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Beyond our ken

ken – noun
1. knowledge, understanding, or cognizance; mental perception: an idea beyond one’s ken.
2. range of sight or vision.

Honestly, even after sitting through an hour and a half documentary about it, the whole belief system of the Australian ‘cult’/’alternative approach to spirituality’ called Kenja is still beyond my ken.

And so I consider the film, by Aussie filmmakers Luke Walker and Melissa Maclean, a bit of a failure in that I can’t quite get a handle on what Kenja is all about. Shouldn’t they at least try to give me an objective understanding of what the proponents are excited about and opponents are upset about? According to what I’ve read, the group offers a Utopia where life’s purpose is defined, the human spirit discovered and the universe itself explained. Well, if you’d asked me what the group’s purpose was when I walked out the door of the Al Green theatre tonight, I’d’ve shrugged and said that it appears that the group’s purpose is to teach “klowning” and put on talent shows for its members. ‘Cause that’s pretty much all I could figger out. There was something else about ‘energy conversion’ that happens between two members who sit, staring at each other in plastic chairs a foot or so apart. Fucked if I know what that bit’s all about.  

I'm not kidding.  It's like a high school talent show.

The group’s foes allege sexual assault, suicides, disappearances, mind control, isolation of members, financial drain… basically, the usual things that “cults” are accused of.

The group’s supporters protest that participation is completely voluntary and no laws are broken.

Walker and Maclean do present both sides. Interviews with Kenja founders Ken Dyers and Jan Hamilton and seemingly contented followers are there along with interviews with former Kenja members and people whose family members were or are in the organization. However, kinda like that wacked Tom Cruise Scientology vid that everybody saw a few weeks ago, the talk is laden with Kenjargon and half the time I couldn’t figure out what the hell they were going on about. Nevertheless, and as you might expect, of course, the Kenja-critical side tends to come off better than the Kenja-supportive side. In fact, the film ends with a massive screamy fit by Dyers when Maclean asks him about some of the sexual abuse allegations that had been dogging him for ten years at the time of the shoot. Dyers, 84, killed himself when he was charged anew with sexual assault last year.

Ken Dyers, Kenja founder

The cult-expose story is a familiar one so I would’ve liked this film more if it had actually explained to me more about what the Kenjan beliefs are. Jeez, ppl, don’t force me to look it up when I get back to the hotel near midnight. Sheesh.

→ originally published 2008-04-19

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