A fascinating documentary that details the world's biggest gathering, "Short Cut to Nirvana" watches an estimated 70 million (!) people arrive at the meeting of the the Ganges and the Yamuna rivers in India. The gathering of people happens every 12 years, and the pilgrimage attracts people from all over the world. Some believe it has been going on for thousands of years.
Once travelers arrive, they are confronted with a wild rush of colors, sights and sounds. The festival-like atmosphere brings everyone from religious gurus to college-age kids who are curious about both the gathering and the country itself. Although not able to capture everything, directors Maurizio Benazzo and Nick Day still do a very fine job in giving the viewer a sense of the size and scope of the gathering, with shots of what could easily be described as a sea of people (although "ocean of people" may be more fitting in this case) and interviews with many different people, all coming to the festival for different and interesting reasons of their own. We also get to see many of the performances and there's even a romantic moment at one point. The Dalai Lama is also an honored guest, and gives a speech at the event.
The most wonderful element of this documentary is seeing an event like this where people from all over the world - different races, backgrounds and every other different thing you could ever think of - coming together to celebrate (although there does seem to be some opportunists) and become one incredibly massive community. The filmmakers simply present the festival, and act only as observers, presenting the viewer with a very in-depth look at this amazing event that not many people know about.
The documentary may not seem particularly organized as it jumps from event to random interview to performance to crowd shots, but the filmmakers have managed to assemble the picture in a way that doesn't feel like a mess, but like being in the middle of the controlled chaos (speaking of controlled chaos, we are really never given an idea of how the festival works, and are given the impression that - remarkable, if actually true - that almost everyone seems to know to behave) of the event.
The film does lack deeper information about the religious (Hindu) and cultural aspects of what is often going on in the documentary, but I really was very pleased with the film just as an opportunity to be able to see and learn at least a bit about this remarkable event. While the film itself didn't go terribly deeply into the details of the event, it is a beautifully filmed doc, and it did inspire me to go learn more about this immense gathering.
VIDEO: "Short Cut to Nirvana" is presented by Zeitgeist Video in 1.66:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. The digital video production mostly looks quite good on this transfer as while sharpness and detail do vary, the movie mostly appears at least fairly crisp. Some minor shmmering and the occasional hint of pixelation appear, but the presentation is mostly crisp and clean. Colors appeared natural and accurate, with only a little bit of smearing.
SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation sounded perfectly fine. There isn't a whole lot of surround use, understandably, but the music and dialogue sound mostly clear and well-recorded.
EXTRAS: "Pilgrims From the West" is a short featurette that visits with the Americans shown in the film and their thoughts about the visit to the gathering, which occured in 2001. Their thoughts and insights as they look back on their participation in both the event and the gathering are interesting.
Additionally, we also get an interview with the filmmakers, who discuss getting involved in the project and how they approached trying to capture the gathering. Some behind-the-scenes footage is also offered during the filmmaker interview. Finally, a photo gallery and the theatrical trailer are also included.
Final Thoughts: "Short Cut to Nirvana" is a fascinating look at this incredibly massive gathering, with the cameras leading us through the crowds and stopping to catch at the almost insanely wide range of events large and small going on. Worth checking out at least as a rental for those interested.