Every year 2500 people from 71 countries come to Tony Robbins’ Date With Destiny seminar in Florida.
The word seminar seems a little inadequate. It’s $5000 a ticket for six 12-hour days in which Robbins speaks and performs ‘interventions’ for audience members. Attendees also attend intensive group therapy sessions to confront their demons, build relationships and eventually create strategies to take their ‘breakthroughs’ into the future.
Robbins was someone I had previously thought of as a fat old white dude who writes self help books for a living, but turns out to be a relatively young, foul-mouthed and funny behemoth of a man who looks like Jack Reacher and burns with an almost evangelical passion to help people, a passion that arose from the ashes of a troubled childhood.
His brand of ‘intervention’ is a technique he calls ‘practical psychology’, a unique blend of performance and personal connection in which people (like deer in headlights) tell him darkets secrets in front of a crowd of thousands. He doesn’t know the outcome of these conversations at the outset, but under the pressure of the spotlight he questions them closely, pays close attention to body language and every time, leads them to catharsis, usually using a heady blend of humour and tough love.
This sounds terribly weird, even grotesque, but it’s fascinating. His huge team of staff (the coordination of this event is a wonder in itself) who run the groups identify from extensive questionnaires the ‘red flags’, or most damaged attendees, those at risk of self-harm or worse, and keep a close eye on them, as does Robbins himself, throughout the process.
I’m a noted sook, but I defy you not to cry at seeing people, who in some cases have faced unimaginable trauma, finding hope in a place they thought of as a last chance at life. It’s also an insight into a man who the phrase ‘larger than life’ was probably written for.
This is the first time in the event’s 25-year history that Robbins has let media in and the result is this remarkable documentary by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Brother’s Keeper, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, the Paradise Lost triology).
Robbins said in a recent long-form podcast interview (worth a look itself) that after the premiere he got a letter from Michael Moore, telling him that watching it left him both a better man and a better filmmaker.
Suspend your disbelief and check it out – at the very least, it’s grand spectacle, but for many it’s redemption.