Monday, January 17, 2011

"David Wants to Fly" in San Francisco

Nearly 30 friends gathered with overwhelming support for a personal coming-out gathering, at yesterday’s 4 pm screening of “David Wants to Fly” for the German Gems Film Festival in San Francisco’s beautiful Castro theater.

We paid our restaurant tab and took a sunny walk to the Castro movie theater. Even more friends turned out at the movie! After keeping my family history quiet for decades, the acceptance and support of intelligent accomplished peers was overwhelming. What an odd way to unite my life's first and second halves - on a sidewalk ticket line. The irony of my coming-out-of-the-closet in San Francisco’s famed tolerant Castro district did not go unnoticed.

Inside the beautiful theater, Eve spoke from the row behind me. “When waiting outside, I asked the person in line next to me ‘Why did you come to see this film?’ He responded, “Transcendental Meditation is being taught at my kid’s high school. I want to see the other side of the story.’ I told him about your family upbringing, how you helped prevent TM from coming to you kids’ high school; that's why we are attending this film! It's exciting. We’re proud of you, Gina!”

I smiled and laughed, not knowing how to respond. “Thank you for coming today. I really appreciate it.”

A master of ceremonies briefly introduced the filmmaker David Sieveking on stage. Then lights dimmed as the red velvet curtains pulled open, and the film began.

The audience watched Sieveking’s skillful and compassionate editing of his enthusiastic youthful journey to meet his idol, filmmaker David Lynch. At Lynch’s encouragement, Sieveking paid 2,800 euros cash for TM instruction. The film then follows Sieveking’s journey through images into some of TM’s global empire, New York, Berlin, Vlodrop, Iowa, India. After filming Maharishi’s memorial service on the Ganges, Sieveking was granted access to inner aspects of the Movement in Vlodrop, Netherlands. He filmed the lavish golden-crowned assembly of rajas in long white robes and gold chains during an early power struggle between Maharishi’s deemed successor, Maharaja Nader Raam, and the Indian factions of the Movement. In several instances, TM leaders directed Sieveking to turn off his camera. Several film clips include former devotees revealing bits of the Movement’s underbelly.

The post-film Q & A primarily revolved around film making. David Sieveking spoke frankly of the irony that he sought David Lynch and Transcendental Meditation to spur his filmmaking career. In the end, David Lynch and the Transcendental Meditation Movement demanded to censure the film. When Sieveking refused to allow the Movement censorship rights, David Lynch and the Movement refused further interviews with David Sieveking. They threatened Sieveking with law suits.

The audience laughed when Sieveking explained that meeting with an entertainment law attorney proved more beneficial for his stress level, than had the Transcendental Meditation technique.

Ironically, Sieveking’s pursuit of David Lynch and Transcendental Meditation did, in fact, provide the basis for a successful film. It’s just not the film that Sieveking had initially expected to make.

My friend Joe stood up, “Thank you, David, for making this film. I spent 15 years devotedly working for this organization. You’ve depicted that world eloquently and compassionately. The only thing missing was stories of the severe psychological and financial damage that occurred to many. The movie did not highlight those aspects, but you probably could not cover that. Transcendental Meditation is both manipulative and dangerous. Over all, your film was an excellent portrayal of the inside of that organization. Thank you.”

After the film, A young man struggling with family relation to TM cornered David Sieveking in the lobby, discussing aspects of the TM Movement. David Sieveking politely spoke with Mark, while trying to work contacts for his filmmaking career. Sieveking is not a professional exit counselor, nor a cult expert. He is a talented young filmmaker who recognized when he had stumbled upon a story, and pursued that story with passion.

Over dinner later, I asked another girlfriend, “So, as an outsider, what did you think of the film?”

“Oh, Sieveking did a great job! I was not fully objective, because I know Gina and I’d heard her stories. In the beginning of the film, I was surprised because I’d expected a hard core expose’. In fact he presented TM’s sales pitch. He showed how wonderful it is to relax with meditation. It was all just lovely, in fact, really lovely. He had a break up, a psychological crisis, and retreated to the comfort of meditation with new friends. Then he slowly revealed the group’s cracks, and the cracks just got bigger across the globe. The viewer walks that road with him through cracks that seem ready to crumble. He also clearly alluded to the fact that there is more to those cracks, but he could not tell those stories because of legal threats. The film clearly shows there is deep ugly dysfunction in Transcendental Meditation. He is a brilliant filmmaker with a bright career ahead of him! The fact that he’s funny and handsome doesn’t hurt!”

For those interested, you can read a more detailed review which includes an ex TMer lunch conversation preceding the screening by clicking to Gina's personal blog for essay "David Wants to Fly" with San Francisco friends.

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