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This year’s Original Thinkers Festival kicks off Thursday for in-person programming and Friday for the virtual experience. The themes and topics are timely and include programming on Afghanistan, healing from trauma, the attack on truth and finding joy, among many others. (Photo courtesy of Original Thinkers)

Original Thinkers, a festival of film, speakers, music, art, stories and a hotbed of big ideas, has announced its programs for both the virtual and in-person components of the October gathering. Now in its fourth year in its festival guise — the OT organization has expanded into a broader, multimedia company — the events take place Thursday through Sunday for the in-person programs, while those partaking in the virtual offerings can dip in Oct. 1-30.

Assembling the multi-faceted programming is no small feat, given the overlay of pandemic-related public health orders that, through the end of September, require face coverings in public indoor spaces and encourage social distancing in efforts to control the vigorous Delta variant from spreading. OT ringleader David Holbrooke not only viewed the event through that filter but also through an “existential” lens.

“To be honest, I have struggled with the various existential challenges we have faced over the last 18 months since the pandemic started,” he said. “These problems seem intractable, which is why I look for answers amongst smart and engaged people and that is what we are trying to do with Original Thinkers. Let’s convene and talk through what we are thinking, feeling and doing, because in those efforts, we will find comfort and clarity in this complex world.”

OT’s structure is unchanged since its inception, in that 10 separate (yet often overlapping) ideas are explored through a variety of films, speakers, performances, artists and music. According to a recent news release, this year’s shows include a range of themes from joy, healing, living your truth, equity to reconstruction and agency. New this year is the OT Spotlight series, which will showcase the stories and work of fascinating individuals through talks, song and spoken word.

In-person programming takes place at the Sheridan Opera House, the Transfer Warehouse and other locations throughout Telluride. Six of the theme programs are available in-person, while all 10 are accessible virtually.

Original Thinkers has never hesitated to tackle the world’s and humankind’s largest issues. No matter how complicated or unpretty a topic, the notion is that through collective idea-generation and free-ranging discussion, solutions can be discovered, possibilities considered.

Meredith Lavitt recently joined Original Thinkers as president and co-conspirator. As president, she supports all aspects of OT, including providing support for Holbrooke and Laura Shaunette as they piece together each year’s programs.

“I'm thrilled to call Original Thinkers my new home and truly inspired by this year’s program,” she said. “The team has pulled together a thoughtful and timely program that covers a range of topics from the importance of joy in our lives, creating healing, finding purpose in our individual stories to equity and the delicacy/potency of truth.”

And, Lavitt added, “ … the programming is very much in response to what we’re all grappling with.”

This year, OT takes on the situation in Afghanistan in one of the theme’s offerings. “I Can’t Go Back Now” will contemplate a country that will, controlled by the Taliban, potentially face a backward slide into its more repressive past. Guest speakers are combat correspondent Jane Ferguson, human rights advocate Rina Amiri and media executive Saad Mohseni. Lavitt said the crux of understanding the Afghani people’s upcoming challenges were articulated by Amiri, who told President Joe Biden, “See us. Hear us.”

As we reel from nearly two years of pandemic life, finding joy, a topic of one of the in-person themes happening this weekend, is seemingly fleeting. “Joy is an Inside Job,” will feature the film, “Mission Joy,” and speakers will include, among others, happiness expert Sonia Lyubomirsky.

“The film is amazing,” Lavitt said. “It’s an incredible conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. During these challenging times it’s particularly inspiring. How do we find joy so we don’t lose our sanity.”

Also on tap for in-person attendees is a look at the massive amounts of disinformation that circulates. In “Truth Decay,” climate activist Vic Barrett, founder of Emblematic Group Nonny de la Peña and British-American science writer Mick West will examine attacks on the truth, a problem OT describes as “real and deeply dangerous, so how do we stop this scourge?” The film “We Have Reached the Moment” will be screened for this program.

Lavitt was drawn to her new role with OT because of the festival programming.

“It’s really fresh, timely and needed,” she said. “They’re ideas that make us more human, more inclusive. I was very much drawn to the ethos of Original Thinkers. It’s what the world needs now.”

For passes and the complete schedule, go to originalthinkers.com.