It is said that you should never meet your heroes. It's bound to be a disappointing encounter when all is said and done, your naive hopes pinned on the fantasy you've created in your mind about the outcome: an instant rapport, a mutual recognition that you are kindred spirits, the admiration and respect no longer just flowing one way, anymore--perhaps, even life-long friendship will transpire.
Young David Sieveking has just graduated from film school, another broke budding filmmaker looking for inspiration, when we first meet him in his apartment in Berlin. His personality and demeanor are instantly appealing--sweet-faced, charming and a bit of a bumbler, he states in voice over, "I wanted to make dark films like my idol, David Lynch. But I was lacking the darkness." Yet the journey he takes to meet his idol in this wonderful début feature leads the wide-eyed searcher into some very dark places, indeed.
David Wants to Fly, which premiered at the 2010 Berlinale, showcases a new presence, a new voice in documentary that deserves much attention, for Sieveking has made a highly-entertaining, very funny, thought-provoking, disturbing and penetrating investigation into the inner workings of a very wealthy and powerful organization--don't let the sweet-faced, charming, bumbler fool you. (Think Mr. M. Moore circa Roger & Me.) I meant to write about this film after seeing it at the Doc Planete Film Festival in Warsaw, Poland in the spring where our jury gave it an honorable mention, all of us recognizing the profound accomplishment in storytelling artistry this piece contains, the artificial and, sometimes, awkward, contrivances, a constant wink and nod to his audience to stay the course with him. And we're happy to. It is a wild journey, slyly paying homage to Lynch while what he represents is simultaneously being stripped down to size. (It recently played, out of competition, at Dokufest in Kosova, where I had a chance to watch it again.)
It is currently booked for wide national theatrical distribution here in Germany through the end of the year. But since it's been on the circuit starting the early part of this year, there hasn't been much of a response from festivals in the States. In some instances, there was great interest; yet, ultimately, it hasn't been programmed anywhere. I can only attribute that to the fact that there is fear of a Lynch backlash (meaning: lawsuit) and festivals have just shied away from any of that madness. I hope there's someone hardy enough to show it anyway, for it is an expertly structured, beautifully shot film that also happens to be a mighty powerful exposé into a rarely-glimpsed world. Also, there are few docs that are as highly entertaining as this one, and methinks the genre could definitely use a lot more of that there E-word. Please.
When David finds out from the Internet that Lynch will be in Fairfield, Iowa, to speak about the source of his creative inspiration, he promptly scoots himself over the Atlantic, rents a car and drives himself into the American heartland. Why Iowa? Fairfield is where the palatial campus for the Maharishi University is located and, for the first time, Lynch will speak publicly about transcendental meditation (TM), something he's been practicing for decades. The auditorium is packed with young people, a lot of them, we assume, budding filmmakers, there to eagerly receive pearls of wisdom from one of today's master filmmakers. The Maharishi, old and infirm and residing in India, sends a video message to the audience: "Go by the advice that you have received from the artist, Dr. Lynch." Lynch extols the virtues of the Maharishi's teachings, describing it as "money in the bank." Yes, but whose money? And whose bank?
David is mesmerized, inspired, electrified with excitement. He even lands a private audience with Lynch when his live-in girlfriend miraculously gets assigned an interview from a German magazine with the director. Marie, an eccentric, whip-smart, no-bullshit girl with a distinct fashion flair, sits quietly as David takes over, grilling Lynch on TM, asking him to explain its magic. Ignoring the dubious stance of Marie (some of the most delightful scenes in the film feature the two of them in combat), David dives right in. Once back in Germany, he gets himself an appointment at the German TM headquarters in Hanover for his initiation into the practice; there, he will receive his own personal mantra so he can go about transforming himself from the inside out. He is told to bring six fresh flowers, sweet fruits, a white handkerchief. And 2,380 euros. In cash. But never mind that, he is swept away and becomes a valiant acolyte, meditating every day, a novice believer--the most vulnerable kind. Yet, the more he learns about the movement and its inner workings, the more puzzled and disturbed he becomes, hero worship notwithstanding. It is great fun to watch him use his innate earnestness, his suit and tie, his spectacles and suspenders and jaunty hat, to gain the most incredible access over and over again.
On February 6, 2008, the Maharishi passes away and David takes himself to India for the funeral, camera equipment in tow. He sees Lynch there, a VIP in the proceedings, and Lynch greets him warmly, shakes his hand, asks him how the film project is going. This is the last time the two will share such a friendly exchange. Based on what he's shot so far, David receives backing and funding for the project from some German producers, and it's full steam ahead--the filmmaking becoming more and more grand (gorgeous cinematography by Adrian Stähli), the rabbit hole going deeper and deeper. In a whirlwind world tour, Sieveking's blind faith clears into razor-sharp vision, his "nice little documentary on the TM movement" becoming a hard-hitting, in-depth investigation into something really insidious. It becomes dangerous territory, both for the filmmaker and his subjects. As he delves deeper, his life and well-being devolve into an existential nightmare. This is where this young man shows what he's made of; overcoming his fear and trepidation, he kicks things into high gear, pulling out all the stops, continuing to gain open access by being effervescent, polite, friendly, nodding enthusiastically, encouraging his subjects with a wide open smile to skewer themselves in front of his camera.
The film took Sieveking five long years to make and we can visibly see him age--his hair gets peppered with gray, some wrinkles start to radiate from the corners of his clear, blue eyes, an exhausted pall pulls his boyish features down a bit as he carries on. The surreality of the worlds he encounters have to be seen to be believed. I, for one, am a believer in this new filmmaker's talent.