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Life Arts    H3'ed 5/3/09

"Audience of One" Documentary Review

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The studios released X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ghost of Girlfriends Past, and if you were in New York, Terra and The Limits of Control this weekend. But, if you were interested in seeing a movie, you didn't have to see any of these films.

All over big cities at anytime there are screenings of independent films which push the boundaries of entertainment and attempt to immerse audiences in a world they have never been in before.

On Friday, I turned down an opportunity to go see Earth and Is Anybody There? (with Michael Caine) and saw the 2007 documentary Audience of One at Facets Cinematheque (a small theater in Facets in Chicago which Roger Ebert has called “a great temple of cinema") instead.

Wednesday I opened “Time Out Chicago” to read a review of this film.

“Even the greatest filmmakers need a high capacity for self-delusion, but it’s one thing to dream big and another to assume that God will save you from production delays. Praying for a miracle is basically the only strategy of Pastor Richard Gazowsky, a Pentecostal preacher from San Francisco who sets out to direct a big-budget Christian epic—a 65mm, futuristic version of the Joseph story that he describes as “Star Wars meets The Ten Commandments.” This not-unsympathetic documentary takes its time clarifying its loyalties, hinting that these true-believing Ed Woods might actually pull it off. But as debt piles up, it becomes clear that the film’s true subject is the dangerously empowering nature of fanaticism. It’s a shame: Gravity: The Shadow of Joseph looked promising.”

Star Wars meets the The Ten Commandments?! How could you not be intrigued?

Immediately, I wondered what Star Wars meets The Ten Commandments would look like. Surely, even if it flopped at the box office, it would live on as one of the greatest cult films in the history of cinema.

Gazowsky expects that his first film will be made without any problems whatsoever because God has come to him and ordained him to make this film. He compels churchgoers and members of his community to support and participate in the production of the film by explaining this film will be made for “an audience of one” --- God.

Gazowsky thinks the movie has already been made. They, those who regularly attend Voice of the Pentecost, just have to carry out God’s plan. And who could argue with that way of thinking?

The crew organized to produce Gravity: The Shadow of Joseph is a motley crew of individuals. From Gazowsky’s son and daughter to Yens the cinematographer to the actors who fill such roles as “Local Guy,” each person brings an edge to this film that amplifies this story which is filled with ineptitude.  

It’s a verite-style documentary. That’s what makes it work so well. That’s also what makes it beautiful and altogether terrifying.

The style of this film may be the only style fit for stories of religious fanaticism. Like a mix of Jesus Camp and American Movie, two very well-made documentaries, it is imperative that the director let the characters of this movie seem like they are telling the story rather than vice versa.

Making the audience think that the characters are in control conceals or buries the bias. It allows the director or writer of the story to redirect his point of view through the words and actions of the characters and gives the film more credibility.

Really, all film on religious fanatics should have to pass one test: When screened for the subject of the film, the subject should approve of the representation.

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Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure." He was an editor for
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