Wendy Mitchell meets Jamie Morgan, a first-time documentary film-maker who created a stir in Tribeca with his provocative and personal documentary, The Workshop.
Documentary film-maker Jamie Morgan set out on a personal spiritual quest and ended up with a legal battle hours before the world premiere of his film at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Morgan and producer Peter Martin convinced the festival to go ahead with the premiere, despite the threat of legal action from one of the subjects of the film (who had not yet seen it), entitled The Workshop.
The film is sure to inspire discussion - though of a personal rather than legal nature - because it follows London-based Morgan as he attends a California seminar with 72-year-old spiritual guru Paul Lowe, who encourages nudity and sexual exploration during his workshops. Some of the attendees also claim to see aliens.
Despite the unorthodox subject, the film is a respectful, engrossing and, at times, funny portrait of Morgan and his fellow attendees' personal journeys, without portraying Lowe as the head of a freak show.
'I'm a questioning kind of person, human behaviour interests me,' says Morgan of the subject of his first feature. Buena Onda came on board for the $200,000 project, and Lumina Films is handling sales (Revolver has already snapped up UK rights and Hopscotch has taken Australia).
Morgan had wanted to be a film-maker when he was starting his career, but found it hard to break into the union-oriented business in London at the time. Instead, he became a photographer (shooting for The Face magazine) and a musician (working with Neneh Cherry). He had been making short films and pop videos for several years.
Five people had previously made unsuccessful attempts to make a film about Lowe's workshop. '(Paul) said to bring a camera and we'll see,' Morgan says. 'I had no idea what would happen with this film.'
He decided immediately to make himself part of the story. 'I wanted to transgress those boundaries to be directly involved in the process,' Morgan says. 'There was no crew, no sound guys, no tripods.'
To film himself, he would hand the camera to his closest neighbour. Despite the lack of crew, the film looks quite visually polished.
He had verbal consent from his subjects (and edited or blurred out the faces of those who did not wish to appear on camera) and later had releases signed by the 10 main protagonists in the film). For the most part, people were willing to trust him because he was going through the process with them.
'I didn't want to make a film about this weird alien sex cult,' he says. 'I didn't want to take the piss.'
Participants are shown naked and before and after sexual intercourse, but Morgan did not want to include explicit sex or orgy scenes.
'There was much more hardcore stuff that I chose not to include. The film isn't about sex, it's about sexuality, jealousy and looking at self-discovery. I didn't want people to get distracted by the sex or for the film to be sensationalist.'
Inspired by the positive reaction in Tribeca to The Workshop (it will have its European premiere at the Zurich Film Festival this autumn), Morgan and Martin plan a new trilogy on sex, drugs and rock and roll. They are looking for a finance partner and expect all films will feature Morgan in personal experiences with each subject.
'In a way they are feel-good movies. We're looking at humanity and God through those base human desires,' he explains. 'In a great sexual experience, you can have a godly experience, (the same way) that drugs or music can take you to a new place. It can be a spiritual question.'