Q&A with Director Rebecca Dreyfus


How did you get interested in meditation?

I wanted to start a practice but I didn’t know where to begin. For me personally, the idea of meditating or more broadly “going inward” felt a little overwhelming.  The idea made me feel simultaneously attracted and repelled so I knew I had to work with it in some way.  I wanted to know more about other people’s practices.  And I figured if I felt this way other people probably did too—so why not do a film project?  That kind of got the ball rolling and it quickly became clear once we started shooting that the material is very rich and largely unexplored in mainstream media.

For me, the idea is/was to make the subject matter palatable and accessible based on my own desire to understand it better. My work generally starts with an authentic desire to explore a particular subject. The vision for the project actually became real to me sitting in an ancient temple in Kyoto. I was so moved by the environment (it was the Ryoan-ji temple) and in general the great lengths Japanese society had gone to cultivate spaces in which to feel peaceful. I wanted to know more. I hope at some point we can go and shoot segments in the temples there with some of the great Zen masters.

You’re known for your feature length documentaries. Why a series of short films?

While I was in Kyoto, I stumbled upon an interesting fact: The Zen garden was originally conceived as an enclosure that would provide a manageable way for humans to commune with the vastness of nature. 

Since going inward felt so vast to me I thought small packages or short films might be the perfect way to explore the material—offer it up in small Zen-like packages so the viewer may find a manageable way to commune with the vastness of the subject matter.

Photos from Rebecca Dreyfus' trip to Kyoto, Japan.

You’ve focused on a pretty eclectic group of individuals. How do you go about choosing your subjects?

First and foremost, as always when choosing people to put in front of the camera I look for compelling people. In this case, there was also a requisite that the subjects have a practice of some seriousness and regularity. After that it’s mostly instinct. I just kind of get an idea in my head… like “I have to shoot so and so” and then I do my best to make it happen.

As a group, Susannah and Elena and I also decided it would be good to include “notable personalities” and not just teachers and gurus- to make it more accessible to everyone (not just yogis and people already on the path.)

What have you learned about meditation from doing these portraits? Any surprises about what your subjects have had to say about their practices?

Across the board, I’ve learned that meditation is something we are all meant to do. It’s so obvious once you start listening to people who do it a lot; it’s innate for humans to sit.

Have you started meditating? What are the biggest challenges you have faced? What has been most rewarding?

I have been cultivating a practice for a while now. The biggest challenge is keeping it regular and getting myself to sit. I go through phases where I sit more but then I get busy and it kind of slips away. Perhaps I should state clearly here that I make no claims on spiritual advancement as a maker of this project—maybe just the opposite. I find getting myself to sit a huge challenge. I would say I bring, rather, the novice’s curiosity and passion to the project.