A sprightly docu about finding your own artistic inspiration, “David Wants to Fly” follows German writer-helmer David Sieveking on his road to enlightenment, a journey that involves David Lynch, various headquarters of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement and the icy source of the Ganges. Both tongue-in-cheek and seriously questioning (particularly as pertains to TM’s financial empire), this entertaining, globe-trotting pic already has bigscreen release dates in co-production countries. It could take off for further niche theatrical play, maybe even Stateside, before making a landing at broadcasters.
Both star and narrator of his five-years-in-the-making project, Berlin-based Sieveking begins his tale as a recent film school grad wondering how to take the next step. When he learns that his idol, American helmer David Lynch, is toplining a conference on the source of creativity, he packs his bags for Fairfield, Iowa.
Fairfield is home to Maharishi U, one of many “consciousness-based” education centers launched by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the TM movement. In the mattress-lined Golden Domes of Pure Knowledge, students (separated by gender) practice “yogic flying.”
For those who don’t know Lynch is an avid practitioner of TM, it may be a bit disconcerting to hear him hold forth on avoiding the “suffocating rubber clown suit of negativity” and the joys of finding the tranquility within. He’s even established a foundation to fund the study of TM in all public schools.
Back in Germany, Sieveking signs up for TM lessons. On the first day, he’s required to bring some unusual items — plus a check for E2,380.
While covering the Maharishi’s funeral in India and a subsequent convening of his successors (the “Maharajah” and “Rajas”) in the Netherlands, Sieveking witnesses a battle for power within the TM empire. He also spotlights some of the organization’s questionable plans for world peace (for which they raise millions of dollars) including the fascist-sounding Invincible German and Brahmasthan, where 10,000 pandits are supposed to be chanting 24/7.
However, it’s when he begins talking to renegade former TMers who spill the beans about the Maharishi’s multiple affairs and the way he bled followers for cash (e.g., raja training is available for $1 million), that emails start to fly and lawsuits are threatened.
Pic’s best moments include visits to the much-vaunted Brahmasthan, which turns out to be a ghost town, and to Swami Swaroopanand, successor to Guru Dev, in a village near Tibet. The swami tells Sieveking that the Maharishi, from a trader caste, was merely Guru Dev’s bookkeeper and has no right to give mantras or teach meditation. Besides, he notes, “Gurus don’t sell their knowledge, they share it.”
Although some may find inclusion of the ups and downs of the helmer’s relationship with German author Marie Pohl a tad too precious, it adds to pic’s whimsical charm. The tall, skinny Sieveking proves an appealing on-camera presence, never taking himself too seriously, gamely walking barefoot like a sadhu in the Himalayan mountains and disguising himself as a pandit to sneak into Brahmasthan.
Tech package is first-rate, particularly the beautifully composed images of Adrian Stahli and pacey cutting of Martin Kayser-Landwehr. Karl Stirner’s well-used score provides ironic commentary.