Radicalize Director Sam Slovick Talks Skid Row and Kriya Yoga
LA YOGA: Where did the initial call come from to direct the documentary Radicalize and follow the group of people catalyzing the Occupy Movement?
Sam Slovick: I was working as a journalist in LA in October 2011 and I had a couple columns in the LA Weekly. Someone posted a photo online of a tent at City Hall a few blocks from skid row, which was my beat. I thought, this is going to be good.
LA YOGA: You’ve spoken to us about your relationship with the spiritual teacher Paramahansa Yogananda. How did this relationship and your spiritual life impact your direction of this documentary?
Sam: My connection to Yogananda, which actually began with a visitation in an Ayahuasca ceremony four years earlier, and my subsequent passage into Kriya Yoga was concurrent to shooting Radicalized. It began when I found myself in a very dark place in 2011. Every aspect of who I was in the world was under an internal microscope.
I’d run out of places to hide when I finally read Autobiography of a Yogi, a book I’d had in my possession for 20 years and not yet opened. That provoked a spiritual experience that I can best describe as the most profound and extreme occurrence of my life. I now understand that this is what a lot of people were experiencing in different ways at the time.
LA YOGA: How did you meditation and/or your yoga practice help you maintain a sense of balance while sleeping on couches and in tents and filming this story?
Sam: I was living in a tent at City Hall in October of 2011 and leaving regularly to do a 14-week Kriya Yoga course at an ashram on Vine near Beverly called Ananda. Within a few weeks I was fired by the Weekly, all my other revenue streams simultaneously stopped, the IRS seized my bank account, and I was evicted from my home. It was a tremendous movement, but I understood what was happening.
It was like someone said to me, “You want this story? You can have it but it’s not free” I’d been down this road on skid row. You can’t just come and take people’s stories and walk away. There’s gonna be a cost and this one was going to be very expensive. I borrowed a video camera and stayed. Before long I was living in a tent on the streets I’d been writing about for years.
LA YOGA: Were there times when you shared your practice with other people on the road?
Sam: In some way I was sharing it with everyone always. In the same way that I was being transformed by osmosis… just by proximity to the movement, I was constantly introducing people to Paramahansa Yogananda. I had images of him all over my tent and car. Later I realized I was being conditioned for a time a few years down the road when I’d take Kriya initiation at the SRF. Being close to anyone in that place is a powerful thing to be exposed to. But yes, I was specifically sharing the things I was learning with people who I was meeting: meditation techniques, literature… stuff like that.
LA YOGA: How did you find a spiritual connection to the people you filmed?
Sam: It was effortless to suspend judgment and see everyone where they were in the development of their soul because that’s how I was looking at everything: detached and indifferent to personalities. Many people there were trauma survivors from the bottom of the social spectrum. Others were very young in years and propelled largely by the omnipotence of youth, which is ultimately a very limited, chaotic, and predictable matrix. I was a middle-aged white man and lot of them were hostile, but it didn’t resonate. I knew what I was doing there. A lot were middle class people of color who realizing that they were oppressed and were very mad about that.
LA YOGA: What did you feel is the spiritual story behind this film?
Sam: The story is of the shift to the Divine Feminine. The Shift out of patriarchy and all the damage that it has wrecked. An Oneida healer named Russell Four Eagles from Spooner, Wisconsin, said it most succinctly, “About a year ago a lot of people woke up,” he told me. “For those who didn’t things are getting really bad and it’s going to get worse.” The story is about the shift and that any polarized position is feeding the problem. Any polarization in material world of opposites is just perpetuation the situation. This film articulates that in relief.
LA YOGA: What surprised you the most when filming Radicalized?
Sam: A lot of things. The consistency of the violence instigated and perpetuated by law enforcement. The effectiveness of their tactics: show of force, brutality and how well they work to suppress people and movements. The experiential understanding of the intentional false narrative perpetrated by the mainstream media.
But mostly, the absolute personal emancipation I experienced after a consistent introspection after being confronted after decades of ideological complacency and subtly participation in everything from transmisogyny, to racism, sexism, fat and slut shaming, white supremacy, anti-blackness, and more… It’s a long, long list.
The specify of the awareness of the millennials about the destructive cultural indoctrinations of capitalism and their endless willingness to confront and discard them. It was transformational because I was willing to go for the ride.
LA YOGA: What is your favorite moment now that the film is out?
Sam: It’s a short scene; less that a minute. There’s a guy in his 40s sitting under the words “Protect and Serve” in silver letters on the front of the Central Division Station on skid row after a protest march. There is nothing unusual about this guy, he has the usual look—disheveled and dirty. He’s a mess lying on the ground with a blanket. He’s in bad shape and seems harmless. Everything about this guy screams, “Help me.” Two cops walk into the frame. He sees them, collects himself enough to stand up and very quietly move out of the way. He lingers in the back of the frame. The cops smile and try to chat up the protesters. They’re doing their cop thing while he just stands there. It’s one of thousands of these interactions happening here all the time. One I’ve seen so many times over the years. There’s something about this guy, the level of vulnerability… I don’t know how to explain it except that it is devastating to me. I’m not sure why. But that’s my favorite moment in Radicalized.
LA YOGA: How has your meditation or spiritual practice changed during the film or the release?
Sam: A few months ago, well into my Kriya practice, I’d been covering ground very fast, burning the seeds of karma, my spine spiritualized, as can happen as a result of practicing Kriya, when I found myself in a very challenging situation. The Radicalized documentary was finished. We had great distribution deal, festival premiere, and journalists who were interested to write about it. After a long haul, it all came together.
As you might imagine, Hollywood is not the kind of place where you’ll find a lot of support for a radical documentary. The project was un-financed until the very end when we raised just enough money for final production: sound design and color correction. I found myself on terrain that is familiar to any freelance journalists writing about socially conscious stories who has no resources or support… I was broke.
I sat down to do my Kriya practice and received a very specific direction from the Guru. Pack up your altar, put down this practice, and assume a focus on the material world. In essence, depersonalize your externalized experience of god, and assume responsibility for the reality of yourself as the only aspect of god you need. It was undeniably stunning. The opposite of an existential crisis, it was liberating beyond anything I’d ever expected. I sat down to finish the last few remaining chapters of my book. Did I mention I have a book coming out? It’s called Radicalized (Rare Bird Lit). It’s traces my trajectory while I was making the Radicalized documentary.
LA YOGA: What’s next for you?
Sam: I’m working on two new documentary projects. One about schizophrenia and shamanism, and another about millennial mantra singers, the Kirtaniyas. I’m looking forward to a period of post-Occupy prosperity.
Radicalized opened in Los Angeles on September 18, 2015. For more information, visit: radicalizedmovie.com
Felicia Tomasko has spent more of her life practicing Yoga and Ayurveda than not. She first became introduced to the teachings through the writings of the Transcendentalists, through meditation, and using asana to cross-train for her practice of cross-country running. Between beginning her commitment to Yoga and Ayurveda and today, she earned degrees in environmental biology and anthropology and nursing, and certifications in the practice and teaching of yoga, yoga therapy, and Ayurveda while working in fields including cognitive neuroscience and plant biochemistry. Her commitment to writing is at least as long as her commitment to yoga. Working on everything related to the written word from newspapers to magazines to websites to books, Felicia has been writing and editing professionally since college. In order to feel like a teenager again, Felicia has pulled out her running shoes for regular interval sessions throughout Southern California. Since the very first issue of LA YOGA, Felicia has been part of the team and the growth and development of the Bliss Network.