It’s a documentary gone wrong, gone right.
The premise of “Enlighten Up!,” directed by Kate Churchill, was to follow a skeptic as he transformed and embraced the world of yoga, producing a spiritually enlightened, changed man.
That didn’t work out so well.
“Here I am out in remote India, doing yoga every day,” says Nick Rosen, a Boulder resident and the film’s central character. “My knees are starting to give out because of all these advanced yoga postures I’m trying — I still don’t believe in karma — and I’m fighting with the director because she wants me to have some kind of transformation.”
Churchill, who has been practicing yoga for more than a decade, says she really believed that with time, and possibly the right teacher, Rosen would be transformed.
“His skepticism in the beginning was good,” she says. “But, when it persisted, at times throughout, I found for me at the time was really very threatening to what I thought was going to happen. So there’s a lot of conflict between Nick and me in the movie.”
This turned the entire documentary upside down. Churchill put her first draft together, but received consistent feedback that something was missing.
After reorganizing the footage and changing 98 percent of the documentary over the course of nearly three years, the conflict between herself and Rosen was moved to the forefront.
“I had never been in a film,” Churchill says. “I always thought of myself as a fly on the wall.”
Churchill says she has been making films, behind the lens, for about 15 years — this being her first feature documentary.
She chose Rosen as the subject not only because of his skepticism, but because she says 70 percent of people who practice yoga are women.
“I was quite interested in finding someone who seemed like an unlikely yogi,” she says. “So the fact that he was skeptical was key.”
Rosen, a filmmaker for Sender Films, which produces the Reel Rock Film Tour and outdoor adventure films in town, also was a news editor for the Boulder Weekly about 10 years ago, he says.
The fact that he came from a “new age-y” community in western Massachusetts, his mom is a shamanic healer and his growing up in a “pretty left-of-center background,” one would think he would be more open to the practice of yoga.
“I think that the same way that kids rebel against their conservative parents to embrace things alternative, maybe I had the opposite,” he says, laughing.
But Rosen went along with the concept.
“What I wasn’t so sure of was the director’s narrative,” he says. “That this process would transform me in a way that was deeper than physical — that I would come to embrace some of the philosophical concepts behind yoga.”
In the documentary, Rosen is trailed for six months, keeping a daily journal, while traveling the globe from the U.S. mainland to Hawaii and India, all while meeting master yogis such as Sri Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar.
Rosen says it was while he was in the spiritual heart of India when the tension between himself and Churchill grew.
“That was a difficult process for me,” Rosen says. “But I think it was also probably the most valuable. When the pressure ramps up, that’s when interesting things happen.”
After it’s all said and done, Rosen is not a converted yogi, but he did walk away with some valuable experience. And, he says he would recommend the practice to fellow skeptics.
“You know, there’s a reason why millions of people do this,” Rosen says. “I certainly would recommend yoga to someone. On a basic level, it is a wonderful, physical practice — the stretching, the breathing. It really does open you up.”
Rosen says the ultimate lesson he learned from the film was to follow his own path.
“The fact is that there I am, I’m lying there all opened up and vulnerable … I can’t help but absorb some of those lessons and at least try to apply them to my life,” he says.
Churchill, who lives in Boston and New York, says the balance between herself and Rosen makes the film genuine.
“It’s a really honest film,” she says. “It’s honest about everyone we interviewed. It’s honest about where Nick was and his actions. It’s honest about me and my actions.
“It really, I think, appeals to people, because of it.”