Beginning to Make The Fifth Sacred Thing Movie

Dia de los Muertos—2004.  Election day.  I left home around 6 pm to march in the procession through the streets of San Francisco’s Mission District.  Kerry was in the lead.  I walked with poet Francisco Alarcon to the beat of the Aztec drums, following the cut-paper standards that Juan Pablo Gutierrez creates each year,   We blessed the four directions as the Aztec dancers spun, and thousands of people carrying candles, dressed as skulls and skeletons or simply in black, paraded past fabulous altars.

Dia de los Muertos—the mix of ceremony and celebration, the Latino tradition that now draws in people of all races and religions and cultures—to me it’s the essence of the vibrant life of the city that inspired me to write The Fifth Sacred Thing many years ago.  I wanted to imagine a world where the values that were most sacred to me—balance with nature, justice, respect for our human diversity, art and pleasure and love—were the basis of society.  What would it look like, feel like?  How would we live in that world?  And how could we defend it against those who still put their trust in brute force and violence?

As I walked, I began to have a bad feeling, as if the tides of fate were shifting, and not in a good way.  When I got home, Bush was in the lead.  I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach—not so much because of who was winning but because of what the whole nasty process with its lies and attacks and voter suppression, if not outright fraud, said about who we are and what our future was likely to be.  And a little voice in my head said, “Maybe it would be a good political act to get your book made into a movie.”

I’d often thought of getting the book made into a movie—practically everyone who has ever read it has said, “This would be a great movie!”  But selling books to the movies is a process fraught with dashed hopes and broken dreams.  Most of the time, it means the writer sells the rights and loses all control.  Rarely if ever does the writer of a novel write the screenplay—partly because it Is a whole different skill set.

I’d had a couple of options on the book at various times that never turned into a movie.  But now I decided I wanted to write the screenplay myself.  After all, I had spent a year in the graduate film department at UCLA, and won a major writing prize.  Okay, that was in 1972, but still.  Besides, I had that magic thing so many writers want and don’t have—an agent in Hollywood.  Never mind that every time I sent him a draft of the screenplay he responded with, “It’s not working—but I’m no good at giving feedback, I can’t tell you why.”  I got lots of helpful comments, mostly on the order of, “Have you thought of getting a real screenwriter to do it?”  But I am nothing if not persistent.   My mother used to tell me that when I was just learning to walk, she watched me one day trying to cross a threshold, tripping, falling, getting back up, tripping again, falling, over and over.  Perfect preparation for writing the screenplay—although perhaps simply beating my head against the wall would have done it.

Just when I had about convinced myself the whole thing was an addictive obsession more than a creative project, my stepdaughter Juliana put me in touch with a friend of hers that she said had always dreamed of making the movie of The Fifth Sacred Thing.  Philip Wood–known to his friends as Mouse–had been working in film and music production in the Bay Area for many years and was starting his own production company, Yerba Buena films.  We met, and I liked his vision for the movie. 

He actually liked the screenplay.  We talked, we negotiated, gradually we began to scheme, and over time and a few more drafts, somehow “He wants to make this movie” shifted to “We’re making this movie.”  If I wanted to have some impact on how the movie turns out, I needed to be part of it, and Philip was willing to have me.

Then, in October, an old friend posted on my blog that he had finally read the book and was possessed by the need to make it into a movie.  I knew Paradox Pollack as what I thought of as The Mysterious People in Black who would show up at 3 AM at our New Year’s Eve parties and do contact improv in the attic long after I went to bed.  He’s an actor, circus performer and dancer who had moved from Bohemian San Francisco scene and been working in Hollywood doing movement choreography for big, feature films for the last six years, including Star Trek, I Am Legend, and Thor. (We call him The Guy Who Taught the Gods How to Move). <>.  

When he came on board, our pace revved up.  Now, besides doing the dull and necessary things like getting legal and financial structures together, we started to get art, costume ideas, visuals to help shape the look of the future.  And the movie has begun to generate its own magic—all kinds of amazing, creative, incredible people have said, “Yes, I want to be part of this!”  “Use my art”, “Play my music”, “How can I help?”

For me, the contradictions inherent in this project are huge.  I’m far more at home on the barricades protesting corporate greed than inside a meeting room trying to raise staggering amounts of money.  The average cost of a big feature with special effects is something like 100 million dollars.  I have to practice saying it without either laughing or flinching.  How could I possibly get involved with the money forces on that scale and keep any shreds of integrity?  How could we justify the amount of energy and resources it would take?

Well, what if all those resources could be used to help create pieces of that future we want to show in the movie?  What if we applied permaculture principles to the making of the movie itself?  I wrote up a Green Plan for the production, thinking of all the ways we could not only make the production itself set a whole new standard for ecological filmmaking, but also generate resources that could be left in the city afterwards and provide a platform that could inspire people to start building that beautiful world back in their own home towns.  People loved the vision of Avatar so much that many of them dressed up in blue and went out to the woods to play Pandora.  Well, The Fifth Sacred Thing is a bit like Avatar on Earth—and if people like the vision they’ll see, they can create it right here, and we can provide blueprints on the website!  And the Green Plan, it turned out, was inspiring to some of the people who can help us make it happen—from Green Businesses to a fan of the book who now works in San Francisco’s Department of the Environment.

So, where are we now?  We’ve got structures for the legal and financial stuff, although there’s always endlessly more of those to put in place.  We’ve got artwork, character drawings, wonderful support from major artists who will allow us to use their work and images.  We have that screenplay—finally down to the size it needs to be!  We have a letter of interest from Olympia Dukakis, who is my dream choice to play Maya, the old woman/storyteller.  Within the next couple of weeks, we’ll have our website up and already our Facebook Page is up.  Please check it out and Like it if you can!


We’re just about to take that big leap, from the The Fifth Sacred Thing movie project being my Secret Dream to becoming a Big, Public Dream.  Really scary—on so many levels.  But as we say, “Where there’s fear, there’s power.”  And it’s so, so exciting!

What we don’t have—yet—the major financing.  But—we have a plan!   To get together the full packet of legal and creative stuff that will allow us to go after the financing, we need seed money.  So we’re going to start with a Kickstarter campaign—there will be updates here, on our Facebook page, and you can also go onto my website and sign onto my mailing list.  Kickstarter is a website for crowd-funding creative projects.  If we can raise at least $50,000, and hopefully more, on Kickstarter, that will get us a big step forward toward pulling together all the pieces we need to go after bigger funding.  And equally important, it will show potential investors that there is big support and interest out there for this project.  The more we can put together, the more likely we can attract financing from people who will be excited by our vision, and who will want to support it and augment it.  (As opposed to what usually happens, where the financial people want to control the vision and generally change it.)

I feel so much responsibility to everyone who loves the book.  It’s terrifying to think that we might disappoint people.  We could fail to make the movie—most movie projects are stillborn before they ever get made.  We could make a lousy movie!   But I so strongly believe that the world needs a positive vision of the future right now.  I can’t think of any movie that projects a positive vision of a future here on earth.  How can we create it if we can’t envision it?  A friend confessed to me the other day that she and everyone she knows thinks it’s already too late, that we’re past the point of no return.  I don’t believe that.  I believe that the earth is resilient and creative—and we are agents of that creative force called to reinvent our way of life right now.  If we can give people some hope, some direction and some inspiration, it seems worth all the risks and the work!

Besides, I so want to see those Four Old Women tear up the streets!

You can order the book, and the prequel Walking to Mercury, on my website:

44 comments to Beginning to Make The Fifth Sacred Thing Movie

  • susan

    I am one of the biggest fans of The Fifth Sacred Thing, having read it over and over like many….I too want to see and perhaps be one of the 4 women that tear up the concrete! I want to see the vision for the future be as so beautifully written by you. I stand with all of us who haven’t given up hope that we can turn this around and create heaven on earth once more. The recent events lead me to believe it has to get this bad or worse before we will take back the right to change things….and I have faith that we can and will when the time is right.

  • Alice Y.

    Great news to hear it’s moving forward. Hope you can get the donations page up soon. I am sure I am not the only person who is willing to find some way to get some cash towards this project. Crowd-funding is brilliant. I agree that we need positive visions of the future and this book is one of the best I have come across – Greenpa’s comment on this post of Sharon’s Astyk’s is a plea for the works of art we need at this time, in the way the Broadway musical ‘South Pacific’ was in its own time.

  • First of all, *squee!*. Secondly, I can’t wait to see who gets cast in each part! Will filming be happening in the Bay Area, California? (I bet Santa Cruz would be love to accommodate your film crew for some scenes and get another cult-favorite under its belt — Lost Boys was filmed there in entirety.) How exciting! I’m thrilled.

  • I can’t begin to tell you what an impact The Fifth Sacred Thing has had on me and my life. The vision of that world you created on the page is rooted deeply in me and like you I believe that the time is right to share it as widely as we can. More than anything I think people need hope, to believe that they do have the power to make change. Convincing people of their own power may be the hardest and best thing you ever do. Thank you.

  • YES! I’ve always loved that image of the four women tearing up the street and quote it often! Thank you Starhawk and Paradox and everyone else thus far involved for walking the dream. I hope to be a part and will help spread the word! So mote it be!

  • Tank

    I am very excited for this project and for the dream of transforming the city to become the set for the film.

    My dream would be that the funding for such a large production be as grassroots as possible. When I was at UCLA, I saw Manthan (The Churning) – an Indian film about the struggle of Indian dairy farmers to overthrow the feudal system by forming milk co-operatives. It was solely funded by thousands of farmers; indeed, if you look at the title credits, it reads “500,000 Farmers of Gujarat present” (youtube:

    It would be incredible to crowd-fund a major motion picture this way in the States.

    • We’re going to crowd-source as much as we possibly can–I’m not sure if we can crowd-source the whole thing, but the more we raise and bring to the table the more clout we’ll have with the finance people we bring in. Thanks!

  • I am so excited about this, Star. As one of the many who has regularly pictured TFST as a film over the years, I am thrilled that it will happen. And it WILL happen! I have never organized around around the creation of a film before, but I will do what I can to facilitate this one. I see it as a more important story than ever- and one that will resonate even more now that the choices between cultures are that much more stark. With love and gratitude, Michael

  • I hope this happens! Will light incense for you tonight. It’s one of my all-time favorite books, up there with, I’m not afraid to say it, The Secret Garden.

  • I am so excited! I used TFST as a text for my PhD thesis on the global justice movement and the role of faith in activism. I return to both books often as archives of certain dreams held by certain people about the world. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing the ghosts and the lovemaking on screen 😉

  • When I first started reading about this project on facebook, I was nervous and a little scared – I have such a clear image of the entire book as a movie in my head, as I’m sure many do. Now, after reading this blog post, I have chills and am so excited. I’ve also never supported a film project, but I’m ready and waiting for the donation button!

    I’m grateful you have the persistence to screenwrite this, Star! I know it will be a wonderful contribution to the the world! I’m glad I’m not the one who has to decide what stays and what goes – I’m sure if it were up to me, it would end up being a ten hour film!

  • Lady,

    Thank you so much for sharing your truth, for being authentic and vunerable about taking an inner dream and starting to share and manifest it in the world.

    I don’t think there is any way you could disappoint any of us… just the fact that you are considering making a movie is amazing, and brings me great hope for our world. The world/earth really needs this right now… and I will continue to hold and support this dream energetically on every level that I can.

    I know that it will be exactly what it needs to be, and the fact that you are grounding the “fantasy” of the dream into reality with your Green Plan is utterly amazing.

    Sending so much love to this project… may it touch millions with a deeper vision of how we can live in magik and in harmony with Mother Earth.



  • Hooray! The Fifth Sacred Thing is possibly my favorite book ever, and it makes me feel like dancing to read this morning that it will become a movie – have been thinking of it as a movie for years. Like you,, I want to see those four old women rip up the streets, and I am longing to climb the ritual hill with Maya.

  • This is great news! The book is so great, the movie will touch even more people! How can someone make a donation?

  • I must admit that I was not familiar with any of your books for a long time, although I did participate in many street actions and admired your organizing efforts. Finally I read “The Fifth Sacred Thing” and was deeply moved by it, and often reference it when I try to come up with a practical non-violent solution to the rising militarism/fascism that we face. It is an incredible challenge to turn a novel into a film and I hope it can be done. WEe do need hope, vision, a path, now more than ever. Today we are gathering in San Francisco to march on the Japanese Consulate and Bechtel in opposition to the nuclear industry, militarism, imperialism. There is a nuclear meltdown happening and spewing radiation out; the media and government are covering up the magnitude of the disaster and the USA wants to continue subsidizing the nuclear terror industry. How about approaching James Cameron- this might be the piece that will help him “get it” and incorporate a non-violent solution into whatever sequel scenario he’s thinking of – or he might just simply financially kick in and support the project in other ways. I’d like to help. My grandfather made some pretty awful movies in Hollywood in the 40’s and I’ve always wished to make some good ones… or help in some way. I know how transformative and powerful films can be, that’s what put me on the activist path. You haven’t wasted your time nor energy, and I think the wider Universe will assist you to make your vision a reality. I’ll Kick when your Kickstarter is approved!

  • […] her blog, Pagan author and activist Starhawk has announced that a movie adaptation of her novel “The Fifth Sacred Thing,” a story about an […]

  • Oh. My. G-d/d-ss…. I have FANTASIZED for years about it being made. Wow.

  • […] activist and author of The Spiral Dance, The Twelve Swans and other countless books, has announced that her novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing is soon to be headed for the big screen. So, where are we […]

  • Sign me up. I’ll do whatever I can.

  • Three years ago, we held my wife’s 60th birthday party. We’d spent six months preparing the ground, ensuring that everyone important to her, whether they be friends or family, at last knew that her husband was a transperson. We did that mostly so that we could invite every single one of the friends who’d made her life what it is without having to explain to people why they were friends and how we’d come to know them.

    Time for Truth.

    The party was wonderful – a house and garden full of ageing pagans, Buddhists, gay men, transsexual women, transvestites, and ‘straight’ family members, all celebrating the life of someone deeply important to them. and two sets of wonderful neighbors who’d not met anyone before but were hugely enjoying the company of interesting and creative people.

    At 3 am, three of us (of the few left standing) were sitting in the garden. my wife’s goddaughter, the goddaughter’s stepfather (and one of my oldest friends) and me. He said ‘ You know, this party …. is amazing. It’s like the Fifth Sacred Thing come to life.’

    The Fifth Sacred Thing IS life, and it’s changed lives and enriched them.

    Make the movie, Starhawk.

    The time is right because, as I did on that night, I smell the Goddess’ perfume in the air. She’s close to us now, because now is our time of need.

  • We DO NEED to envision our future in a positive light if we want to create it, and your book The Fifth Sacred Thing is the best, and in fact only, picture I have seen. It is inspiring, beautiful and even realistic enough to believe in. Funny you brought up Avatar because the only thing I didn’t like about that movie was that it didn’t end with a new insight into the cycle of violence, it wasn’t The Fifth Sacred Thing. I am so excited that you are working on this project, and even more so because of your insistence in being involved, and your ideas about leaving a eco platform from which to build. I believe in this project! Keep at it girl! The magic will make it happen!

    • Thanks! There are some other positive visions in books–or at least, partly positive: Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach, Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, a book called The City Not Long After–can’t remember the author, and Chris Carlson’s After the Deluge–for your summer reading pleasure! Oh yeah, and Ursula le Guin–Always Coming Home, and the Dispossessed.

      • Joan Haran

        I love The Fifth Sacred Thing which was one of three novels I wrote about in my PhD about feminist science fiction. The idea of making the story available to new audiences is really exciting, and I’m delighed to have the chance to share in that happening. Also, The City Not Long After is written by Pat Murphy (co-founder of the Tiptree Award for science fiction that explores or expands notions of gender). Do add it to your summer reading.

  • Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I’m sitting on the pointy end of the bible-belt-buckle here, and I can tell you that there are hundreds, if not thousands, or tens of thousands, here who will dance with glee and relief when they see your movie. The world is waiting. Go fer it, m’lady.

  • Lady Rhianna Feileacan

    As long as it is well done, not edited down for content like so many other great works have been, I look forward to see this film set people on their ear. I look forward to seeing how many people awake to whats around them. Blessings

    • Well, it will be edited down, just in the nature of things–a movie is two hours which translates to 120 pages of a screenplay. The book was nearly 500 pages long! But I hope we’ll be able to keep the important elements intact, and that being able to actually see the vision brought to life will compensate for what’s missing.

      • MariWren

        Oh Star, I can’t begin to express my delight over the movie project! I’m doing a spell for its success (as well as contributing what I can to the KickStart project). And I’m hoping against hope that a scene of the Council agreeing to nonviolent resistance makes it into the move. I know a meeting wouldn’t amount to a great action sequence. But we SO need a vision of dynamic, consensus-style decision-making to enter the national consciousness. Especially now, with the iintransigent idiocy in Washington over the debt ceiling blared over the airwaves…

        Bright blessings,

        • Oh yes, there will be a council scene! Although it will probably be the most unrealistic thing in the movie–that people could reach a decision in a few minutes, rather than hours and hours, possibly days. I want a cameo as the person who facilitates the meeting!

          I have a fantasy that once the sets are built, we can use the Council set on a slow day, get a bunch of volunteers, and role play what the real meeting would be like–then put it up on the website!

          My new book on group process will be out in the Fall, and there’s a supplement on meeting process that we’re going to put up on the web for people to download.
          Blessings, Starhawk

  • Six

    Of all the stories in my life, The Fifth Sacred Thing is one of the few that have charged my imagination permanently. I haven’t thought about it often lately, perhaps because the world seems too hopeless, and it is ultimately a tale of hope: the greatest and most fragile and most resilient of powers. To think about it becoming a movie – something visual and tangible and shared with potentially millions of people looking for hope for the future, looking for ways to build the future…I can hardly bear the hope that springs up in my heart. Thank you. Thank you.

  • I will donate ANY amount of time for this project. This book shifted my perspective. It changed my love. It changed my light. And most importantly, it changed the way I live my life.

    As stated previously, I will donate ENDLESS hours for this cause Lady Starhawk. I will be out San Fran way in a month. And to further the story, I am a friend of Paradox’s. Just say the word and I’ll tap my ruby red’s together and beam myself over to the fifth sacred place in space.

    Gaia NEEDS these thoughts to be GLOBAL!

  • […] Starhawk’s 1993 post-apocolyptic novel  is now in the planning stages for a movie adaptation. Currently, there is a “Kick-Starter” campaign to raise funds to bring this dream to fruition, which is already over two thirds to the campaign goal of $60,000 . You can help Starhawk reach her goal by donating at the “Kickstarter”, learning more at the Facebook page, and following coverage of this important project at The Wild Hunt, and, of course , by following this at Starhawks blog. […]

  • Rachel

    As I’m re-reading The Fifth Sacred Thing, something that excites me about this as a movie is that it will offer so many parts for actors and actresses of various ethnic backgrounds. It will probably be the one of the most diverse casts in a while. I can’t wait to see it!

  • Magican

    It is Time to stand up now to chop the Heads of the beast.

  • Valeria Halloway…

    Really enjoyed this post.Really thank you! Will read on……

  • Stunning quest there. What happened after? Take care!

  • […] In 2011 Starhawk raised over $75,000 dollars through Kickstarter to help fund a pitch-reel in order get a feature film based on her post-apocalyptic 1993 book, “The Fifth Sacred Thing,” made. While several Pagan-initiated crowdfunding campaigns have rivaled that impressive achievement, none have surpassed it. This is most likely due to Starhawk’s unique place in our community as one of a small handful of Pagans who have broken through to a wider audience. During the campaign, Starhawk talked about how she feels like the time is now for a film adaptation of her work. […]

  • […] of a small handful of Pagans who have broken through to a wider audience. During the campaign, Starhawk talked about how she feels like the time is now for a film adaptation of her work. “I so strongly believe that the world needs a positive vision of the future right now. I can’t […]

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