Now on VOD via Amazon Video:
JESUS TOWN, USA
Billie Mintz and Julian T Pinder
Am Docs 2014
Hot Docs, Visions du Réel, RIDM, Sydney Underground, Heartland, Dokufest Kosovo
Behind the scenes of a small town’s long-established, epically-staged annual passion play.
For nearly 90 years, the biblical story of Jesus has been faithfully recounted on a grand scale in the foothills of Oklahoma for the annual Holy City of the Wichitas Easter passion play. In its earliest days, the event apparently drew more than 200,000 spectators, but attendance has been in decline for decades. Mintz and Pinder’s briefly relate its history, but focus more on the challenges facing the community as they mount the latest staging – in particular, the actor who has long played Jesus has retired, prompting a search for a new Son of God. Enter Zack, a good-natured, rotund, long-haired misfit. The amateur is game for the role of a lifetime, but harbors a secret that could rock the community and which plays out through the course of the film – he no longer considers himself a Christian. Detailing a massive event that’s clearly a labor of love for all involved, but which can come off to outsiders as a quirky slice of Americana and/or Christian low-level zealotry, the filmmakers unfortunately err too much on the side of playing it for laughs. Overlaying the conventions of the mockumentary form on their real-life project, the result is at times strained, with some scenes feeling particularly staged and music as a whole doing disservice to their otherwise appealing subjects and themes.