07-nick-upsidedownThe yoga doc Enlighten Up! has been making the rounds through North America for the past 6 months and it’s *finally* opening in Montréal this weekend. I had the pleasure of talking to director Kate Churchill and writing about the film for the weekly paper, Hour. It was an interesting challenge to write about yoga for a non-yoga audience, and to do it that chirpy laidback alt-weekly style. Here’s the article (which is a “preview,” rather than a review):

What happens when you take a cynical journalist and self-described “godless guy from New York City,” subject him to a six-month global yoga immersion and try to force him to get enlightened?

With an estimated 18 million Americans practising a Baskin-Robbins selection of yoga styles that make up a multi-billion-dollar industry, a documentary like Enlighten Up!, about a yoga skeptic who immerses himself in the practice, was bound to emerge.

Director Kate Churchill sets out to prove that “yoga can transform anyone” – in the process, her doc presents yoga in its full range of expression, from the hyper-commercialization and dilution to pure devotion. Nick Rosen is her willing-yet-resistant guinea pig. His adventure starts off in the bustling New York City yoga scene, in modern classes with high-profile teachers, and moves on to L.A., where he practises with former pro-wrestler Diamond Dallas Page on the lawn of his mansion with scantily clad large-breasted women (we get to see why Page’s Yoga for Regular Guys eschews “namaste” for “T and A”).

“We’ve tried to create a view into the world of yoga and present the range of styles and approaches with a sense of humour,” says Churchill. “The given audience of the film is yoga practitioners, but we’ve realized that there is a significant audience of people who were dragged to the film by their friends or partners. They love it because there’s a skeptic. Non-yoga practitioners may relate to Nick [and] feel a kinship with him.”

We follow Rosen to Hawaii, where he starts to get some insights into this yoga stuff, and then proceed on to the motherland herself, India. Yoga luminaries BKS Iyengar (founder of the Iyengar system) and Pattabhi Jois (the founder of Ashtanga yoga, who recently passed away) try to explain how yoga works to Rosen, but it’s not until he travels to the old-school bearded gurus in the northern mountains does he get a glimpse into yoga’s possible essence.

Rosen isn’t the only person on the journey here, as he’s closely accompanied by Churchill, who plays an active role in the film, mostly off-camera. She goads him on, questioning him to the point of creating palpable tension, unafraid to put on a little enlightenment pressure even while Rosen insists that he isn’t experiencing any huge transformations, other than perhaps physical fitness.

“I started out with these insane, huge expectations, which left me blind to the subtle shifts that were happening within Nick,” says Churchill. “Though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I like the fact that Nick was so skeptical and resistant. It allowed me to jump into an unrealistic undertaking.”

While Rosen deems the “great yoga experiment” a failure, the film ends up asking some essential questions. “We tried to open yoga up,” says Churchill. “We weren’t trying to say, ‘This is the right path for everyone.’ The film is an exploration of yoga for oneself.”

Enlighten Up! A Skeptic’s Journey Into the World of Yoga
at Cinéma du Parc, Oct. 23-29