Throughout history, humankind has done some pretty weird and fucked up things in the name of God… and San Francisco-based Pentacostal Pastor Richard Gazowsky joins that long parade of weird-and-fucked-upedness when he decides that God has told him that He wants the pastor to make a big budget science fiction film about the story of Joseph, called Gravity: The Shadow of Joseph. So, despite having seen only his first film at the advanced age of 40 (it was Disney’s The Lion King) and having absolutely no background in either the art or the business of film, Gazowsky writes a script, forms a film production company, solicits funding (and gets it from his congregation as well as a promise of it from some mysterious German investors who are allegedly high on the idea of Christian film), hires a crew, casts the roles (all non-professionals and all embarrassingly bad), and piles everybody into a plane and heads to Italy for location shooting.
All on faith.
Whether or not faith is whats fueling all this is debatable. And how you, as a viewer, determine what is driving Gazowsky depends on your level of cynicism, I reckon. As I sat at the back of the Bloor watching the Toronto After Dark screening of Michael Jacobs’ documentary Audience of One (co-presented by Hot Docs), I wasn’t marvelling at his faith. I was flabbergasted by his egotism and dishonesty and arrogance. I should confess, though, that as soon as Gazowsky said that God told him to do it that my mind clanged shut–keerrang!–and I spent the rest of the film scowling or arching my eyebrows at the screen.
“You will smite the Earth with seven arrows,” Gazowsky remembers the Lord telling him. “These seven arrows are seven Christian television networks that will be launched simultaneously over the direct broadcast satellite system.” God also told Gazowsky that he was to make “47 film projects a year,” the first four of which would be feature films “for movie theaters” that would later be shown on the seven channels. Gazowsky’s prophecy was confirmed a few weeks later when a visiting Swedish hockey player attended a service at VOP and “out of the blue” (according to Gazowsky) said that the Lord wanted Gazowsky to work in television.
You wanna know the rest of Gazowsky’s Honey Do list from God? Aside from the myriad films and television stations, God told Gazowsky He wants him to invent the first ‘organic living (computer) chip’, He has ordered an airline complete with an airline terminal (not sure which airport), He wants Gazowsky to build 27 resort cities, a Christian theme park (er, didn’t somebody already try that?), and He has ordained that Gazowsky and his merry crew faithful followers will go into outer space (some might argue that they’re already way the fuck out there) and be the first humans to colonize another planet.
Whew. He’s gonna need more than one trip to Home Depot to get all this shit done.
In Audience of One (the title refers to the audience for whom Gazowsky et al are making their film–an audience of one, with the One being God), what I see is an obsessed man running roughshod over toes as he forces his will to be done. (Of course, he claims it is God’s will being done.) For example, his film company rents a huge studio space in town (against the recommendations of many industry insiders, including Arne Johnson–editor of Film/Tape World, a San Francisco-based industry publication and co-director of one of my favourite films at this year’s Hot Docs Film Festival, Girls Rock!), only to ignore that niggling little detail of actually paying the rent for months on end. When the city finally tires of waiting for its money and asks for proof of the financing Gazowsky has assured them is coming from German investors (and he does have them–the only trouble is they haven’t actually coughed up any dough), he has the audacity to advise the city managers to just have faith that it’s coming.
Whereupon he and his crew are evicted from the studio for non-payment of rent. Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?
Look–Gazowsky may be the real deal. He may genuinely believe that God spoke directly to him and told him that He wanted this film made (along with the Christian theme park and the organic computer chip and all that other crazy-sounding shit… I mean, hey, this is allegedly the same God who told Noah to build a honkin’ big boat and put two of each animal on the planet onto it, so He does have a history of making unlikely-sounding requests…), and mebbe Gazowsky really is as naïve as he’d hafta be to think he could just barrel ahead and get it done without a clue about how these things get made. But I can’t help but wonder at the way his own mother–the founder of the church where Gazowsky preaches–casts a chagrinned blush at the camera and admits that she wishes she’d never retired and handed the pulpit to her son. Does she see something disingenuous about his drive, too? Mebbe it’s just me and my über-cynicism.
And, yeah, ‘Star Wars meets The Ten Commandments’ is how he describes the plot of his film script.
This is Michael Jacobs’ debut as a feature documentary maker and he has made an interesting and entertaining film. He has kept himself outta the pitcha and let the principals tell their own stories. I like that approach. Give folks enough rope, sez me. I dunno if this will get a theatrical run or not, but at least keep an eye out for it on dvd. Nice bit of programming by the folks at After Dark!
→ originally published 2007-10-24