If the truest sense of documentary is to transport the viewer to a particular time and place beyond where they'd normally go in their ordinary lives, and introduce them to people they otherwise wouldn't meet, and capture on film the unfolding of life and human experience, then The Workshop is a success.
Yes, it is about a 10-day New Age retreat in Northern California. And yes, it had nudity. Yes, it discusses adult situations--monogamy, marriage, and sexuality. These issues, deeply rooted in our culture and Christianity, cause many viewers to flag this film as offensive, morally corrupt, and self-absorbed. And, to a point, that is part of the beauty of this film.
In The Workshop, individuals who feel lost in their current lives and are seeking some form of guidance turn to silver-haired British guru Paul Lowe. Some viewers may pity them, but filmmaker Jamie Morgan does not. He presents a candid "behind the scenes" to the retreat of which he is both observer and participant. At times he turns the camera on himself (a la Ross McElwee in Sherman's March) but mostly he allows the camera to be a voyeuristic eye, meeting many of the participants of the retreat and following their emotional journey as they attempt to break down their preconceptions, social conditioning, and self-defeating attitudes.
There are both humorous and tender moments. There is self-conscious performance for the camera and also genuine candid human interaction, including jealously, anger, and affection.
Despite the low-rez digital camera, the shots of a couple nude in a swimming pool at night are some of the loveliest in any film since the 1934 classic Tarzan and His Mate.
Do the participants of the workshop find happiness and joy and all the answers they sought--no, not exactly. What they do find is a better appreciation of themselves, and others, for all their beauty and flaws. Taken in the same spirit, this documentary, with its flaws and its truly beautiful moments, is something special.