Peter Joseph Biography (Updated)
Peter Joseph (B. 1979, Winston-Salem, NC, USA) is an American Musician, Filmmaker, Author and Social Activist; best known worldwide as the creator of the award-winning “Zeitgeist Film Series” and founder of the “The Zeitgeist Movement”, a social sustainability advocacy group which currently operates across the world. He also founded and curates the Annual Zeitgeist Media Festival for the arts and is on the Advisory Board/Steering Committee for “Project-Peace on Earth”.
Apart from ongoing feature film projects, Joseph launched a free, TV style web-series called Culture in Decline in July of 2012, which has been translated into over 25 languages & has received critical acclaim and scored millions of online views. A pioneer in free, open-distribution media, Joseph’s work supports non-profit, unrestricted syndication via free online viewing and free downloads. He conducts such work via his production company: Gentle Machine Productions LLC.
In 2013, Peter Joseph was hired to direct the Official Music Video “God is Dead?” by Rock Hall of Fame artist Black Sabbath. The nearly 9 min. video was composed of segments from The Zeitgeist Film Series, at their request.
Joseph has lectured around the world, including the UK, Canada, America, Brazil & Israel, on the subjects of cultural/social sustainability, the importance of critical thought, and the social role of the arts and scientific literacy. He was a featured speaker at the 2011 Leaders Causing Leaders Conference [Lecture Here] and his work has been profiled in the New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Marker, Free Speech TV, The Young Turks, Hollywood Today and many other media outlets. He has participated in multiple TEDx Events, has worked with The Global Summit and is also a frequent social critic on the news network Russia Today.
As far as activism, apart from The Zeitgeist Movement, he identifies, in part, with emerging counter-culture organizations, such as Occupy Wall St. and has spoken at official OWS gathers in Los Angeles and New York City, along with smaller ones as well. His films have been mentioned in conjunction with Occupy in many contexts, including
“Film for Actions” editorial: The Top 10 Films that Explain Why the Occupy Movement Exists, along with “A Movie Guide to Occupy Wall Street” by Laurene Williams.
Joseph is also an active musician and performs around Los Angeles, CA where he currently resides. In short, Joseph’s broad focus is on media related expressions with the intent of affecting society in a positive way.
Joseph was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA. The son of a social worker and a mail-man, his early life comprised a fairly traditional, middle class upbringing. He has commented that his mother’s social work was an inspiration for his social activism years later.
The incorporation of the semi-pseudonym “Peter Joseph”, his actual first and middle name, was a response to the release of his first film,”Zeitgeist: The Movie”, which was widely noted as “the most downloaded video in internet history”, with today an estimated 300 million views. Due to the controversial content of the work and its mass popularity, ongoing threats of physical harm by many in disagreement with the film’s content, persuaded the decision to shift his name at that time. Today, as things have settled, the name Peter Joseph has resulted as his recognized title as a public figure. He has spoken of this development in many interviews, dismissing negative speculation.
Being then the youngest percussionist ever accepted into the University of North Carolina’s School of the Arts, Joseph began his academic music career at the age of 12. In 1997, he moved to New York City to attend the New School for Social Research with the intent of pursuing a life in solo classical percussion performance. However, the student debt generated from only 2 years in the institution proved to be unsustainable for the family, with Joseph leaving the institution – never returning.
In 2002, Joseph released an album of J.S. Bach transcriptions for Marimba entitled “The Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue”. This album has now been re-released and can be listened to free online. The title track composition “The Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue”, originally for harpsichord, is the first and only known recorded arrangement of the famous work for solo marimba.
Overall, Joseph’s professional life before the release of the globally recognized film “Zeitgeist: The Movie”, was a combination of freelance musical collaboration, private equity trading & film production for predominantly advertising agencies in New York City. Disliking the advertising industry greatly, he has commented that his interest to remove himself from the traditional labor system led him to private equity trading as a means for independence. However, learning more about economics in this process, this activity in turn sparked a profound disdain for the financial system and its mechanics as a whole, which later contributed to his view that the financial system of the world is inherently corrupt. These points are also common to the work of The Zeitgeist Movement. [Interview Source]
-Zeitgeist: The Movie-
In July of 2007, Joseph performed a solo percussion work including video and tape called “Zeitgeist”. This vaudevillian style piece had a 6 night run in lower Manhattan. This free and open to the public event was never well documented in video, absent a surfacing short segment via a camera phone years later. He has described the work as a “catharsis” with no intent at that time for any professional/public release, post performance. [Source]
However, upon completion, at the suggestion of a friend noticing the increasing video presence on the internet at that time, specifically Google Video, the raw video and audio of “Zeitgeist” was uploaded.
With no real promotion, the video, haphazardly titled “Zeitgeist: The Movie” began to go viral, achieving 10s of millions of views in the first year alone. Today, it is virtually impossible to obtain a total online view count since Google Video reset its counters and later shut down its service; coupled with the 1000s of reuploads, torrent DVD downloads and the like. The work can be found translated into almost 100 languages as of 2013 and has taken a life of its own. Today, a Google search for “Zeitgeist The Movie” brings up over 10 million page results, with about 60,000 phrase searches conducted each month – 6 years after its initial release.
In Sept. of 2007, the “I’VE SEEN FILMS” International Short Film Festival & famed acting icon Rutger Hauer brought the film and Peter Joseph to Milan Italy for a special screening and personal award. Interestingly, years later, Rutger Hauer presented a short film of his own at the 2012 Zeitgeist Media Festival, started by Joseph, dedicated to media activism.
Months after its rise to internet fame in 2007, the Artivist Film Festival took notice and invited Joseph to formally premiere the film in Hollywood at their 4th annual festival. They gave the film their highest award. Joseph’s acceptance speech can be found here. Since that time, “Zeitgeist: The Movie” (and Peter Joseph) has been a hub for controversy, speculation, praise and criticism. Claims of disproving the information presented in “Zeitgeist: The Movie” have been prolific, along with many bizarre claims about its purpose and meaning. From deep rejection of the historical roots of religion presented, to extreme accusations of being apart of a media conspiracy for “disinformation,” to even belligerent, extreme claims of “anti-semitism” and the inspiring of violence.
Peter Joseph has frequently responded to such claims with great humor, denoting the absurdity inherent. He notes that the reality of “Zeitgeist: The Movie”, its sourcing, truth and function, can be found in the free 220 page Companion Source Guide – A detailed text sourcing everything in the film which, to the present day, has been ignored by the so-called “debunking community” in their ongoing attempts to refute the films claims or discredit Joseph.
Since then, Joseph has maintained that “Zeitgeist: The Movie” is not about religion, war, 9/11, so-called “conspiracy” or anything of such. It is about the “Zeitgeist” of the time, specifically the mythology present in many people’s assumptions, traditions and beliefs. He has stated publicly that he is open to personal debate with anyone in notable academic circles at any time and has nothing to defend as everything to support his film’s points are valid by “reputable sources” and “basic logic”.
Today, years later, the once mainstream blacklisted “Zeitgeist: The Movie” has made it into traditional media outlets, such as large-reach online video resources like Netflix.
A little over a year after the global recognition and controversy of “Zeitgeist: The Movie”, Joseph produced a sequel titled Zeitgeist: Addendum. This work, which officially premiered at the 2008 Artivist Film Festival (again winning its highest award), featured former “Economic Hit-man” and New York Times best selling author, John Perkins, along with The Venus Project, an organization for social redesign created by engineer and industrial designer Jacque Fresco.
Diaky Diaz, curator of the Artivist Film festival stated at that time: “Director Peter Joseph demonstrates the ability to take risky subject matter and turn it into a visually, emotionally, and intellectually compelling case for a greater point of view,” states Diaky Diaz. “Millions of people gravitated toward Peter’s first film. We are excited that this year’s Artivist Film Festival will provide a platform to once again, pique the curiosity of millions of viewers and continue the dialogue about topics concerning Americans and citizens worldwide.” [Source]
Zeitgeist: Addendum was born out of the public request for possible solutions to the cultural issues presented in Peter Joseph’s first work. So, building upon the topics of social distortion and corruption, Addendum moved to also present possible solutions. In turn, it began a multi-year collaboration with Jacque Fresco of The Venus Project and the creation of The Zeitgeist Movement.
-The Zeitgeist Movement-
Near the end of Zeitgeist: Addendum, a call to action in the form of joining “The Zeitgeist Movement” was put forward, with Joseph later describing his mild hesitation to create it. In 2009, months after the release of Addendum the first formal “Zeitgeist Day” (ZDAY) occurred in New York City to a sold out audience of 900, with over 1,000 others mirroring the event globally in 70 countries. This event was covered by the New York Times and presented ideas for a new social system: a Resource-Based Economy. A Q&A including The Venus Project’s Jacque Fresco & Roxanne Meadows followed.
While the initial materials of The Zeitgeist Movement referred to its association with The Venus Project as that of an “Activist Arm”, Joseph clarified after the split in 2011 that this “did not imply that The Zeitgeist Movement existed to merely support the professional or personal whims of Jacque Fresco and his associates.” He continues: “In hindsight, The Zeitgeist Movement was officially born when it split from The Venus Project in 2011 and the progress and maturity since then has been profound. However, I do not speak for TZM with these points. These are only my personal views and while I might have founded TZM with The Venus Project in mind, TZM now has a life of its own at this stage.”
Since 2009, The Zeitgeist Movement has gained global recognition. It’s annual event days have continued, with the 2013, 5th Annual Zday occurring in Los Angeles, CA to a sold out audience featuring a global array of speakers on the subject of sustainability and new approaches to human organization.
-Zeitgeist: Moving Forward-
With what might have been the largest, 100% independent theatrical release in history, the 2011, final film of the Zeitgeist Trilogy, “Zeitgeist: Moving Forward”, was released in 341 theaters across 60 countries and in over 25 languages. This non-profit release returned 0% income to Peter Joseph and any money that was gained was given directly to the independent organizers who hosted the screenings.
Featuring a vast range of academic interviews, from Dr. Robert Sapolsky to Dr. James Gilligan, “Moving Forward” worked to bring what Joseph routinely calls the “Train of Thought” to the viewer.
Premiered by the Artivist Film Festival in a special event held in Los Angeles, Zeitgeist: Moving Forward was picked up and honored by dozens of film festivals, winning about 27 awards. The film has been shown on many major networks globally and has also been absorbed into main mainstream outlets. As of mid 2013, the view count for the main upload was over 20 million. It was also featured on the 2011 season of the hit Italian Show “Il senso della Vita”
-Culture in Decline-
“Culture in Decline” is his 30 min., Bi-Monthly Web-Series and as with all of Joseph’s video work, it is part of a Free Distribution Media Project that allows open, non-profit distribution of his film media across the world. The Series’ central viewing medium is YouTube, via the “Culture in Decline” Official Channel. The first episode of the first season called “What Democracy?” premiered on July 29th 2012. As of mid 2013 the Channel has over 4 million views and 30,000 subscribers. The first season ends July 2013.
As per the Website, the series is described as “a satirical yet serious expression that challenges various cultural phenomena existing today which most of society seem to take for granted. Nothing is considered sacred in this Series except for a detached benchmark of fundamental logic and reason – forcing the viewer to step out of the box of “Normality” and to consider our societal practices without traditional baggage and biases. Common themes include Politics, Economics, Education, Security, Religion, Vanity, Governance, Media, Labor, Technology and other issues centric to our daily lives.”
Its first season featured notable comedians such as Rick Overton, Lee Camp and Katie Goodman.
In a Sept. 2012 Press Release, Joseph announced the start of a new Trilogy series. This work, set to begin in 2013 (Now changed to 2014 due to budget/technical issues) is titled InterReflections. This non-documentary, live action work has not been discussed in any detail, minus an interview with comedian Lee Camp and a follow up on Russia Today’s” Breaking The Set” with Abby Martin.
Beyond that, Joseph stated in his Press Release that “The new film set is, indeed, born out of my prior series in that the nature of the subject matter is similar by extension. However, as a filmmaker, I have changed my view regarding what really inspires people and I feel the ‘abstract arts,’ if you will, rather than mere cold academia, hold a powerful place in changing people. We can tell people technical data all day long and some will absorb it… but the arts have a mysterious way of sneaking behind people’s values and planting seeds for new ideas. Apart from the feature film series and my online satire expression: ‘Culture in Decline,’ I also curate an annual media festival in Los Angeles – The Zeitgeist Media Festival – which is based upon similar issues. I try to walk the line between art and intellect, academia and poetry. Balance is key.”