I usually write about local history, not film, but doing historical research I accidentally met Joe Campo, Greenpoint’s most successful documentary producer. When some people get a whiff of success, it goes to their head, but not Campo. Look up the word humble in the dictionary and Joe’s picture is there. I knew Joe for several months before I realized how successful his documentary The Human Experience was.
For years Joe has lived on Eagle Street quietly practicing his religious faith and making great films. In 2008 and his production company, Grassroots Films, released The Human Experience to a wave of rave reviews. The film won over thirty honors at international film festivals including the Audience Choice Award at the Tribeca Film Festival and Best Documentary at the Atlanta International Film Festival. And it’s sold over a million DVD copies.
Campo’s film sets a huge task before itself—namely to find a common thread in all human experience and making sense of our lives, not easily done in a lifetime of thought, let alone in a ninety-minute documentary, but the film succeeds brilliantly. The plot follows two homeless New York boys in their worldwide search for meaning. Their journey takes them around the world, from Peru to an African leper colony and then back again to New York. They confront some of the most pitiful scenes humanity can offer, yet suffering not only does not break their faith, but imbues them with compassion and a sense of meaning in life. They find beauty on what most people perceive to be horrible. They return to New York transformed and see the world through different eyes. The film reflects Campo’s own deeply held belief in the dignity of all people. It is a deeply spiritual film, and full of wisdom.
The film has received praise from people of many different faiths who call it, “uplifting” and “a triumph of the human spirit” amongst other accolades. The Human Experience is available on Netflix and Amazon.