Coming to CNN tomorrow, Thursday, December 1: ENLIGHTEN US: THE RISE AND FALL OF JAMES ARTHUR RAY
Jenny Carchman’s portrait of the disgraced self-help guru debuted at Tribeca this Spring. It also screened at Tallgrass, Telluride Mountainfilm, and Poland’s American Film Festival.
Riding a wave of publicity as part of the wildly successful New Age self-help film and book THE SECRET, James Arthur Ray soon built up a career as a motivational speaker and best-selling author, attracting followers seeking personal enlightenment and financial success. For those willing to shell out large sums, Ray organized “Spiritual Warrior” retreats to push them further, including challenges like firewalking, fasting, and, infamously, participation in pseudo-Native American-styled “sweat lodges.” It was at one such event at a ranch near Sedona AZ in October 2009 that led to the death of three followers, as well as the hospitalization of 18 others. While avoiding a manslaughter charge, Ray was convicted of negligent homicide and served two years in prison. Carchman details these events, while also following Ray’s attempted and not wholly successful comeback. Though paying lipservice about regrets and contrition for the deaths, Ray never takes full responsibility and instead seems to be more rueful of the inconvenient impact the episode had on his career, complaining that he wasn’t treated fairly by the justice system. While the film could have gone further, it gives its subject just enough rope to hang himself, resulting in a portrait of a still ambitious yet unlikeable and pathetic man.