Friday, September 7, 2007

Audience With God

By Mike Gillis

One of the most jarring documentaries I've seen in recent years is "Deliver Us From Evil," which documents a horrific sex abuse case involving Catholic priest Oliver O'Grady. O'Grady had been identified as a pedophile in the earliest days of ministry but was allowed to preach -- and abuse -- for decades before being stripped of his collar.

The film is a deft example of letting a story unfold on its own. "Deliver Us From Evil" avoids narration and artificial cues to unfurl this damning account of clergy sexual abuse, more vividly than any newspaper article or TV news clip.

Religion, of course, is often fodder for the documentary. The audience is already polarized, and if the filmmaker is able to tell a story without succumbing to righteous commentary, the result is often two films. Take "Jesus Camp," for example. That film documents a resurgence in Evangelical Christian summer camp for kids. Happy campers are taught to tap the power of God and told to take back the country for Christ. I was stunned, and even angry, to see what these kids are subjected to. I realize, however, that someone on the other side of the fence sees a completely different film, one that showcases Christian summer camp in all its glory.

Now we can all look forward to a new documentary, regardless of faith, that is certain to appeal to the movie lover in all of us -- and with God's blessing.

Premiering soon is "Audience of One", a documentary that details, in apparently painstaking detail, a Pentecostal pastor's quest to make the most expensive and glorious film of all time. Better yet, he set out to retell Star Wars for Christians. The reverend, Richard Gazowsky, who heads up the San Francisco-based Voice of Pentecost Church, explains at one point he hopes to make either the most successful film of all time or this biggest, most glorious failure. To do so, he convinces his parishioners to donate heaps of cash to fund the picture, tapping them also as cast and crew.

The trailer, which you can watch below, is no less intriguing.

The picture, directed by Mike Jacobs, has been well received at festivals thus far, and scooped up the Special Audience Award at SXSW in Austin.

"Audience of One" is on my short list this year, not only because it reminds me of little masterpieces of filmmaking train wrecks like "American Movie" and "Lost in La Mancha." I suspect it will also shed light on the power of movies and the meaning of faith. Let's face it, not all preaching encourages the faithful to pursue noble causes -- Westboro Baptist Church, for example. So one has to ask, is Gazowsky's mission from God a simple, harmless but expensive exercise to test faith or the mad vision of a lunatic?

I hope to find out.

See the trailer for "Audience of One" below: