Unpacking the Sannyasin aftermath
A NEW four-hour documentary which seeks to unpack the colourful and controversial Rajneeshee movement in Fremantle during the 1980s will premiere next month.
The Beloved is the latest work by filmmaker Joseph London, who grew up in Fremantle and had many childhood friends whose parents became devotees of Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.
London said the Sannyasins or Orange People were a “compelling mystery that remained in the fabric of the city” and 40 years later the issue still touches raw nerves.
“I think there is a lot of unresolved aspects of that history, because the movement came very strongly into the public focus, and a part of that was that they had a lot of backlash,” London said.
“There was a lot of bad press, particularly when the crimes of the leaders were exposed; many were put on the spot to justify what had happened, and many had difficulty doing that.”
He says the impact of separating children from their families, and educating them at a school near Pemberton created a “lasting wound for the community to come to grips with because a lot of kids who were sent down there were too young, and many parents were recent annunciates and it was all a major shock to the system”.
The Sannyasins also ran a commune in Collie Street which collapsed not long after the movement’s ranch in Oregon folded and Bhagwan left America. The end of the commune also coincided with the preparations for the arrival of the America’s Cup in Fremantle; amidst a buying frenzy by wealthy syndicates the Aga Khan purchased Custom’s House and their lease came to an end.
“Taking responsibility was a very powerful theme in the aftermath.
“Many didn’t take responsibility; I think there were many who viewed it as another opportunity for spiritual understanding created by Bhaghwan.”
London says trying to understand the notion of being a disciple was the area of the film he found most intriguing and foreign.
“Discipleship frightens me because it’s such a surrender of yourself,” he says.
He said while some former Sannyasins were reluctant to see the issues brought to the surface, those who spoke to him were keen for an open dialogue.
Many also came away from the movement with profoundly positive memories.
“It was a huge experience, and so intense and so challenging that it’s impossible to have come out of that without having experienced a shift in yourself,” London says.
“They started the morning with dynamic meditation you could hear all the way up Collie Street.
“They did Kundalini meditation in the evening and they were charged and alive and there was parties.
“They were a happy and extroverted and eccentric presence on the city of Fremantle.”
Interspersed with archival footage are extended scenes of modern Fremantle, and the Sannyasins still have a lasting legacy in the Upmarkets and Norfolk Hotel which were built by a communal company – which employed women amongst its foreman which was a rarity back than.
But London says despite their high-visibility in the city, there were few photographs available to draw on because the one communal photographers images had all been lost, something he describes as “devastating”.
“They didn’t stop to take photos; it was all about being in the moment,” he says.
The Beloved will be having just a single screening as part of the Revelation Perth International Film Festival at Luna SX on Saturday December 12 from 11am. If four hours seems a long stretch, there will be intervals along the way. Tix from lunapalace.com.au
by STEVE GRANT