Stranger Than Fiction - "Join Us" - April 8, 2008
Tuesday night at IFC Center in New York, Ondi Timoner’s Join Us, a documentary that chronicles four families who undergo treatment at a cult recovery center in California after being controlled and abused by a pastor in a South Carolina church, played during Thom Powers’ popular nonfiction film series, Stranger Than Fiction.
David Nugent, Hamptons International Film Festival Director of Programming, stepped in for Powers, who was away, to host the program. Nugent began by introducing the film along with Timoner, saying that the film is timely due to the breaking news of the cult in Texas. Timoner said she began filming in 2005 at the only accredited live-in cult treatment facility in the world. She had been inspired to make this film in 2004 when Bush was re-elected, but that’s not what the film is about.
At the Q&A after the screening, Nugent asked where do we draw the line between organized religion and cults when it comes to living in a country that was founded on religious tolerance, to which Timoner responded that the whole idea of religious freedom has gone too far. Giving some religious organizations not-for-profit status is really highly abused thing in our country. The film raises awareness of this and every organization should be transparent and judged accordingly. A lot of cults have some of the smartest members of the population. The film is about our need to believe in and our feeling of belonging to something. She hopes that people of faith won’t be offended, but that they learn to balance faith when they’re ceding their lives to submit.
Nugent asked Timoner if there was anything in her religious background that prompted her to make this film. She replied that she has always been an individualist and was never in any clicks. Her dad is Jewish and her mom was Christian, but converted to Judaism, though they were never really religious.
One audience member asked Timoner what her process and personal involvement was to the characters. She said that these people’s faith had been violated, but when they showed up to the treatment facility, they were so open to being filmed. She showed respect and didn’t ever judge them.
Another audience member asked her how she got access to the Pastor and his wife, Raymond and Deborah. She said she wouldn’t have a film without Raymond. She learned of a book he wrote and contacted him to tell him she was making a film about religion, but didn’t mention that she was also including the ex-congregants.
When asked if any of the subjects have seen the film yet, Timoner said the ex-congregants who did see it, loved it and she thinks Raymond and Deborah have also seen it because someone ordered the DVD from the film’s website that was most likely them.
To purchase a DVD of Join Us, visit http://www.neoflix.com/store/Int03/.