Mission: JOY Finding Happiness In Troubled Times Director & Desmond Tutus Daughter Talk Filming The Archbishop & Dalai Lamas Last Meeting For Inspirational Doc

When documentary filmmaker and anti-slavery activist Peggy Callahan got an invitation in from her friend Doug Abrams to shoot and co-direct Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama talking about joy in India in 2015, she didn’t hesitate to take the job.

“I knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Callahan tells Deadline, who filmed the self-described “mischievous brothers” across five days at the Dalai Lama’s compound in India. Callahan co-directs with Louie Psihoyos and worked with an award-winning team including former Pixar Animation exec Darla Anderson and DreamWorks Animation exec Damien de Froberville to craft this project on the importance of positivity.

Mission: JOY – Finding Happiness In Troubled Times, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last year and has been acquired for the BBC Four and BBCiPlayer in the UK. It features special footage, some prankish anecdotes, animation depicting each man’s difficult journey in life and interviews with those close to them including, Tutu’s daughter, Mpho Tutu van Furth and Thupten Jinpa Langri, the long-time English translator for the Dalai Lama.

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The two influential figures showcase their examples of humanity, despite their very different and difficult journeys. Both men have made happiness a habit of life, finding joy in perseverance and furthering it with practice to live fully and face adversity and fight for a better world.

Inspired by The Book Of Joy, written by the two Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and Abrams, the film is part of a wider campaign, Mission: JOY (, a worldwide initiative to challenge everyone not to wait for joy but to create their own today and every day.

In advance of the film’s BBC premiere tomorrow, Deadline spoke with Callahan and Archbishop Tutu’s daughter, Mpho, about crafting this passion project, the challenges of filming this in between Tutu’s chemotherapy treatment (Tutu passed away from cancer in December at the age of 90) and why this documentary is now more important to audiences than ever.

DEADLINE: Peggy, what was the genesis of this project and how did you get involved?

PEGGY CALLAHAN: Doug Abrams is a dear friend of mine and I’ve known Arch [Desmond Tutu] forever because I’m an anti-slavery activist and Arch was on our board. Doug called me one day and said, ‘I have something I want you to do and you’re going to love me forever.’ He asked me if I wanted to go to India – I work in India a lot – and go to the Dalai Lama’s compound and shoot and direct for a week with Arch and the Dalai Lama talking about joy. And that’s how it started. It’s based on Doug’s book with the two of them, The Book Of Joy. It was unusual because we didn’t have time to get the rights lined up but we went ahead because we thought at the very least it would be good for their archives and at the most, maybe we can make a film out of it, which is what we’ve finally got to do several years later. It’s been the most glorious, amazing, fun and reasonable act of love ever.

When we did get the rights, the only thing they ever told us was to get the message to as many people in the world as possible, regardless of their ability to pay, so that really impacted how we did everything else. It would have been a lot easier to go to a studio or a broadcast entity to get the money to do it but that would maybe not allow us to get the message out to as many people as we would have wanted. So, we had to raise donor dollars on everything because our first allegiance could not be to pay back investors, it had to be about paying it forward.

I have to say these two men have their own gravitational force because all these incredible talents – Darla Anderson, Damien de Froberville and more – just came out of the woodwork to help because they so believed in this message of joy in troubled times and know that joy is an inside job.

DEADLINE: Mpho, how difficult was the journey to visit Dalai Lama for your father given he was unwell?

MPHO TUTU VAN FURTH: The journey was less challenging than it might have been. A dear friend gifted my father and his party private transport. That said, though the travel itself was not difficult it was still a journey across time zones to several days of work. My task was to make sure that he was well-rested, and his quiet time was protected throughout the series of events and interviews.

DEADLINE: Peggy, you’ve worked with other visionaries around the world. What’s it like being in the room with these two men?

CALLAHAN: They are so truly who they are and present in the moment and there’s this energy that you are really learning something every time they talk even when they are doing nothing but wagging their fingers at each other and telling them each other to behave. It was a masterclass in friendship and connection and they had only met each other six times. If you study the science of joy, you know that deep connection and friendship is the number one source of joy in our life and it was a masterclass the entire week watching it happen. It almost didn’t happen, considering Arch was in between chemo treatments. Getting either of these men to commit for a week is a huge deal. But when it did happen it was a glorious thing to see because it wasn’t just the love they have for each other, they spread that love and laughter to all of us.

DEADLINE: Were there any kind of major hiccups or challenges that you faced during that week out there?

CALLAHAN: We were shooting up in the foothills of the Himalayas with crews from three different countries and we knew that if anything we went wrong, we’d have no way to fix it. That said, as we rolled camera, not a single technical thing went wrong over five days and that’s almost unheard of.

DEADLINE: Mpho, what was it about your father and the Dalai Lama that made them connect so well?

TUTU VAN FURTH: My father was a person of faith. He had a strong contemplative practice that undergirded his public persona. In this respect, both men were alike. This sure strength is also a source of the joy and playfulness that characterized their encounters.

DEADLINE: What do you what do you hope audiences will take away from this?

CALLAHAN: We’re not preaching in this film but I hope that people see through their stories that joy is an inside job and it then becomes an external job when you interact with other people. I hope people see that kindness and compassion when you are talking to someone else, you’re helping yourself as it makes you feel better as well as practicing gratitude.

TUTU VAN FURTH: Deep faith doesn’t have to be joyless. Religion isn’t all seriousness and solemnity. Giving, generosity, gratitude are all deep wells of joy.


Interview edited for length and clarity.

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