The co-founder of the Green Renaissance talks about leaving the corporate world to tell authentic stories of the human experience.
“My name is Michael Raimondo. I’m a storyteller. I live on the tip of South Africa, and for the last five years, I’ve been making short films about what makes us all human. And that is my passion – to share stories of humanity, connectedness and universal truths.
I’m in Singapore for a whole month to do a series of short films on the wonderful people who live here. Why Singapore? Well, I’ve told very few urban stories in Asia. And many people here speak English, which allows me to have meaningful connections and conversations.
Beyond that, I’ve always wanted to visit Singapore because I see it as a possible future for what the rest of the world could be. I’m an environmentalist, and to see a country like Singapore balance the environment with economic growth – I find that enchanting.
Singapore is also a developed, urban country that strives to be multicultural. In most parts of the world, everyone goes into their silos. But here, people of different races, religious beliefs and backgrounds come together. I’m not saying that it’s perfect, but it’s beautiful to see.
Before I started doing what I’m doing now, I was working with many different NGOs and corporate clients. And what I found common with all these client stories I told was that there’s always an agenda.
Whoever was paying you – whether it’s for a humanitarian story, an environmental story or a corporate social responsibility story – there was always an angle and a motive. And I got frustrated by what felt like a lack of authenticity in telling the human story.
I was often most moved by stories that shared some sort of universal truth, whether it was through someone talking about death, love, loss or finding meaning in this world. But because they didn’t fit into the client agenda, those stories never saw the light of day.
So five years ago, my wife Justine and I took a bold step to leave fairly decent paying jobs and founded the Green Renaissance. We believed there would be enough people in the world who would resonate with what we wanted to do.
Five years in, we’ve made about 240 to 250 films. It’s impossible to pick a favourite, but I can say that it’s been an absolute privilege to do what we do. It’s almost like going on one of those spiritual retreats where you meet a guru and ask him anything about life.
I get to ask strangers about the meaning of life – why we are here, what is our purpose, and how we find enlightenment – and that’s profoundly changed how I live and the way I see the world. I’m constantly humbled by the wisdom and humility of ordinary people.
Of course, it can be very emotionally draining to have these very in-depth conversations. It’s like seeing a therapist. You can’t just do one session after another. It can take its toll on you, and you need a little break from time to time.
The pressure to make each film better than the last one can also be a misconceived challenge on my part. I’m always second guessing myself as a filmmaker. Is this film beautiful enough? Have I got the best story?
I can spiral into depression. And when I get there, I don’t even want to get out of bed because I don’t feel worthy enough. When that happens, Justine would remind me to go on YouTube, pick any film we’ve done and read the comments people leave behind.
When I read these beautiful comments, I realise it’s not about you. None of this is about you. It’s about community. It’s about how much these stories mean to so many people, and that’s what keeps us going. It was never about money for us.
If a film we made touches one person; if just one person writes back and says, ‘I don’t feel alone’ or ‘I too felt like that’ or ‘This has changed the way I live my life,’ then it’s all worth it.” – Michael, Filmmaker and Co-Founder of the Green Renaissance
Interview by: Arman Shah