Film Review: Chasing the Present

by Director Mark Waters1091 FILMS
reviewed by Bilge Ebiri

Chasing the Present
Directed by Mark Waters
1091 FILMS

HAVING STRUGGLED WITH addiction, loss, and a lifetime of crippling anxiety attacks, James Sebastiano decided to travel the world and speak to people from all sorts of disciplines and backgrounds, looking for a solution to his problems. Chasing the Present documents this journey, which includes insights from comedian Russell Brand, yoga and meditation teacher Gary Weber, journalist Graham Hancock, psychotherapist Zelda Hall, spiritual teacher Sri Prem Baba, artist Alex Grey, and others. The film works its way towards a denial of the ego, a deconstruction of the self (as you might expect, there’s an ayahuasca ceremony in there as well). But it’s a fairly enlightening journey. Confronting the self, finding a way to live in the present, allowing social structures and inner conflicts to drift away ... these are all ideas that can be applied to the individual as well as to society itself.

What might have become a very dry movie is occasionally made cinematically interesting by director Mark Waters, who films Sebastiano’s various conversations with a subtle eye towards drama and revelation. As a result, the film, despite being composed of a lot of talking-head interviews, never actually feels like just a series of talking-head interviews. (The cinematography and the music are, thankfully, quite gorgeous as well.)

The most engaging conversations in the movie come from Sebastiano’s lunch meetings with his own dad, who has a casual, charming, slightly cynical approach to his son’s many findings about meditation and ego and enlightenment. In some ways, these interactions help ground the film’s more airy observations and give it the quality of an exploration instead of a tract. Chasing the Present is far from perfect, but it’s a lively, humble film, and its sincerity can be quite affecting.

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