COURTESY JONATHON HEXNER
Big Island yogi Norman Allen is featured in the documentary "Enlighten Up," which premiered at the Maui Film Festival last month.
Just call me Norman
An unpretentious yoga master shares his wisdom on film
Big Island resident Norman Allen plays a significant role in "Enlighten Up," a feature-length documentary about yoga, providing a strong local tie to a film that's making waves in a grass-roots fashion around the world.
"He's the most unconventional guy," explained filmmaker Kate Churchill, who added that she needed to meet with Allen and work on his farm several times before he permitted any on-camera interviews. "He's very special. His wisdom definitely has its own style. He's someone who's walking his talk."
When asked if he should be referred to as a yogi or guru, Allen, who has studied yoga for 40 years in India and other parts of the world, laughed. "Just call me Norman," he said during a conversation from Kona.
At one point during the film, which premiered last month at the Maui Film Festival, Nick Rosen, the yoga neophyte who became the guinea pig/star of the documentary, asks for help dealing with his daily emotions, which he admits can revolve around food, sex, greed and jealousy. Allen tells him simply, "Go (screw) yourself."
Later, Allen explained what he meant. "(Nick's) got to be complete in himself." The big Self is a unit complete unto itself -- unselfish. The small self is selfish and needy, when you bother people. The goal of yoga is to be the big Self, to be completely liberated, free and un-bonded. This, he continued, can be done at all different levels of sophistication.
However, the 69-year-old Allen said, millions of people are practicing yoga with little idea of the objective. "I know what the goal is of yoga, and I know how hard it is. I'm still plugging away."
COURTESY JONATHON HEXNER
Filmmaker Kate Churchill interviewed guru Saran Ananda in Northern India while making "Enlighten Up."
Churchill, who started making documentaries for Nova, PBS and National Geographic in 1995, practiced yoga for about seven years before the idea for the film arose. Her plan: Select someone to travel for six months in the United States and India, devoting nearly every waking hour to the practice, study or exploration of yoga. This included nearly 100 interviews (most of which do not make the final cut) with yogis and gurus such as Allen. She chose Rosen, who was a 29-year-old journalist in New York when their story began.
"We didn't really know each other, and the next thing I knew, we were living together," Churchill said during the Maui Film Festival. "It was very odd."
But they found a path neither had anticipated. Along the way, Churchill turned the camera on herself and uttered what she considered "pretty extreme" statements about yoga and their journey.
Including this in the film illuminated the conflict between her and Rosen. Eventually, the friction helped her realize that she had embarked on the project expecting to document the way yoga could enlighten someone else, which she hoped, in turn, would change her.
In other words, she was doing what she calls "living out." Instead of editing the footage to create the result she wanted, Churchill tried to remain transparent throughout. As a result, she said, it became "a much more honest film than I've ever made."
Churchill admitted that everything was far more complex than their quest for greater understanding through a practice some people view as religion and others see as nothing more than exercise. "Ultimately, it's a story about two people trying to find happiness and having to figure it out for themselves."
In the process, Churchill amassed about 500 hours of footage -- arguably the most comprehensive yoga video library on record. And she did this for her first project that lacked a clear distribution plan. Thus far, screenings have taken place at festivals, in major art galleries and by request in theaters in various countries.