A well-meaning pastor who has never made a movie, maybe not even seen very many, believes he is called by God to mount at $100 million production of a Christian Star Wars-ian epic. It goes about as well as you might expect.
Movie Grade: B+
DVD Grade: B
In An Audience of One, Richard Gazowsky, the pastor of a small church in San Francisco believes he has been called by God to make a movie. But not just any movie: Gravity, a sci-fi epic based on the Biblical story of Joseph, complete with alien worlds and elaborate special effects. Though he has no directing experience—and admits he didn't even see his first movie until after his 40th birthday—Gazowsky doesn't foresee any problem with mounting a $100 million international film production. He relies on similarly inexperienced members of his church—and his family—for most of the key creative roles. If it wasn't a documentary, you'd swear Christopher Guest was behind the camera.
Lot of documentaries that follow what we might dub the fringe faithful make the mistake of trying to appear smarter than their subjects. Hell House is interesting but lays the speaking in tongues on pretty thick; Jesus Camp goes one step farther, actually adding creepy music to scenes of young children crying and praying. Here, director Michael Jacobs is careful to treat his subject with respect, presenting a picture of their faith without making them look like total fools. Instead of mocking, the movie is instead simply kind of sad: the story of an endearingly wrongheaded guy who gets the idea to try something great. Rich is the star of the show, his inspiring sermons convincing his congregation that they can make a movie every bit as good as George Lucas (even if it steals quite a few of his ideas, like the futuristic, yet ancient seeming, Starbucks-like bar where the heroes hang out).
At first, it's just kind of staggering to realize the ambition of what they're trying. Richard tells us he's sold his house and moved his family in with his mother in order to buy a camera; he plans to film in ultra-expensive 70mm (mom, who started the church back in the day, is not amused). Concept sketches reveal complex plans for costumes, all of which will be hand-sewn by church volunteers. Plans are made for a location shoot in Italy, during which Richard figures they'll be able to film everything they need in five days. Anyone who has seen Lost in La Mancha chuckles softly to himself.
In Italy, the shoot becomes a comedy of errors. Camera break down, then jam. Cables break, nearly injuring a crewmember. The locals hired don't speak much English aren't willing to worth on faith alone. Through it all, Richard struts around the set in a black overcoat and wide-brimmed hat, looking like he wandered off the set of 8 1/2, confidently proclaiming that God will see them through, even after they only manage to complete two shots before returning to the U.S. The church proceeds to rent a massive vacant building from the city of San Francisco to finish the production, but nothing more is ever filmed, though there's plenty of drama for Jacobs' camera to capture.
Though it will no doubt fascinate anyone who is interested in moviemaking, this isn't really a movie about making movies, it's about faith. Rich truly seems to believe he's doing God's work the "audienc of one" they're making the movie for is God), and the members of his church seem more than willing to take his word (Word?) for it. You'll have to decide what you think about his motives. Is he deluding himself, acting out of hubris? Is he genuinely trying to serve God? Can it be both? The movie doesn't provide an easy answer, doesn't really even offer the director's opinion on the matter. Personally, I feel that, whatever the church's intentions, the hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted shooting three minutes of film probably would have been a lot better served feeding the hungry or healing the sick. But, as they say, the Lord works in mysterious ways.
The DVD: The full frame doc looks about as good as you'd expect for a low-budget piece. Sound quality is inconsistent and sometimes muffled dialogue is supplemented through onscreen subtitles.
On the commentary track, director Michael Jacobs discusses his efforts to portray Richard Gazowsky and his church fairly while still making an entertaining film. As he also reveals that the pastor found the finished product accurate, if hard to watch, I'd say he succeeded; lots of interesting production trivia here. You'll also want to check out the only two shots of Gravity actually completed (though they remain without sound). The footage looks surprisingly good. Both minutes of it. Aside from a handful of deleted scenes, there's also a trailer and a performance of a song written by Gazowsky.