25 Fittest Men in the World".
Roll now dedicates his life to exploring human potential with insight gleaned from top performers in worlds of ultra-endurance, wellness, business, culture and others. He shares these lessons of personal empowerment across his #1 best-selling memoir, a cookbook, speaking engagements and the wildly popular "Rich Roll Podcast".
At seventeen years old, Ruthie Lindsey was hit by an ambulance. The accident broke her neck and she was given a 5% chance of survival and a 1% chance of walking again. She beat the odds and left the accident behind her but seven years later, something changed and she became riddled with debilitating chronic pain. This left her bedridden for seven years. At the precipice of total breakdown, she decided to give up narcotics and choose life.
Lindsey’s extraordinary story urges us to unlearn the limiting stories of brokenness that we tell ourselves and embrace the wholeness, joy, and healing that lives inside all of us.
Ruthie Lindsey is a Nashville based speaker, traveling the world sharing her story of hope and healing. She is co-host of The Unspoken Podcast and is currently writing her memoir There I Am, The Journey From Hopelessness To Healing which will be published by Simon and Schuster in spring 2020.
Show 2: Humanity Endures
Yael Lavie is an Emmy-winning television producer and senior editor who worked for ABC News network for 14 years before returning to her home country of Israel to work for Sky News.
Joshua Seftel is a filmmaker who has worked in documentary, and fiction and has contributed his essays to NPR, This American Life and CBS Sunday Morning. His new series, Secret Lives of Muslims is working to build bridges between Jews and Muslims in the U.S. and will be part of the Humanity Endures show at Original Thinkers.
Orlando von Einsiedel
Orlando von Einsiedel’s work takes him to some dark and difficult places but as he says, “I try to capture stories of hope from places that appear to be without any.” That’s work includes THE WHITE HELMETS, which follows the lives of a group of heroic Syrian civilian rescue workers that won an Oscar in 2016. Other films include the riveting conservation thriller, VIRUNGA and EVELYN, a deeply personal story about the loss of his brother to suicide. At Original Thinkers, he will be screening a series of shorts that he made with National Geographic, including the unforgettable Lost and Found, which will be a part of the Humanity Endures show.
Ten days after 9/11, Rais Bhuiyan was working behind the counter in a Dallas gas station when a white supremacist named Mark Stroman entered with the intent to “kill Muslims.” Stroman pointed a shotgun at Bhuiyan’s face, and pulled the trigger. Miraculously, Bhuiyan survived, though he lost sight in one eye, and carries shrapnel in his face to this day. We are excited to have him this year in Turning Hate into Love, so he can explain the epiphany that led him to not only forgive Stroman, but also fight to save the man’s life as he sat on death row. Bhuiyan currently heads the organization, World Without Hate.
Richard “Mac” McKinney
After 25 years as a Marine in the armed services, and several tours in the Middle East, Richard "Mac" McKinney came back to the U.S. filled with rage toward Muslims. In what he viewed as a final mission for his country, McKinney planned to blow up the mosque in his Indiana hometown. It was a fateful trip to that mosque -- where he was welcomed by the local Muslim community -- that changed the course of his life. In Turning Hate into Love, McKinney is going to tell us how he not only became a Muslim, but the leader of that very same mosque.
Show 3: Mother Of All Issues
Aniya Windgate is a teenager who was displaced from her grandmother’s home during Hurricane Harvey and processed that trauma through a riveting dance performance that captures both the pain and perseverance of the experience. She is also the subject of a feature-length documentary about this that is a work-in-progress called Raising Aniya and will contribute to the Mother of All Issues show.
In 2010, scientist Lauren E. Oakes headed down a dark road to understand the mass die-off of yellow cedar trees on the outer coast of Southeast Alaska. Immersed in a deeper and broader story of adaptation of both people and the forest, she wrote a book In Search of the Canary Tree that captures this experience with insight, context and hope. She will speak in the Mother of All Issues show about what her scientific inquiry into the yellow cedar taught her about humanity.
Thimali Kodikara hails from London but has lived in Brooklyn, where she produces the Doc Society’s groundbreaking podcast, Mothers Of Invention, which explores feminist solutions to climate change from around the world. She has also worked at Getty Images and Christie’s but now really focuses on understanding how women around the world are grappling with the dramatically heating planet, having talked to so many who are on the front lines of the fast-moving climate crisis.
Tatiana Schlossberg is a climate change and environmental journalist whose first book, "Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have," comes out in August. She previously reported on those subjects for the Science and Climate sections at the New York Times. As a part of our Climate Change show, Schlossberg will explain and explore the everyday environmental impacts of all of our stuff -- food, fashion, technology and transportation -- from how much energy it takes to stream videos to the way polyester shirts contribute to ocean pollution. “In the name of convenience or immediate gratification or profit, we’ve created a world where we use resources because we can, with little attention paid to our waste and the problems it creates.” There’s humor and hope in her writing, an attitude that will bring life to the OT stage with entertainingly brutal and factual honesty.
Show 4: What Does Music Really Do To Us?
Sarfraz Manzoor was born in Pakistan but grew up in Margaret Thatcher’s England, which provided a variety of challenges for a young, alienated teenager until he found the music of Bruce Springsteen. Manzoor will speak at Original Thinkers as part of our show, What Does Music Really Do to Us? about the impact of the Boss’s music on his once wayward life. He will draw from his memoir, Greetings from Bury Park, as well as a new feature film he wrote called Blinded by the Light, which was a sensation at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
If it wasn’t for an injury during a baseball game when he was 13, Bhi Bhiman might have had a very different life but during his convalescence, he discovered the guitar, which set him on a path to becoming a musician. With his latest album Peace of Mind, he set out to not only make music but make a statement with the work, recording it as a podcast and interviewing notable guests along the way, delving into the issues of our time in an entirely new way. He will speak - and perform - about that experience as part of the show, What Does Music Really Do to Us?
Joshua “Classic Roots” DePerry
Joshua “Classic Roots” DePerry is a DJ who is creating a new sound that mixes First Nations beats and music into his own electronic compositions. He is also the star of Turning Tables, which will screen in Show 4, What Does Music Really Do to Us?
A documentary filmmaker based in Toronto, Chrisann Hessing focuses her work on questions of identity, particularly looking for stories that upend cultural and societal expectations. She directed Turning Tables, which screens in Show 4, What Does Music Really Do to Us?
Show 5: Unburying Shame
Dr. Halleh Seddighzadeh
An expert in how to treat victims of human trafficking, Dr. Halleh Seddighzadeh is an internationally-known forensic traumatologist who consults with governments, corporations and other entities on how to combat this scourge. She is based in Las Vegas, which has a high concentration of victims, yet a low number of mental health professionals and will speak at Show 5, Unburying Shame.
Stanley Stellar has seen history unfold through his camera lens, focusing on the story of gay men, mostly in New York, over more than four decades. In that time, there has been an enormous shift in culture as these communities have emerged from the shadows and proudly into the streets, something that has been captured by Stellar. He is also the subject of the short documentary, Stanley Stellar: Here for This Reason, which tells his unique story and will be part of Show 5, Unburying Shame.
Washington - Moscow - Johannesburg - Rio - London - for the past two decades Keme Nzerem has reported around the globe for British network TV on issues from corruption, politics, and human rights - to sport. His focus is always on people, and how global events impact the lives of ordinary folk.
Dana Marie Schubart hails from upstate New York and is a survivor of childhood trauma, domestic violence and family offense. She believes we cannot break these pernicious cycles and begin to heal without exposing the truths of our stories. Her life's work is focused on sharing her own story of resilience and perseverance, which she will contribute to the Unburying Shame show along with photographer Brenda Ann Kenneally who captured Schubart’s challenging and complicated life in her landmark book, Upstate Girls.
Brenda Ann Kenneally
Over the past thirty years, Pulitzer Prize Nominee Brenda Ann Kenneally’s immersive journalism has produced visceral portraits of poor and low-income children in America. As a part of Unburying Shame at OT, she will unpack the experience of her childhood in upstate New York and years spent reporting on the current generation of Upstate Girls, the title of her most recent book. She will speak to the power of art to create expanded family, recounting decades of living alongside her subjects. It was Kenneally’s need to share what she had learned that led her to form A Little Creative Class, Inc. The non-profit arts organization's mission is to address the social and economic obstacles that deter poor and low-income youth from participating in the emerging idea-based economy.
Eric Leven is an activist and filmmaker living in New York City. His career covers the spectrum of documentaries, reality television, celebrity content and branded video. His documentary, Truvada Revolution, won the 2016 GLAAD Award for Outstanding Journalism on a Multimedia Platform. He is currently Senior Producer of Digital Video for VICE Media.
Show 6: Change is Hard
Smriti Mundhra is an award-winning filmmaker who was on DOC NYC’s 40 Under 40 Filmmakers to Watch and her latest film is St. Louis Superman, which has been acquired by MTV and will be part of Show 6, Change is Hard.
Bruce Franks Jr.
Bruce Franks Jr has an unusual resume for a State Representative. Hailing from Missouri, he is a community activist and battle rapper, whose tireless work on crime, guns and encouraging minorities to become police officers is starting to result in success. Inspired to run for office by what happened in Ferguson, Franks is also the star of the evocative documentary St. Louis Superman and will participate in the show, Change is Hard.
Sami has made several films, including the short documentary, St. Louis Superman, which has been acquired by MTV and will be part of Show 6, Change is Hard.
Bonnie Siegler is a hugely accomplished graphic designer whose book, Signs of Resistance, A Visual History of Protest in America, looks at more than two centuries of protest art and design. At Original Thinkers, in our Change is Hard show, she will be talking about the real impact of art and visual imagery. An expert on art catalyzed by times of strife, Siegler describes vacillating “back and forth between rage and hope” in her work, resulting in a unique outlook on the power of gathering with a common cause. Siegler’s multi-disciplinary design studio Eight and a Half (http://8point5.com) has worked with an array of esteemed clients, and she was voted one of the 50 most influential designers working today by Graphic Design USA. Check out some of her work on her insta page: @Bonnie8point5.
JC Redon is a chef from Mexico City who specializes in integrating a vital, high-protein, low carbon footprint source of food into our meals: bugs. Worms, ants, crickets, grasshoppers and other creepy crawlies are all part of his menu and his bold - and delicious - meals are certainly part of the future (if not, the present) of food on this planet. He will contribute both words - and snacks - to the program Change is Hard, explaining the challenges he faces trying to get people to eat something that we are naturally repelled by. Check out his gallery for more.
Dr. Aaron Belkin is a scholar who, since 1999, has served as founding director of the LGBT advocacy organization, the Palm Center. His 2011 public education campaign was responsible for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. As the architect and implementer of a groundbreaking shift in American military policy, Belkin will share what he learned about advocacy in our show, Change is Hard. His transformative work can be found in his book, How We Won: Progressive Lessons from the Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. Arianna Huffington called the book a “best practices guide for civil rights fights.”
Ramy Essam is a rocker, an agitator, and a force of nature live on stage. With a guitar in hand, Essam has been one of the loudest voices for Egypt’s struggle for a progressive society. He will sing and speak about using his talent to lead a revolution in our Change is Hard show, including his most notable song, Irhal. He performed it at the height of the Egyptian Revolution, demanding for the resignation of then-ruler Hosni Mubarak. Time Out has it listed as the #3 Song that changed history. “My cause is humanity and freedom and human rights. It’s very simple”. Essam experienced brutal torture and arrests intended to silence his voice because of his participation in the movement. His songs were banned and he was forbidden to perform publicly in Egypt. Undeterred, he eventually found safe haven in Sweden, and continues to perform today.
Show 7: Unearthing Culture
Studio Chromasonic was founded by visual artist Johannes Girardoni and sound artists Orpheo McCord and Joel Shearer to create immersive, multi-disciplinary works that inspire deep mindfulness and real human connection. Girardoni has exhibited worldwide, including the Venice Bienalle, while McCord’s percussive interests have taken him around the world in search of the next beat and Shearer has been pushing the creative envelope in ambient music. Both men also perform with the wildly dynamic band, Ed Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes as well. In Telluride, Chromasonic will present their mind-bending new work at the Deep Creek mine, which will be an unforgettable experience.
Nic Brierre Aziz is an interdisciplinary artist and curator at the New Orleans Museum of Art, who performs his art live. He is one of our featured artists in Creating Culture, the show that will take place in the vast abandoned mine above Telluride. A wildly creative mind, Aziz uses his art to engage with community issues and traumas, most notably posing as Rodin’s The Thinker on top of confederate statues. He is an artist-activist changemaker that will show the OT audience how he utilizes our personal and collective histories to reimagine the future.
Show 9: The Character of Our Country
Deborah and James Fallows
For nearly four years, husband and wife journalists Deborah and James Fallows piloted their single-engine propeller plane to small and mid-size towns in America, reporting on innovation of all sorts, which resulted in a national best-selling 2018 book called Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America. As part of the Character of Our Country show, they will share what they learned along the way, ultimately drawing a conclusion that surprises much of the national news audience: “most parts of the United States that we visited have been doing better, in most ways, than most Americans realize.” They found that when you zoom in and spend time at the local level, Americans are actually adapting to life in the 21st century. As a widely published writer and linguist, and a longtime correspondent for the Atlantic Magazine, Deborah and James have decades of experience covering a myriad of topics from all over the world, including being on the ground for the formative years of China’s rise. Our Towns is currently being adapted into a documentary series by HBO.
Jason Hirschhorn holds a unique place in Hollywood as a top executive with MTV, Myspace and his current company, the ReDEF Group but he is also a careful curator and big thinker on the role of entertainment in our culture. He will be speaking about this as part of Show 9, the Character of Our Country.
Show 10: The Big Idea
Brandon Victor Dixon
A longtime star on Broadway and television, Brandon Victor Dixon has had a variety of prominent roles including playing Aaron Burr in Hamilton. What runs through his career is a commitment to expanding our collective consciousness as a society and his latest efforts on that front are with the WeAre Foundation, which is looking to engage people in politics through art and culture. At Original Thinkers, he will take part in several shows, including our finale, Show 10 The Big Idea where he will talk about how the founding original thinkers who created this country, would want democracy to unfold today.