In fall of 2010, director Aram Garriga joined maverick production outfit Glass Eye Pix, whose diverse titles include Birth of the Living Dead, Gods of Times Square, The Comedy, Wendy and Lucy, Stake Land and The Last Winter, to explore a topic that offers essential insight into the state of America today.
Three years later, on October 4th, 2013, Garriga’s ambitious portrait of diverse Christianity in American Culture had its world premiere at the Woodstock Film Festival, followed by its international premiere at the Sitges Film Festival on October 13th.
American Jesus is an important documentary
that will redefine how the world looks at America
and how we Americans look at ourselves…
with a level of intuitive intelligence
I’ve never seen before in a film on religion.”
“AN AMAZING FILM….
one of the best and most interesting documentaries on religion.”
Fascinating and informative…
one of the best, if not, the best documentary on Christianity
in the United States today, lift your arms in prayer
and say “Hallelujah” for AMERICAN JESUS.
Garriga is the new Alexis de Tocqueville..
“American Jesus” is to religion what de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” (1835)
was to our national life then: a revealing outsider’s exploration
of truths we Americans are too close to.”
“…REQUIRED VIEWING FOR EVERYONE.”
Larry Fessenden May 22, 2014
Larry Fessenden, producer of the new documentary American Jesus, explains why Glass Eye Pix became involved in Aram Garriga’s exploration of the sometimes bizarre relationship between faith, materialism, politics and personal passions that is American Christianity.
I run a small production outfit in New York City called Glass Eye Pix. We are known for making independent horror-themed films with a psychological bent. Through the company I have produced such films as The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, Stake Land and I Sell the Dead. My own films include Habit, Wendigo and The Last Winter. Why would a company known for making independent horror films get involved with a documentary called American Jesus?
The answer is that I am primarily concerned with the construction of meaning in our daily lives, in the human tendency to see the world through narrative. My horror films have been about how we invent monsters and demons to deal with reality. In some way the subtext of my films is that the monsters we invent are a comfort and help us frame and define our existence.
In Habit, the protagonist believes his girlfriend is a vampire causing him to weaken physically, when we the viewer can plainly see he is a drunk debilitating himself. In Wendigo a 10-year-old invents a mythical being to protect himself from the horror that his father has been shot by a disgruntled hunter in the woods. I have always felt that my films are fundamentally about our craving for religious and mythic narratives in a senseless and arbitrary world.
And so it was not a stretch when the filmmaker Aram Garriga came to me with his proposal to make a film that was then titled Pop Church. I had met Garriga at the Sitges Film Festival outside Barcelona, one of the great horror and fantasy festivals in the world. Garriga worked for the fest and played host to myself and my producing associate Brent Kunkle on more than one visit to Sitges.
Garriga had come to the idea of Pop Church through his interest in rock and roll: He had interviewed an American hardcore band touring Spain and was intrigued to discover the lyrics and band members were devoutly Christian. This led Garriga to comb the web for similar bands, and his travels expanded into all sorts of outliers in the American Christian community. Teaming up with writing partner Xavi Prat, Garriga began to envision a journey to the U.S. to meet and interview this array of believers to try to understand what seemed to be a uniquely American response to religious doctrine. They could think of one production company crazy enough to help: Glass Eye Pix.
I found the project fascinating, knowing that Garriga would bring his natural intelligence and charm to every interview, and feeling that he might get genuinely candid on-camera encounters because he was a foreigner—not a New Yorker with a liberal agenda. Kunkle charted a route for the crew of Spaniards to set out into the country and so began the great expedition that would become American Jesus. The team visited 35 States and held dozens of interviews with believers, charlatans, and commentators. The resulting material took over a year to shape into something coherent. Garriga worked in Spain and would consult with Kunkle and myself over Skype and slowly the film came into its own.
What I think distinguishes American Jesus from many other documentaries is its structure. As documentaries have grown more popular in recent years, they have also come to conform to more traditional narrative constraints, often introducing the viewer to a single character and following that subject through a story line that mimics dramatic structure and ends with a catharsis of sorts. Even reality TV has come to edit hours of “found footage” to create the conflict and resolve we expect from drama. American Jesus resists that approach. It is open-ended. It is a pilgrimage through a seemingly disparate series of interviews in search of some meaning, some truth, some unifying message. Unfettered by a linear narrative, the viewer is given the responsibility to respond to each individual and find an overarching theme.
The result is a restless, rich tapestry of testimonials, a vividly humane portrait of individuals struggling with meaning in the world, often trying to conflate personal proclivities and passions with a sense of reverence and responsibility. We can only conclude that faith is a distinctly subjective state of mind. In this way we see that the commonality between the subjects is only that they have placed their trust in the same narrative, but hold it as uniquely their own.
And here is where the creeping horror comes in. For in the last third of the film we become aware that faith institutionalized distorts the message. The film darkens as it progresses, as we are introduced to certain radical factions of the Christian right that would deny science, call for a more punishing violent Jesus and welcome the apocalypse. We encounter institutions that are enriching themselves by harnessing the faith and cash of their flock. Belief systems can be wielded like a hammer and the followers manipulated to nefarious ends.
The key to this unraveling lies in the film’s title: American Jesus. For the corruption that reveals itself is not so much in the religion, but in the American way, that commodifies, politicizes and corporatizes everything. The real believers remain unscathed by the scrutiny of Garriga’s documentary: the cowboys, the surfers, the pastor under a bridge in Tennessee, doing the Lord’s work, feeding the unfortunate among us and spreading a feeling of love and belonging.
But let us be wary of those seeking to hijack our spiritual yearnings and proclaim absolutes where none exist. MM
Watch the American Jesus trailer:
American Jesus can be seen currently at the IFC Center in New York, beginning this Friday, May 23 at the Downtown Independent in Los Angeles and on VOD across the country. To learn more about the film visit americanjesusthemovie.com
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From the Director:
DIRECTOR ARAM GARRIGA TRAVELS FROM HIS NATIVE BARCELONA TO CHRONICLE THE UNIQUE AMERICAN RESPONSE TO FAITH.
The story behind this project started a few years ago in Spain. I was having coffee with my friend and co-writer Xavi Pratt, when he started talking about some American rock bands that I would surely like if I knew about. “The funny thing is that all of them are Christian bands, in Christian labels and mainly operating within the Christian market” – he added. The whole sentence immediately triggered my interest, as it carried a self-contained universe that looked way interesting to explore in a film. So we started thinking of a documentary film project that would focus on the fascinating and sometimes frightening popular cultural forms of American Christianity. The purpose of the film would be to give an overview on the reasons why Pop Culture has become THE Church in the United States of America, leveling Faith to Marketing, Salvation to Personal Success, and Church to Business.
The film focuses on a nation-widespread variety of Christian organizations, controversial and relevant figures of the Evangelical community, Christian Pop Culture & Music specialists, secular analysts, Apocalyptic Preachers and the End Times, Prosperity Pastors, Christian Bikers & Cage-fighters, Mega-churches, Snake Handlers, the Creation Museum, Atheists, Christian Surfers and Cowboys, to name just a few. Their personal testimonies and perspectives will draw a map with all of the ideological and social positions covered and properly represented.
The main goal of the film will be triggering the debate and the questioning, from a non-judgmental perspective, on what’s the current state of American Faith and what are its real social and political implications.
-Aram Garriga, director
Aram Garriga, director
Visualsuspects is the production company created in 2008 by the Barcelona based director, editor, writer & producer Aram Garriga. From the very beginning the company has focused on supporting innovative and creative projects with an international approach, such as music videos, commercials, documentaries and feature films.
Larry Fessenden, producer
Glass Eye Pix (“one of the indie scene’s most productive and longest-running companies” –Filmmaker Magazine) is the fierce independent NYC-based production outfit headed by art-horror auteur Larry Fessenden. Fessenden has operated the company since 1985, with the mission of supporting individual voices in the arts.
Fessenden’s producing credits include Kelly Reichardt’s WENDY AND LUCY (On over 60 “Top 10 Movies of the Year” lists) Rick Alverson’s THE COMEDY, Ti West’s THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, and THE INNKEEPERS. He is the winner of the 1997 Someone to Watch Spirit Award and nominee for the 2010 Piaget Spirit Award for producing.
Brent Kunkle, producer
An ardent supporter of emerging filmmakers and auteur-driven film, Kunkle is currently in post-production on Adrian Garcia Bogliano’s LATE PHASES (starring Ethan Embry and Tom Noonan). His producorial works comprise the award-winning & 2012 Sundance dramatic competition selection THE COMEDY and a slate of “pulp” thrillers with Glass Eye Pix; Joe Maggio’s BITTER FEAST, Jim Mickle’s STAKE LAND and James Felix McKenney’s HYPOTHERMIA.
Carles Torras, producer – Zabriskie Films
Zabriskie Films is an independent production company based in Barcelona and founded by the producer and director Carles Torras in 2007. We are producing fiction films and documentaries and most of our works have been selected and awarded at major film festivals.
Our vision is to make independent films driven by filmmakers with a unique vision and to find the best new talent wherever it is. We are always in search of alliances with other independent production companies and TV stations from around the world in order to offer high quality productions with an international impact.