TASTE OF THE SOUTH I grew up in Toronto. My father was Canada's first television weatherman. I have an older brother; unfortunately, we're not very close. I got thrown out of university for failing too many times. I was studying engineering science, but that was not me at all. I went south in the summer of 1965, to Mississippi, and volunteered in the civil rights movement with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three months. They didn't want black people to vote. Some were killed for just registering to vote, some were beaten, others lost their jobs. The system was totally geared to maintain white power and control. I had a run-in with a member of the Ku Klux Klan who punched me in the head. It was in front of the courthouse. This was the rule of Southern power.
REPTILIAN THINKING I went home to Canada and got offered some jobs in television and hosted my own youth public affairs show. I learn experientially. I've made over 300 films and no one ever taught me film. It's like if you want to do something, you just do it. I work a lot with young people using my films to help others move beyond prejudice. People think, "Oh, I'm not prejudiced" and then you start to have a conversation and you find there are lots of prejudices. It's the reptilian brain behaviour - that all blacks are armed and dangerous, if all blondes are ditzy, you don't want to ask a blonde how to get out of a natural disaster.
PASSAGE TO INDIA I worked at the National Film Board, in Montreal, first as a researcher then as a director. I'd already become somewhat famous and relationships with girls were easy, and I drove a sports car. One day, I woke up and I had a shocking thought: there were parts of myself I didn't like. So I sat on the edge of my bed and said, "What do I do about that?" And I heard my soul talk to me, it said: "Well, Paul, if you really want to look outside yourself more clearly you might want to get away from the environment you grew up in." I said, "Where do I go?" And it said, "India." That day at lunch I went up to a director I knew was making a documentary in India. He said, "Have you ever done sound?" And I, lying through my teeth, in a heartbeat, said, "Absolutely." Then I went to a sound engineer friend and said, "Please teach me."
HELP! I NEED SOMEBODY We filmed in India for six weeks. Then I got a letter from my girlfriend - I only remember the first line, "Dear Paul, I've moved in with Henry." I was devastated. An American chap said, "Why don't you try meditation, I'm going to hear Maharishi Mahesh Yogi speak at Delhi University. Do you want to come?" I knew nothing about meditation, I just knew I needed something for the pain. Maharishi said meditation takes you within, to where you find healing and you come back renewed and refreshed. I needed that, so I took a train to Rishikesh. At the gates of the ashram I was told the ashram was closed because the Beatles and their wives were there. I explained about my heartbreak and agony and was told I could sleep in one of the tents across from the ashram. It was 1968, the Beatles were probably the most famous guys in the world and the world's press came. It was one of the biggest stories on the planet - the Beatles have come to India and they have disappeared into this ashram. Each day, they were told the ashram was closed. I wasn't there looking for a guru or a father figure - but I have a feeling John (Lennon) was.
HANGING WITH THE FAB FOUR After eight days I was let in. I was taught basic meditation with a mantra and told I could take meals in the ashram, but there were no extra beds, so I had to continue sleeping in the tent. I did a 30-minute meditation and it was a miracle - the knife in the heart was gone and I felt stoned. I walked through the ashram and saw John Lennon sitting at a table 100 feet away and Paul McCartney, and I found myself curving towards them. At the table were the four Beatles and their partners - three wives and Jane Asher was with Paul - and Donovan, the Scottish folk singer, and (actress) Mia Farrow and Mike Love, the lead singer of the Beach Boys, and Mal Evans, their roadie - there were 12 of them. John turns to me and I said, "May I join you?" He said, "Sure." They took me into their group, we hung out for a week. I never thought of them as the Beatles.
PHOTO OP I had a cheap Pentax in my backpack and asked each of them individually, 'Do you mind if I take a picture?' They said to go ahead, because I was now part of the circle. I only took my camera out twice in a week - I only took 54 pictures with anyone famous in them. When I went back to Canada, I was broke and needed money to rent an apartment and I wanted to share the news of meditation. No one was coming out of the ashram with pictures because you couldn't get in and I needed to make money, so I did one magazine article. After it got published and I got paid, I noticed I was feeling bad. And my soul said, "You are talking about it too soon." I put the pictures away and only got them out again 32 years later. I showed my daughter and she suggested I do something with them. I could have auctioned them for £30,000 to £50,000. I could have used that money but, for whatever reason, I said, "That sounds boring." With a literary agent in New York we approached publishers and, in 2001, published The Beatles at Rishikesh, but Penguin screwed up the printing, the photos look muddy. Five years later, I published two limited-edition box sets. I tried to get an interview with the Beatles for the first book and the second book, but I got no answers. I'd like to make a book about the Beatles and their creative time in India, but … I'd need to get Paul or Ringo to talk to me.
TIME, THE GREAT HEALER That time in the ashram was one of the defining moments of my life. As was the summer doing civil rights work. I went back 43 years after I was punched in the head and found the Ku Klux Klan guy and he agreed to talk to me on film. We had a dialogue for five years with the purpose for me to see if a violent confrontation could later be a reconciliation of hearts and minds and it was; it worked.
Paul Saltzman was in town to speak to students at the Hong Kong International School.