CONTRARIAN: A New Documentary About Sir John Templeton

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VIDEO: CONTRARIAN trailer
Credit: Credit: JTFVIDEO: CONTRARIAN trailer

This year, 2013, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sir John Templeton. To commemorate that milestone, a new documentary film about the life and legacy of Sir John, CONTRARIAN, is being released this month.

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Directed by Mary Mazzio, the award-winning documentary film director and former Olympian, CONTRARIAN chronicles the life and legacy of John Templeton, from his early days in Winchester, Tennessee, to his career as a legendary investor, as well as his later years focused on philanthropy. The film is shaped by a framework that illustrates his pragmatism and ability to convey complex concepts in simple, understandable terms, fitting with what has been called his “Tennessee speak.” The film is divided into three parts: the Early Years, the Middle Years, and the Later Years.

A portrait emerges of a man who thought differently. Friends, colleagues, family members, and biographers testify as to how John Templeton continually surprised those around him. The film will premiere on Thursday, December 26, at 9 pm ET/PT on Bloomberg Television, with encore presentations on Friday, December 27 and Saturday, December 28 at 9 pm ET/PT. It will then be available on Bloomberg.com for a limited time. The DVD will be available on January 1, 2014 here: www.tennesseecontrarian.com.

Sir John is not widely known to a new generation of investors or students, and so the film aims to chronicle his remarkable achievements—personal, business, and philanthropic. “He was a man who pulled himself up by the bootstraps and never forgot where he came from,” explains Mazzio. “His broadmindedness, curiosity, frugality and thrift, and his entrepreneurial mindset, allowed him to forge and pioneer global investing.”

The film does not forget other important, though possibly less glamorous, qualities that were also crucial to his success: his way of life was shaped by a disciplined work ethic, and he could convey complex concepts very simply so that investors not only understood but trusted him. “His values of honesty, saving for opportunity, and optimism are more relevant than ever today, for investors and non-investors alike,” Mazzio adds.

What of inspiring a younger generation? Mazzio tells an anecdote. One of her colleagues asked her 7-year-old daughter to watch CONTRARIAN. Later that night, when offered a trip out for ice-cream, the little girl replied, “Mommy, didn’t you watch that movie? We need to save our money. We might need it for something more important than an ice cream cone.”Making the film was a process of discovery for Mazzio herself. It was often the details of Sir John‘s life that came as a surprise. “When I discovered that Sir John’s first wife, Judith Dudley Folk, worked full-time in the 1940s as an advertising executive, I was blown away,” she says. “He was a feminist long before that word was part of cultural vocabulary, and in true Sir John fashion, he was ahead of his time. I found it inspiring to learn that Sir John did not adhere to social convention. He was a brave and strong person. In fact, his open-mindedness was emblematic of everything that he did or thought.” This is the man who insisted on driving his housekeeper to the housekeeper’s own wedding, and who would walk for a mile every day through waist-high waters along the beach.

“If viewers can be inspired to save, then perhaps our collective financial futures might be more secure,” adds Mazzio. Beyond the concept of thrift, there are the ways Sir John tackled obstacles and adversity. Whether he was confronted with the possibility of having to drop out of college after his father’s unfortunate bet on cotton futures, or whether he was grappling with uncertain markets, or criticism about the choices he made in his investments or his philanthropy, he faced life with a can-do attitude and a calm, clear head.

His life was one of innovation right to the end. In the 1970s, his spiritual searching emerged in earnest alongside his philanthropy. He began asking a different set of questions that others were not asking. Can forgiveness and gratitude be investigated with scientific rigor? Can we begin to research such questions such as to whether there is life elsewhere? And why we are here? It is a commitment to curiosity that has brought him criticism, though as Mazzio concludes, “It just goes to show that he truly marched to his own drum.”

The film does not shy away from what made Sir John human—but in so doing, paints a picture of a complex and remarkable man.