“Paul,” said David Lynch, turning toward a silent Paul Holdengräber, who seemed to be having an out-of-body experience, “are you OK?” Holdengräber’s answer — “I’m not sure!” — elicited a laugh from the room, filled with people who were, perhaps, considering if they were OK themselves.
The moment of existential reflection came toward the end of Holdengräber, the director of New York Public Library’s Public Programming, and Lynch’s headlining phone-free talk on transcendental meditation, the creative process and happiness at this past weekend’s state-altering Festival of Disruption, a two-day philanthropic event that featured a deep lineup of discussions, screenings, art exhibitions, meditation sessions and musical performances — all curated by Lynch himself. As much a fundraiser as a festival, the event’s proceeds went toward raising awareness and money for the David Lynch Foundation, whose stated mission is to reduce the effects of stress and trauma among underserved youth, veterans and survivors of domestic abuse through transcendental meditation technique.
“Every penny that comes from this goes to helping kids learn how to meditate for free,” said David Lynch Foundation CEO and transcendental meditation (TM) teacher Bob Roth backstage during a screening of “Blue Velvet.” “The foundation started 13 years ago as the outgrowth of some conferences that were held around the country on the impact of trauma and stress on the lives of young children, and how TM could be a possible tool in the toolbox.”
For its first New York affair after two iterations in Los Angeles, the festival took place at Brooklyn Steel, a former steel manufacturing plant turned music venue that serves as an industrial contrast to the Spanish Gothic architecture of the LA festival’s home, the Theatre at Ace Hotel. Lynch “is very particular about space and feel and the mood of the space, so that’s all taken into account,” said producer Erik Martin, who handles the creative aspects of the festival. In terms of how the festival organizers got all of the disparate parts of the interdisciplinary festival aligned, Martin said, “Creatively, it flows quite easily from David’s vision.”
While the aesthetic of Lynch’s worlds is immediately identifiable and felt within the space, nostalgia also plays a strong supporting role in creating a cohesive flow throughout the different components of the festival. Signature Lynchian red curtains framed the stage for the duration of the event, transitioning the room from morning talks to evening musical performances. “Blue Velvet” co-stars Isabella Rossellini and Kyle MacLachlan (who came on stage with what I can only assume was a cup of “damn fine” coffee) reunited before a screening of “Blue Velvet.” Waiting for the film to start, festivalgoers around this reporter waxed nostalgic about their first times seeing the movie, as did many of the participants on stage (including the photographer Gregory Crewdson and the writer Rick Moody, who both cited the movie as informative to their artistic development). The merchandise capitalized on this longing, too, with Log Lady Lager and “Twin Peaks”-inspired Great Northern Hotel room key tags. For those who desired even more of a push into a new reality, Polaroid sponsored an “Eraserhead” photo-booth “experience” that faithfully recreated a scene from the film.
Talks of failure and authenticity also united the proceedings, threading through the panels that opened the events on both Saturday and Sunday. Kicking off the festival, Roth moderated the first discussion with “Billions” co-creator Brian Koppelman, who said, “I am trying to remove the power of failure,” before giving insight into his career and how TM helped him extricate himself from a web of anxiety. On Sunday, Roth chatted with Naomi Watts about her memories of Lynch and her own brushes with failure. She had auditioned for a decade in the U.S. before she met with Lynch, whom she impersonated to the audience’s glee, casting him as a jovial chain-smoker interested in the particularities of what makes every person unique.
Even Lynch himself, for whom the entire audience shuffled outside to gladly (for the most part) deposit their cell phones in locked cases, talked of failure. “Failure can be devastating, but can give you a sense of freedom,” he said. “Success is nice, but the work is the most important thing. And anything that gets in the way of that is not good.”
Where the day sessions were marked with a certain insightful and, dare I say, meditative quality, the evening musical acts created another dimension. Performances on Saturday night tended to invoke a sense of electronic awakening, with Dean Hurley, John Hopkins, Animal Collective and Flying Lotus all giving spectacular visual shows — the Animal Collective set in particular was stunning and featured large-scale projections of fluorescent coral. Sunday night’s musical lineup, which opened with LCD Soundsystem’s Nancy Whang, captured more of the dreamy qualities of Lynch’s work through stripped down performances from Au Revoir Simone (a trio that stayed true to their swaying, ethereal cameos on Twin Peaks), a very theatrical Jim James and Angel Olsen, whose ease with the crowd and vocal range soothed the audience into the late hours of the night.
Singer Rebekah Del Rio (best known in the Lynch world from her appearance in “Mulholland Drive”) closed out the festival with a haunting rendition of “Llorando.” An internal reference to Lynch’s world, what could be more fitting as a last note?
Top Image: Courtesy of Flying Lotus on stage at the Festival of Disruption. Courtesy of the David Lynch Foundation.