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Documentary Playlist: He Who Devotes Himself

“Do not worry in the least about yourself, leave all worry to God,’ – this appears to be the commandment in all religions. This need not frighten anyone. He who devotes himself to service with a clear conscience, will day by day grasp the necessity for it in greater measure, and will continually grow richer in faith. The path of service can hardly be trodden by one who is not prepared to renounce self-interest, and to recognize the conditions of his birth. Consciously or unconsciously, every one of us does render some service or other. If we cultivate the habit of doing this service deliberately, our desire for service will steadily grow stronger, and will make not only for our own happiness but that of the world at large.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

Since the dawn of man, humanity has sought to improve upon themselves as moral beings through the belief and worship of a higher power. Religions, no matter what the creed, have always required their devotees to make personal sacrifices in the name of righteousness and holy veneration. Some of these acts are relatively simple, such as giving up meat for the Catholic Lent, or they can be more demanding like fasting from dawn until sunset during the Islamic month of Ramadan. At the extreme end of this spectrum, as tribute, the Mayans actually sacrificed their own people to the gods, throwing them into cavernous cenotes believed to be portals to the underworld. Or simply look to the Pantheon, St Peter’s Basilica, the Mahabodhi Temple, Masjid al-Haram or any number of awe-inspiring religious structures the world over, erected specifically to honor the divine and encourage prayer. Human devotion can take shape in extraordinary feats of grandeur or merely modest efforts of self improvement.

As Mahatma Gandhi phrased it, these personal sacrifices are, at their core, a service whose ultimate ends are to better one’s self and the world around them. Often, the unfortunate result of this mindset can be catastrophic, either personally, by ignoring one’s own general well being in service of their religion, or culturally, as we see in the repetition of wars throughout human history in which one sect claims to be of higher verity than another. In these situations, morals seem to become as slippery as presumed truths. Yet, people continue to worship. They continue to pray, to meditate, to donate, to sacrifice, to make pilgrimages and devote their lives in hopes of bringing meaning to their existence and good into a world that often looks quite grim.

The following six films chronicle the holy being humanized by various forms of sacrifice and devotion of people young and old. Some subjects find themselves abstaining from pleasure for the purpose of purity, while others seek forgiveness for sins past, wholly believing that moral transgressions are spiritually reconcilable. Each of these documentaries, varying in style from meditative observation to hysterical satire, celebrates the devout by simply bearing witness.

KUMARÉ is a documentary about a man who impersonates a wise Indian Guru and builds a following in Arizona. At the height of his popularity, the Guru Kumaré must reveal his true identity to his disciples to unveil his greatest teaching of all.

Koran By Heart
Following a global contest reading of the Koran by young Muslim children that takes place in Cairo, Egypt annually during Ramadan KORAN BY HEART is a coming of age story about Muslim kids in modern times.

Exploring our world from the mundane to the miraculous, looking into the reaches of man’s spirituality and the human experience, SAMSARA is neither a traditional documentary nor a travelogue, instead taking the form of a nonverbal, guided meditation.

High above a jungle in Nepal, pilgrims make an ancient journey by cable car to worship the legendary temple of the Hindu goddess Durga: MANAKAMANA.

The Overnighters
THE OVERNIGHTERS is the story of the broken, desperate men chasing their dreams and running from their demons in the North Dakota oil fields and the local Pastor who risks everything to help them.

Into Great Silence
INTO GREAT SILENCE is an intimate portrayal and examination of the life of the devout monks who live within the Grande Chartreuse, the head monastery of the reclusive Carthusian Order situated in the French Alps.