Film Reviews

Review: ‘Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru’

Hot Docs 2016

Courtesy of Hot Docs


Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru
(USA, 115 min.)
Dir. Joe Berlinger

Since his earliest success with Paradise Lost, Joe Berlinger has been at the forefront of hard hitting, probing documentaries that are unafraid to shed light on systemic prejudice and procedural malfeasance. His sceptical mind and creative docs inspired a younger generation of filmmakers, and recent successes such as Jinx and Making a Murderer owe much to his work.

It’s perhaps all the more surprising, then, that his latest film is about self-help icon Tony Robbins, the big-toothed, big-personality who has provided psychological and emotional catharsis to thousands of devotees. The title I Am Not Your Guru is a self-deflecting comment made by Berlinger’s subject, yet it’s certainly easy to see how those affected by the pageantry of one of Robbins’ six-day sessions could seem to be little more than a religious converts cast in a different, secular guise.

Berlinger’s doc plays as a kind of concert film, presenting Robbins’ act in a concise fashion while prodding the subject with a few questions. The work is more like The Last Waltz than Whitey, and those wanting a takedown akin to the latest round of Scientology exposés will be disappointed. At the same time, those who have enjoyed hearing Robbins’ lessons may find reasons to be contemplative about the nature of his staged events, perhaps recognising some of the pseudo-Freudian aspects to his engagement.

As insight into just what goes on during Robbins’ events, the film is both moving and remarkable, and it’s clear that those documented feel their revelations to be genuine. To stretch the metaphor, it may be a concert movie where the viewer doesn’t love the band, but appreciates Berlinger’s capturing of its essence in a fashion that’s both entertaining and enlightening. While remaining cynical of this “non-guru’s” process, it’s still possible to be swayed by the remarkable sight of people willing to express their deepest held secrets after spending time with Tony Robbins.

Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru screens:
-Sunday, May 8 at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema at 6:00 PM (Scotiabank Big Ideas screening)
-Sunday, May 8 at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema at 9:30 PM

Please visit the POV Hot Docs hub for more coverage on this year’s festival.

Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8. Visit www.hotdocs.ca for more information.