'The Mindfulness Movement': Film Review

Courtesy of Interesting Stuff Entertainment Inc./Abramorama
Couldn't be more perfectly timed.
4/10/2020

Rob Beemer's documentary explores the growing phenomenon of people focusing on the present moment to improve their physical and mental health.

Filmmaker Rob Beemer is smart enough to know that an esoteric subject demands the presence of celebrities to garner attention. Thus, his documentary chronicling the rise of mindfulness and meditation over the last few decades opens with footage of such familiar faces as Anderson Cooper, Oprah Winfrey and actor Patrick Dempsey. Fortunately, it's an unnecessary hook to draw viewers into The Mindfulness Movement, a breezy and highly informative primer that should, especially in these anxiety-fraught times, persuade many people to explore mindfulness — focusing on the present moment to achieve greater piece of mind — for themselves.

We learn that studies have proven that meditation can strengthen certain areas of the brain and slow its aging, and that it has been shown to lower stress and reduce blood pressure. The practice has been employed by such organizations as the Mindfulness Warrior Project, helping veterans suffering from PTSD, and Eat Right Now, the UMASS Center for Mindfulness' mindful eating class for those suffering from food addiction issues. There are mindfulness programs geared to police officers (we see one burly cop meditating in the lotus position, even while wearing his uniform and gun) and prison inmates. Sometimes, however, the variations can be unintentionally comic, such as the footage of people practicing "mindful walking" that makes them resemble extras from The Walking Dead.

A gallery of experts and leading figures in the field testify to the mental and physical benefits of mindfulness, including Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Center for Mindfulness; Daniel Goleman, co-author of Altered Traits, about scientific research on meditation; U.S. Congressman Tim Ryan, who wrote a book entitled A Mindful Nation (no wonder his 2020 presidential run didn't go anywhere); and, of course, Deepak Chopra, amusingly pointing out that "awarefulness" would be a more accurate term except it's too awkward. The film even includes a participatory element, inviting viewers to "close your eyes and practice if you like" during its footage of various mindfulness exercises. (Be advised, it's harder than it looks.)

Not surprisingly, many commercial products tying into the phenomenon have sprung up, including a headband that, according to its spokeswoman, "reads your brain data" and provides appropriate sound cues. "If you stay really quiet, you'll even hear little birds chirping," she promises.

The documentary shows profiles of four individuals ­— pop singer Jewel, ABC news reporter Dan Harris, star high school basketball player turned NBA mindfulness coach George Mumford and Sharon Salzberg, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society — to provide a structure for its examination of the history of the mindfulness movement. Some of the stories are interesting, such as Harris' tale of suffering an on-air panic attack after becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol as a result of his experiences covering war zones. But more often, they feel like the sort of extraneous human-interest stories tacked on to Olympic Games coverage. (Although it's hard not to chuckle at his comment, "I thought meditation was for people who were really into Enya.")

At times you can feel the strain of the documentary struggling to include every aspect of mindfulness, such as its profile of Leigh Koechner (wife of veteran character actor David), who weaves routines about the subject into her stand-up comedy act. And the scenes of people meditating or practicing various forms of mindfulness occasionally border on the cheesy, often resembling a television commercial. Nonetheless, The Mindfulness Movement fulfills its goal of delivering a wealth of information about its important subject matter, even to those skeptics who think that it's strictly for people who are really into Enya.

Available April 10 to rent or purchase at TheMindfulnessMovement.com
Production: Interesting Stuff Entertainment
Distributor: Abramorama, Mangurama
Director/producer/screenwriter: Rob Beemer
Executive producers: Deepak Chopra, Jewel Kilcher, Poonacha Machaiah, Leigh Koechner, Mike Beemer, Diane Beemer
Directors of photography: Wes Dorman, Dave Goulding, Randall Love, Max Miller, David Sanders, Kelsey Smith, Mike Stodden, David Zapatka
Editors: Marco Jakubowicz, Ron Frank
Composer: Spirit Production Music

101 min.