The Beloved is a portrait of a group of individual spiritual seekers, all of whom once followed a mysterious calling and surrendered themselves and their way of life to a man and a belief in his vision. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh or Osho as he is now known, was a controversial spiritual teacher from India who took disciples or ‘sannyasins’ from all over the world during the seventies and eighties. The Beloved focuses on sannyasins and ex-sannyasins from the port city of Fremantle, Western Australia, where in 1981, the group established a large ‘satellite’ commune and ashram in the centre of town. The sannyasin living experiment set in motion fundamental changes to existing social structures and identities; new names, new appearance - orange and red clothing only - and a completely new focus: a ‘master’ and the promise of enlightenment. In their vision for a higher consciousness revolution, the movement experienced a spectacular and public rise and fall in the space of only a few years, with the sannyasin headquarters in Oregon U.S.A. and the satellite commune in Fremantle both collapsing. Many sannyasins found themselves lost ‘in the world’, left to deal with the fallout of having cut family ties, sold off inheritances, and dropped out of the wider community and workforce. This is an epic meditation on the audacious living experiment and untold aftermath of the Rajneesh sannyasins in Fremantle, told by sannyasins and ex-sannyasins in intimate and, at times, harrowing detail. It is a contemplative listening experience of different voices and perspectives, presented over the changing backdrop of Fremantle - its cyclical events, weather pattens and light - as well as rare or personal archive.
Film Completed / JOSEPH LONDON
An epic meditation on an audacious living experiment, and its untold aftermath.
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A short summary of the issue the documentary is addressing
'The Beloved' seeks to create a space for the processing of a troubled and in some cases traumatic history and a wider contemplation of power and worship. The film is a study of a spiritual group and an alternative living experiment that experienced a very public rise and fall. The Rajneesh sannyasin living experiment that occurred in the late seventies and eighties was an attempt to transcend traditional boundaries in Western capitalist society. It was a movement of the times, but it is also a mirror of spiritual groups that focus on a single saviour or master, and which have occurred throughout history. While such groups often break new ground and are personally transformative, they are also dangerous. The spectre of ‘cults’ always hangs over such movements and groups and this film discusses the issues that surround spiritual groups in great detail and through lived experience, as the only voices in the film are those of sannyasins and ex-sannyasins themselves.
What is the impact vision statement of the documentary?
The form or structure of the film is designed to deflate the ‘us and them’ tone of traditional historical documentary forms. The film attempts to do so by eliminating talking heads and using the stillness and space of contemporary Fremantle landscapes and cityscapes, which make up the majority of the film's imagery. This form is intended to emphasise listening and contemplative experience and to assist in the comprehension and contemplation of difficult and traumatic histories.
What outcomes does the project hope to achieve from making this documentary?
As outlined above, I intend for this film to raise issues around the spiritual disciple experience, such as the role of belief in groups and of the transfer of personal power. Such a concentrated power based on belief can easily lead to abuse - particularly of the ordinary disciple - and an ‘us and them’ mentality which can lead to alienation and entrapment. For those that experienced the sannyasin living experiment, a desired outcome is to contribute to a healthier identity and to open dialogue between adversarial factions within the community, including, in some cases, sannyasin parents and their children. Another key issue explored by the film is that of historical representation itself. This film offers alternative means of accessing ‘truth’ in historical documentaries to the more traditional methods of authority and evidence, which is, increasingly, easily disputed and discredited, and instead attempts to access the truth of a history through imagination and empathy.
How will this documentary achieve its outcomes?
‘The Beloved’ is a contemplative listening experience that aims to encourage a greater appreciation of alternative historical representation and experience. The double nature of this film - historical voices and contemporary landscape - balances historical narrative and contemplation. The visual study of Fremantle that sits underneath the telling of this history reveals the cyclical events, the weather patterns, times of day, natural sounds and beauty of a single city in a way that aims to encourage a greater awareness of our own everyday experience and home. The film also aims to raise awareness about the concept of enlightenment and discipleship, and of the many issues that emerge from becoming involved in their attainment.
How will partnerships with this project help inform the project development?
'The Beloved' is a collaboration between myself and the sannyasins who participated in the film. I remain in touch with many of them, as friends, but also to discuss issues raised by the film. It has already received much interest among local sannyasins, with many in the community coming to local screenings, and other who are yet to see it, organising regional screenings for other sannyasins living in the area. Based on this strong interest, I have applied to film festivals in cities that have a strong sannyasin presence or history themselves: Byron Bay and Portland, Oregon. As an educator in film, the making of this film has informed my own approach to historical representation, particularly for sensitive, difficult or traumatic histories.
Audience Engagement and Social Impact
What actions does this project hope for its viewers after seeing this film?
I believe my answers above have addressed this question.
Measurement and Evaluation
What is the projects indicators for success?
The indicators of the film's success are:
-for the sannyasin community to start a more open dialogue about the past with one another that will enable acknowledgement and healing,
- for audiences to appreciate the alternative form of historical representation the film offers,
- for the Fremantle community to have better understanding of its social history and environment,
- for the general public to respond to the story and to the style of the film.
All of the above depend on the film finding its audience. The first step in this goal is to apply to festivals - two have accepted so far: MIFF 2021 and Revelation Film Festival, held in December 2020.
I will eventually seek distribution for the film, and explore broadcast opportunities.