BIG JOY is a celebratory portrait of James Broughton, a visionary poet and filmmaker who emerged from the artistic renaissance that flowered in post-WWII San Francisco. A charismatic figure, Broughton led a completely unconventional, countercultural existence. The directors of BIG JOY vividly follow the course of Broughton’s deeply intertwined creative and personal lives through his involvement with a wide array of artists, activists and spiritual guides. Among them figure movie critic Pauline Kael, choreographer and dancer Anna Halprin, filmmaker Sidney Peterson, theater actor and playwright Kermit Sheets, designer Suzanna Hart, poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Eastern philosopher Alan Watts and film student protégé Joel Singer.
BIG JOY delves substantially into Broughton’s own artistic endeavors, especially his creative writing and filmmaking. His experimental film The Pleasure Garden was accorded a special prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1954, awarded to Broughton in person by one of his great poetic heroes, Jean Cocteau. In weaving together home movies and historic photographs, contemporary interviews and performance, quotations from Broughton’s writings and clips from his movies, the filmmakers construct a cinematic mosaic that is as richly textured as Broughton’s own life experiences. They create an unusually intimate and unflinching portrait of the arc of Broughton’s life from childhood to death and from the dark depths of his own depression to the ecstasy of his creative freedom and sexual liberation, all in the service of Broughton’s lifelong quest to find his own “Big Joy.”