The Illusionists

Jake Meaney
Audience of One

A grandiose, delusional pastor turned filmmaker thinks he may have Mel Gibson beat. Elsewhere, a theatre full of delighted LARPers testify to the power of imagination and play.

Audience of One (dir. Mike Jacobs)

Pastor Richard Gozowsky claims to have never seen a movie until he was 40, but he fervently believes he will make the most spectacular and successful film ever made. He believes this -- and his congregation at the San Francisco based Voice of the Pentecost Church believes this as well -- because God told him it would be so. Concocting a cockeyed script that attempts a retelling of the Old Testament story of Joseph by way of a Star Wars-esque scifi epic, Gozowsky believes he can compensate for his complete lack of practical filmmaking experience with a contagious combination of Ed Woodian naiveté and the ambitious élan of one who is touched by God.

Citing unlimited funding from German-based financiers, Gozowsky hauls his congregation and a few amateur actors off to Italy for initial shooting in a seaside village, but it's clear from the get-go that the production will devolve into a complete fiasco. Which it promptly does, in grandiose fashion, as Mike Jacobs’ entertainingly documents in Audience of One.

Claiming nothing but complete success in Italy, despite only getting two takes shot over the course of a few weeks of shooting, Gozowsky relocates back to San Francisco and installs himself in the largest film studio in the city. Here things deteriorate exponentially; the production become hopelessly mired in confused rewrites, there are defections by the only non-church members involved, and there's the escalating paranoia of Gozowsky himself (he is convinced that all of Hollywood is descending upon him to steal his sure-fire hit).

Audience of One

Unable to pay off the city for the rent (despite now claiming a $200 million budget!), Gozowsky and company are finally booted out of their studio, the final nail finally driven into the grand dream of cinematic glory. Undaunted, Gozowsky refuses to concede defeat, and instead, in a bizarre, hilarious, and not a little bit scary proclamation from the pulpit, issues a grand new scheme. It begins modestly at forming a company that will produce 47 movies a year (!). It moves on to include opening a religious theme park. And eventually, somehow, by some insane progression, his scheme ends with the colonization of other planets.

It's easy to dismiss Gozowsky has a monomaniacal blowhard who's a few sandwiches short of the picnic; it's easy to laugh at the lunacy of his plan from global cinematic dominance; it's easy to mock the fervor of his followers. And yet there's something not a little bit refreshing about his outrageous brauva, his delusions of epic grandeur, his indefatigable enthusiasm, his tenacity in the face of reason. Perhaps I admire him for resembling, in some small way, my own favorite director, the also seemingly cracked and loony Werner Herzog. And though it'll never get made, I admit I'm a little disappointed we'll never get to see the $200 million space opera version of Joseph. Let's pray for a miracle.

Monster Camp

Monster Camp (dir. Cullen Hoback)

If the folks who regularly attend Seattle NERO seem ever so slightly less ambitious in their imaginative fancies than Gozowsky, it's really a difference of degree, not kind. NERO is a nationwide group that hosts live action role playing events for its legion of devotees. Basically, it's adults playing Dungeons and Dragons in costume out in the woods. Monster Camp follows the organizers and attendees around on two of these events. A gentle and affectionate love letter of a film, it is humorous without ever poking fun or mocking the participants.

Though no overarching theme emerges during the loose collection of interviews and shots of the "action", Monster Camp does touch upon some interesting points about the intersection of fantasy and reality in these peoples lives. A few of them articulate how "LARPing" (live action role playing) is a way to channel the sense of imagination and wonder of childhood that has become such a rarity in the world we live in, and indeed, there is something childlike in the way this all operates. It's clearly evident, from their devotion and enthusiasm, that these people are having Fun with a capital "F". Of course, the flipside, for many, but not all, is that LARPing can easily become a substitute for reality, a chance to withdraw completely from the world, a way to eschew any sort of responsibility. It's not dangerous, per se, but it's definitely not healthy.

Monster Camp

Although Monster Camp is a fairly unremarkable film, it was far and away the most enjoyable viewing experience I had at the festival. The sold-out theater was composed of probably 95percent LARPers and fellow unapologetic geeks, and they were having an absolute ball. It was the sort of crowd you get at The Rocky Horror Picture Show -- infectious, fun, boisterous. And though it's pretty evident that the whole raison d'etre of Monster Camp is to preach to the choir, who are we to rain on their parade?

Audience of One - Trailer

Monster Camp - Trailer

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