A few months ago, I attended my first meditation class. I was tagging along with a friend, and admittedly apprehensive; I’d tried meditation before, in various settings, but I have one of those brains that tends to resist any attempts to turn off. Whenever I try to sleep, it begins to fire rapidly on all cylinders. It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that something about the silence and seriousness of meditation has always unnerved me. The glow that seems to emanate from the enlightened, to my mind, comes from the light source of some unattainable astral plane.
The instructor, an elderly German man with some beautiful analogies for meditation (comparisons of the mind, for instance, to a wild horse or a raging river; it’s hard, he argued in the latter case, to see the debris in the river until you’re standing on the shore), said something that surprised me. He looked at the small room of beginners, a ragtag group full of personalities that ranged from anesthesiologist to someone who claimed to have recently “turned psychic,” and reassured us that meditation isn’t a practice of pretension, or even seriousness. “Meditation can be funny,” he said gently.
Can meditation be funny? This was the question that I found myself meditating upon, both in the class and on the walk home. Can the pursuit of wellness be funny? What about the field of self-help — is there any room for levity there?
Calm seems to think so.
Created by Michael Anton-Smith and Alex Tew, two ambitious entrepreneurs who found themselves burning out far too quickly in the tech start-up world, Calm is a meditation app, book, and accompanying blog with a mission to “make the world healthier and happier through the super power of meditation and mindfulness.” It’s a cool little app; I once fell asleep on a plane to the soothing ambient sounds of its alpine lake lock screen. And it takes away the scary what-do- I-do-and-how-does-this-work apprehension so often experienced by newcomers to meditation practices.
Of course, none of this company’s portfolio exactly screams humour. That is, until Baa Baa Land — an eight hour, slow motion feature film that, as far as anyone is aware, is the first feature film to have ever been produced by an app.
Baa Baa Land is in no way affiliated with the Oscar winning — er, nominated film, La La Land. However, it does pay unapologetic homage to the musical in everything from its branding to its log line. “Here’s to the ones who dream…of sheep,” reads the poster, which also advertises a cast of “hundreds — all sheep. Catch them if you can.”
Conceived by its producer, Peter Friedman, the film was shot on location near Tiptree in Essex. It was directed and edited by Garth Thomas, a British art film director. And while eight hours might sound daunting, it’s nowhere near the longest film of all time, earning only the nineteenth spot on that list. However, its length does place it in high profile company in ranking; Baa Baa Land is slightly shorter than Andy Warhol’s Empire (1964) and the same length as his 1967 film, The Imitation of Christ. For the curious trivia buffs out there, eight hours pales in comparison to the longest film ever made, a Swedish experimental film that clocks in at thirty-five days and seventeen hours in length.
So — is it any good? Well, according to its makers, hopefully not…at least, not in the conventional sense. “Dullest movie ever? We hope so,” states Freedman. That, of course, begs another questions: what the heck is it?
At surface level, this film might appear to belong to the art house genre of slow cinema. Its takes are, on average, thirty minutes long, and there’s hardly a narrative structure; the entire film consists of long shots of sheep, loping lazily through fields. “The film is itself a meditation, a dream, an enchantment…a tonic for the soul,” totes the press release. And, while Baa Baa Land will receive a red carpet premiere at the Prince Charles Cinema in London this September, this is no conventional film — at least, certainly not one meant to stimulate the mind or the heart. This is a film designed to function as a meditation tool, and if Baa Baa Land lulls you into a bored stupor, it will have done its job.
It’s a wild idea, inarguably unique, and what sparked our attention here at KHACHILIFE is the refreshing levity of the film’s branding. We’re inundated these days with the idea that the pursuit of wellness is a serious, high brow journey, the props of which are stacks of self-help books, quiet yoga, cheesy motivational posters, and stone-still meditation. An eight hour visual journey of sheep grazing, on the other hand, might work just as well to placate the mind and soothe the soul. And, however familiar we are with the concept of counting sheep to induce drowsiness, there’s no denying that it’s — well, silly. The creators of Calm know this, and they aren’t afraid to make a joke in the quest for a self-actualized life.
Here, finally, is a wellness initiative that understands that it doesn’t hurt to laugh a little in our search for happiness.