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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Enlighten Up!
Enlighten Up!
Docurama // Unrated // November 10, 2009
List Price: $26.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Chris Neilson | posted November 3, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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Documentaries in their initial concept and final form often diverge, but rarely more so than in filmmaker Kate Churchill's Enlighten Up! (2008). Churchill, a longtime devotee of yoga, intended to make a documentary about the transformative power of yoga. Her plan was to follow a yoga novice, 29-year-old unemployed journalist Nick Rosen, for six months as he sought out a spiritually transformative yoga practice. But that's not how things worked out. How Churchill's plan went awry and the theme which emerged to take its place, fortunately, make for an interesting story nonetheless.

Though yoga claims a pedigree that dates back to ancient India, its modern incarnation as practiced in the west is much younger. Virtually unknown here forty years ago, more than 16.5 million Americans now practice yoga regularly, with another 62 million interested in beginning a practice, according to a 2004 survey. The multi-billion dollar yoga industry has spawned a plethora of gurus, studios, products, and methods ranging from exclusively physical exercise routines to predominately spiritual meditations, with most methods drawing from physical and spiritual elements to varying degrees.

Novice Nick Rosen, with Kate Churchill's camera crew in tow, embarks on his search for a transformative practice with visits to several of NYC's premiere yoga studios. Though the studios are filled with enthusiastic students with the kind of limber and lean-muscled bodies rarely seen in the malls of America's heartland, the new-age claptrap espoused by many of the NYC gurus featured is at best unpersuasive to Rosen. It's at this point that one can begin to sense Churchill's growing misgivings about selecting Rosen who as a professional journalist, religious agnostic, and adult child of former back-to-the-land hippies, has a degree of skepticism far exceeding that likely of most others who might have signed on for Churchill's project.

After exhausting the search for enlightenment in the studios of NYC, Rosen and crew decamp for points west, hopping a flight to L.A. and then on to Hawaii, before taking up an extended journey in northern India, where the yogis are more likely to be potbellied than lean-muscled. Along the journey, the yogis that appear to have the most favorable impact on Rosen are those that themselves appear genuinely content in their life choices without attempting to proselytize the superiority of yoga as a means for cultivating contentment. Yet, Rosen's continued skepticism about yoga as a personal spiritual practice proves increasingly frustrating to Churchill as the six months of principal photography grind on toward conclusion.

Unable to bend Rosen's experiences to her preconceptions, Churchill spent 30 months working with editors Khari Streeter and Jonathan Sahula to turn the 500 hours of footage into a coherent documentary, albeit one very different from the kind Churchill set out to make. In listening to seven hours of Rosen reading his daily journals, and the many conversations caught on camera between Rosen and Churchill never intended for inclusion in the documentary, the trio in the editing booth refocused the film on the personal dynamics of Rosen and Churchill's working relationship, and their unique expectations and experiences during those six months together. The final product is actually a fairly brave choice for Churchill who frequently comes off looking frustrated and hectoring in comparison to Rosen who always seems amiable, curious, and even-keeled.

Presentation
Video & Audio:
Enlighten Up! is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.77:1 aspect ratio). Recorded with a full documentary film crew, the production quality is generally very good. Color and contrast are excellent, though the video is occasionally soft.

Dolby digital 5.1 and 2.0 audio options are provided. Again, the mix sounds very good for a documentary with voices almost always clearly recorded though no subtitle options are provided.

Extras:
The extras consist of 57 minutes of additional or extended scenes consisting mostly of additional interviews with yogis.

Final Thoughts:
Though filmmaker Kate Churchill's plan to make a documentary about yoga as a transformational spiritual practice fell apart, the more nuanced story of journalist Nick Rosen, a spiritual agnostic, exploring the practice of yoga with good-natured skepticism against a backdrop of friction with the filmmaker is an interesting one.

Recommended.

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