"AFFECTING... DISTURBING... UNFORGETTABLE"
-THE LA WEEKLY
"AN UNUSUALLY INTIMATE EXPERIENCE... INENSE DRAMA"
FEATURED DOC MAKER: ONDI TIMONERhttp://www.documentarychannel.com/main/content/view/139/28/
Tuesday, May 20, 2008 - 11:44 am
With her new film "Join Us" poised to make a few waves at this year's LA Film Fest, the name Ondi Timoner is about to become a whole lot more familiar to documentary fans.
Then again, rock and roll fans might already be well familiar with Timoner; her 2004 documentary "Dig!" reinvented the fabric of the verite' music documentary. Shot over seven years, the film details the tumultuous relationship between two California based rock 'n' roll bands--the signed and mostly successful Dandy Warhols and mercurial genius Anton Newcombe and his ever-changing outfit, The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Boasting at least as many dust-ups as an episode of "Jerry Springer," with at least enough drugs and rock and roll left over to make your average "Behind the Music" style profile of a musical act seem like a bit of a bore, "Dig!" is a truly interesting experience and helped turn on a legion of new fans to the admittedly obscure catalog of the BJM.
The year it was released, "Dig!" was the toast of the Sundance Film Festival and the film more quickly into cult status, even resulting in a short-lived spot on the recently ended CW program "Gilmore Girls" for the BJM's lovable, mutton chopped former tambourine man Joel Gion. After "Dig!' Ondi directed "The Bubble" in 2006, and though the film never enjoyed notoriety or a decent-sized release, it does provide another interesting look at dot-com culture. (For other great documentary examples of this, please check out the brilliant "Startup.com" through the eyes of Josh Harris an online entrepreneur.)
"Join Us," Ondi's most recent foray into documentary territory, picks up on themes that Timoner first became intrigued by during the creation of "Dig!" when she saw a bizarre amount of brainwashing and group think that Brian Jonestown Massacre leader Anton Newcombe seemed to exert over whatever musicians were currently brave enough to be a part of the group.
"Join Us" follows the path of several folks as they flee their former homes in a South Carolina compound ruled by a self-appointed leader/prophet. Mirroring the warts and all approach she took in "Dig!," Timoner pulls no punches in "Join Us," even bringing her cameras into the emotional deprogramming and therapy sessions the former cultists undergo on their path back into society. The film doesn't attempt to recreate anything--instead it tosses its audience headlong into the confusing and frightening world of cult life and a group of individuals desperate to escape it. So there you have it. If you catch wind of "Join Us" playing at a festival near you, it's a film that definitely merits checking out. And if you're a music doc fan and haven't seen "Dig!," well, there is no excuse for that. Head over to our DOC Store and buy a copy of the film of your very own. We guarantee you'll be quoting lines about starting revolutions and broken sitars before you know what's come over you.
IT'S HARD TO TELL ON THE OUTSIDE WHEN A CHURCH HAS GONE TOO FAR.http://sageinbloom.wordpress.com/2008/04/25/its-hard-to-tell-on-the-outside-when-a-church-has-gone-too-far/
BY THE SAGE IN BLOOM
Friday, April 25, 2008 - 11:29 am
Ah, registration -- the little slice of torture that comes at me each semester. It was actually very easy this time...too easy. And there was only one class that I wanted that filled up before I got to it. I signed up for 15 credit hours, with one non-credit hour. I also signed up for an 8-week class for the first time in my life. 5:30-9:30 pm...we'll see how I handle it. I feel like I should sign up for one more class. I think I have the time, but then I might not have enough time to work. *sigh* Decisions.
Now on to something more interesting...
Tuesday night I used my free ticket to the Nashville Film Festival. Let me tell ya, it's a lot more fun to go as a viewer than a volunteer. I ended up seeing Join Us, a documentary by director Ondi Timoner that "follows 4 families as they leave a controlling and abusive church in South Carolina (Mountain Rock Church) and come to realize that they have been members of a cult."
Forget Jesus Camp. I haven't seen it, but I'm sure it's nothing compared to this.
The first part of the film shows the families at Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center, the only accredited live-in rehabilitation center in the world for people who have been involved in cults. (They also aid people who have been in other types of abusive relationships.) The film gives backstories on all of the main people involved, including a good amount of footage of the church's pastor, Raymond Melz, and his wife Deborah. The whole time I didn't know what to make of this man who manipulated these people and abused their children, all under the name of Christ.
This guy was beating the hell out of young children, literally. He convinced these parents that they must suffer beating their children and watching him beat their children in order to keep the kids out of hell. It was either beat them now on Earth, or watch them burn later. Last time I checked, Jesus was beaten so that we didn't have to go through that.
I've learned this: any time a pastor gives too much attention to demons or things that are demonic, he isn't to be trusted. I don't care if he's going on about releasing people from demons, he's still making evil his main focus. Any leader who uses fear and intimidation to maintain order is obviously trouble. A good pastor helps people (if I may use one of those dumb catchy little phrases they always use...) realize what they're saved for, not what they're saved from all the time.
I highly recommend going to the film's website. They have a lot of clips from the film and such. I have so much to say about it that I don't know what to say, so you should just go watch the clips.
At times I wanted to tear up, but I was too on the edge of my seat for the tear factor to last for very long. I couldn't wait to see what would happen next. Well done! You're cool, Ondi Timoner!
She was in attendance, as well as a couple from the film, Joaquin and Kristy, and they took questions after the viewing. Of course there was that one guy who had to keep asking, "How could these mothers let this happen to their kids?" He apparently took offense at someone saying that the situation was very "Southern," and claimed that the members of a real southern church would force the pastor out. He wouldn't let that happen to his daughter. He must have missed half of the film. Everyone else in the audience knew that a huge point of the film was to show that anyone can fall under the control of a cult of some form, if we're not being careful and keeping people and ourselves in check. I feel sorry for the people who left the theater thinking, "Still, it can't happen to me." The human mind isn't as strong as we think it is.
Not that we should be super suspicious all the time -- that can drive away our good support. It's good to be aware of the dangers and to know that we're not invincible.
Kristy had a great response though. She said that it was fear that kept them quiet. That, and the mind control. The members weren't talking to each other about anything that was going on. They were encouraged to be cut off from their parents, the media, and really just the rest of the world.
Responsible for your actions?
So there are probably people out there who would have the gall to say that cult members are 100% responsible for whatever they do under the control of the cult leader. That, of course, is quite ridiculous. I would never say that someone who was abused is the guilty party. Sure, perhaps there were warning signs they should have observed, but that's a sunk cost. The important thing is that they get out, get help, and make something better out of it -- that they don't continue a cycle of abuse.
This brings me to another issue...
Why doesn't anyone seem to realize that everything big starts small? We make exceptions all the time, thinking that there will be no consequences down the road. We compromise our beliefs in small ways over time, and then in the end, we do things that were once unimaginable to us. That's how mind control works. It's not some mystical force like the stinkin' Imperio curse (UNforgivable!). We're manipulated within the normal parameters of human ability -- through our fears and desires.
I once heard a man at my church say something like, "As men we want to think that we can protect our wives and our children from any intruder that comes into our homes, yet we let the little things slip in through the cracks" -- little destructive things like pornography. Yeah, I said it. Whoever he was...he can thank me for the air time later. :o)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Something else that came to mind while I was watching the film was...if any one of us could end up as the cult member, could any one of us end up as the leader? I don't think it's in most people's nature to be totalitarian, but I know enough about myself to realize that I sometimes manipulate people to get what I want. I can be abusive and can use guilt as a point of manipulation. That's not healthy behavior. It scares me that I'm tempted to treat people that way. But I won't end up as a cult leader.
We all have needs. Being needy isn't a good excuse for doing wrong. Life isn't fair, and it's easy to blame who you are on our circumstances. But life as we're meant to live it calls us to rise above wherever we came from. It's my personal belief that God has the ability and will to give us what it takes to overcome the junk in this world, and He gives us free will to decide whether or not we believe He can or wants to love us that much.
He doesn't rule through fear.
Um...so there were my two cents on the film, Join Us. I recommend it! Haha...
If I may...since Andy brought it up, I have somewhat-personal ties to a cult story. A couple of my brother Andy's friends were recruited into a cult on their college campus in the early 2000s. You can read about their experiences here. I was in my early teens at the time and didn't know an awful lot about the situation, but I know that my brother was instrumental in getting one of his friends out. Yeah, I think he's pretty great. :o)
GIVE ME THAT BIG TIME RELIGIONhttp://www.indiewire.com/ots/2008/04/ny_ny_gotham_fe.html
Thursday, April 17, 2008 - 4:39 pm
On Tuesday night, director Ondi Timoner ("Dig") was at the IFC Center for
the weekly Stranger Than Fiction documentary series, and a screening of her
latest doc, "Join Us." The film explores cults in the United States by
specifically focusing on the rehabilitation of one such group, an extremist
Christian sect in South Carolina whose pastor forced its members to beat
their children (occasionally stepping in to abuse them himself), after
contributing most of their financial assets to him. It's a terrific film,
made all the more intense by Timoner's shockingly intimate footage (much of
it taken at the Wellspring treatment facility), which captures the
realization, regrets and uncertainty of the church's members, as they begin
to reject their former pastor.
"It was uncanny," said Timoner after the screening. "These people's trust
and faith had been so violated, and yet they were so open with us. It was
Timoner was inspired to make the film after Bush won reelection in 2004,
largely on the strength of the religious right. "The whole idea of religious
freedom has gone way too far," she explained. "The non-profit status of the
cults makes it really hard for the state to intervene, it's abused so
Timoner includes a good deal of unsettling footage that she shot with pastor
Raymond Melz and his wife Deborah (shot under only slightly misleading
circumstances- she claimed she was making a documentary "on religion"). "The
pastor said "I feel like you've been sent from God to bring my message to
the world"," joked the director. "I think I've done that as much as I can."
It's a completely absorbing film, which makes its lack of distribution
surprising; Timoner has been distributing the film herself, from its website www.joinusthemovie.com.
THE NASVHILLE SCENE, APRIL 17TH, 2008http://www.nashvillescene.com/Stories/Cover_Story/2008/04/17/Reel_Nashville_2008/index.shtml
BY CODY DE VOS
Thursday, April 17, 2008 - 4:37 pm
JOIN US (6:45 p.m.; also 2:15 p.m. April 23) Gifted documentarian Ondi
Timoner (justly celebrated for her revelatory rock doc DiG!) turns an
empathic eye to the country's only live-in cult rehab center, where
ordinary, working families struggle to distance themselves from their cruel,
cultish church. It's a harrowing recovery, fraught with guilt and outrage
(severe child abuse was enforced as standard discipline by the pastor), but
Timoner is patient with her subjects even as they falter, and she also lures
the pastor, his wife and his henchman on camera. It ain't Waco or Jonesboro,
so don't come looking for guns or Kool-Aid--it's a barbecues-and-SUV's middle
class subdivision, and all the more terrifying for it. Timoner and several
of her subjects will attend.
NASHVILLE FILM FESTIVAL SHINES A LIGHT ON SPIRITUALITY, RELIGIONhttp://www.tennessean.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2008804170408
BY BILL FRISKICS-WARREN
Thursday, April 17, 2008 - 11:31 am
Now in its 39th year, the Nashville Film Festival increasingly has made movies about music its calling card. Such a focus is apropos for an annual gathering in Music City U.S.A.
This year's festival, expected to draw almost 25,000 people for more than 240 films over eight days, also is witnessing an increase in offerings that deal with another subject close to Nashvillians' hearts: religion and spirituality.
"Nashville is a proudly religious town," said Stacy Widelitz, president of the film festival's board of directors. "Just drive down Franklin Road and count the number of churches.
"The city is the center of the Christian music industry, but there's a long-established and vibrant Jewish community here. And immigration is now making Nashville more diverse. This diversity creates a need for greater understanding and interfaith dialogue, and I think that's what will draw people to these films."
Former State Film and Music Commissioner David Bennett, a longtime volunteer with the festival, says the festival has a "definite tie-in to music, but Nashville is also a great center for learning and religion. We have more churches in this city than anywhere else. Yet we can't forget that we have, in the middle of midtown Nashville, a temple to Diana -- the Parthenon. How cool is that?"
Range of themes offered
Among the spiritually themed titles at this year's film festival are two documentaries about phenomena that may strike mainstream audiences as extreme forms of religious expression.
Directed by Nashvillians Loree Gold and Jane Pittman, Prophets Rising offers a fascinating look at three highly charismatic Christian leaders and their followings. Ondi Timoner's Join Us, meanwhile, is what Brian Gordon, the festival's artistic director, described as a "brave film" about a Christian cult in South Carolina.
Two other documentaries portray fraught yet indelible protagonists. A probing look at hypocrisy, Pussycat Preacher tells the real-life story of a stripper-turned-evangelist whose racy past becomes a sticking point with some of her congregants. One Bad Cat examines the relationship between religious and creative expression in the life of the controversial Rev. Albert Wagner, an 82-year-old outsider artist.
The film at this year's festival that has Bennett most excited, though, is The Spiritual Revolution, a documentary by Alan Swyer, a writer and producer who is perhaps best known for his work on the 1978 biopic The Buddy Holly Story.
"It's a really interesting take on the current American scene among spiritual masters who conventional people have never heard of," Bennett said. "Which there are dozens, thankfully, because (these leaders) add to the spiritual well-being of our world. Just as the pope and Billy Graham are important, Bhagavan Das, the spiritual mystic and teacher who took Ram Das to India, is important."
East influences West
Director Swyer explained that the film is "really a look at Eastern spirituality in the Western world. There's a huge movement, and not just in places like San Francisco and Boston one would expect -- but throughout America there's this fascination with Hinduism and Buddhism in all its forms.
"Buddhism is not really a religion; it's a philosophy, an ethical approach to life. Buddhism morphs wherever it is, so that in Sri Lanka it's different than it is in Japan. It merges (with existing traditions), and Buddhists will tell you that you don't have to give up being a Christian or a Muslim or a Jew to do it.
"I'm really tickled that my film is having its premiere, not in one of the conventional places for such things, but in Nashville, because that says the country is changing."
Widelitz believes that film, especially independent film and documentaries, often reflects the prevailing cultural zeitgeist.
"We're living in a time when religion and politics are intertwined more than ever before, and when battles are increasingly being fought along religious rather than national lines," he said. "Plus, in times of great uncertainly about the future, I think people are naturally drawn to religion and spirituality so that they can find comfort and order in an increasingly disordered world.
"The number of films being made about these themes reflects this spirit of the times, and the Nashville Film Festival is showing more of them this year simply because so many of these films happen to be very well-made...and thought-provoking."
People are looking for answers, said Pittman, co-director of Prophets Rising. "But are there really any clear-cut answers at the end of the day? I don't really know. I guess that's the question that Loree and I left at the end of our film. Is there a way for people to come together in this very black and white world?"
Times are uncertain
In addition to reflecting the anxiety that people are living with today, Bennett believes that the prevalence of movies about religion and spirituality at this year's film festival also has to do with the greater availability of venture capital for such projects.
"There are groups who want to forward the Christian point of view, there are groups that want to forward the Buddhist point of view, there are people who are involved in spiritualism and want to promote that," he said. "People are pumping money into these things because they know there are so many channels of distribution now, everything from YouTube to MySpace.
"You look at the Billy Graham movie that's being done here," Bennett said of Billy: The Early Years, which is currently being shot in the Nashville area. "Part of it has to do with the film incentive that we got passed during the last legislative session. But that movie's very indicative of money being spent on spiritual and uplifting productions with a particular point of view."
BY AIN'T IT COOL NEWS
Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - 5:41 pm
This creepy little documentary, in the same vein as last year's masterpiece Deliver Us From Evil, takes us to an evil place where parents are brainwashed into thinking the only way their children are going to get into Heaven is if they do horrible things deemed right by their minister. Filmmaker Ondi Timoner is given instant access to the parents after the fact, as well as the minister himself, who doubts that he's ever done anything wrong. He took advantage of these innocent people and their children out of his own bizarre satisfaction, but in every capacity he tries to make himself look like the good guy. It seems bizarre from the get-go when specialists refer to the minister's practice as a cult, since the parents all seem to be reasonably sane and look perfectly normal. However, that's exactly what it is, because the man took these people and slowly morphed them into his children, so to speak, to let him do whatever he wanted with them. The only thing the film lacks is a focus on just how these people managed to be manipulated in such a drastic way, but other than that, this is an interesting, eerie film.
BY BY RICK A. ROSS, CULT INTERVENTION SPECIALIST, LECTURER AND CONSULTANT CREATOR OF THE EDUCATIONAL DVD VOLUMES "CULTS: AN EDUCATIONAL VOLUME" AND "IN THE NAME OF LOVE: ABUSIVE CONTROLLING RELATIONSHIPS" EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE ROSS INSTITUTE FOR THE S
Saturday, March 29, 2008 - 10:41 am
Ondi Timoner's penetrating documentary "Join Us" explores a world that
exists all around us, but one that we often fail to recognize at our
personal peril. Timoner transports viewers through her lens to an
alternate universe populated by "true believers" and possessed by con
artists more commonly called "cult leaders." As the filmmaker unravels
the personal stories of cult victims and travels with them on their
road to recovery and individual renewal, we see and can feel the
trauma of this strange new world first-hand. An emotional
roller-coaster experience, the film is filled with touching intimacy
and riveting intensity. At the end of this odyssey we are confronted
by a disturbing truth--cult members can be anyone. Having studied
cults as a professional for more than 25 years I can attest to this
fact. In our world today, filled with factious fanaticism, "Join Us"
is a must see.
LA TIMES REVIEW - LOSING THE PASTOR'S RELIGION IN 'JOIN US'
BY RACHEL ABRAMOWITZ, TIMES STAFF WRITER
Friday, January 18, 2008 - 1:24 pm
For filmmaker Ondi Timoner, the path to mind control was paved by rock 'n' roll. The 34-year-old documentarian first became intrigued by brainwashing and group think while making her 2004 Sundance Award-winning documentary "Dig!" about the conflicting fortunes and ideologies of two emerging rock groups, the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre.
Among the footage Timoner collected during her seven years of filming was BJM lead singer Anton Newcombe exerting seemingly maniacal control over his band members and their followers, a group that included up to 100 people.
"When I told Billy Corrigan of the Smashing Pumpkins I was making a movie about mind control," Timoner recalled over lunch at Ammo, a Hollywood restaurant near her office, "he said, 'That's so funny. I often thought that cult leaders were lead singers who can't sing.' "
Timoner's interests led to her latest film, "Join Us," which made its world premiere Saturday at the Los Angeles Film Festival and will screen again today and Tuesday. Billed as an expose of one of the roughly 5,000 cults in the nation today, the documentary tracks a group of family members and others as they flee their homes in a South Carolina compound ruled by a self-appointed prophet.
Unlike most documentaries that take place after the fact, Timoner's film hurtles the viewer into the experience of leaving the group, accompanying members as they receive therapy at Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center (described as the only accredited residential "cult-victim treatment facility" in the U.S.) and following as they try to rebuild their lives.
What's surprising about "Join Us" is that the subjects aren't wearing orange robes or sporting uniforms. They look like a batch of blond-haired suburbanites as they roll up to the Ohio treatment center in two SUVs and a BMW.
"They looked just like me," recalls Timoner, a lanky woman in jeans and a pink T-shirt emblazoned with two six-shooters. "Their compound was a suburban subdivision. Like [one of the characters] says in the beginning of the film, he assumes the church is the safest place. Or temple. Any place of worship. [But] if your leader is suddenly putting themselves in the position that 'You can't get to God unless through me,' there's a problem."
Timoner cites research showing the United States to be the cult epicenter of the world: The nation was founded on the principles of religious tolerance, after all, a practice that has allowed some rather unorthodox groups to prosper. Some, like Heaven's Gate and David Koresh's Branch Davidians, became notorious, while others have become more corporatized. But nearly all, says Timoner, operate under the radar. "It's almost like if you [declare yourself a religion] you can run with it," she says. "You can do whatever you want."
Counselors at Wellspring define mind control according to the eight precepts laid out in the 1960s by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, which include a demand for purity, confession of sins, the total control of information and communication, and a sharp delineation between insiders and the outside world. Any group that exhibits at least six of the qualities is considered destructive.
In the film, 21 former members -- the Sullivans, the Rogerses, the Chrismans and the Wakefields (most of whom are interrelated) -- tell how they all lived together, home-schooled their children together and fell under the sway of a pastor who they say controlled both their spiritual existence and their corporal one.
They say Pastor Raimund Melz controlled numerous aspects of their lives, including when and where they prayed and the source of their income: He employed the men in his building business. The group built homes within a compound, the Heritage, which were then leased back to followers. The former members allege Melz beat their children for infractions big and small and ordered the parents to beat them as well, even the infants. Anyone who questioned him was thrown out of the church.
In the film, Timoner interviews Melz, who denies any wrongdoing. He comes off in the documentary as a rather sanctimonious, ramrod figure with a passion for driving his Mercedes. His loyal wife, Deborah, demonstrates to Timoner "the right way" to hit children.
The filmmaker also shows the former members trying to get Melz to confess while they secretly tape him. He denies all their claims, saying angrily, "You're a bunch of liars." At the end of the film, he does acknowledge one particular instance of beating and kicking a child. "That was wrong" he says, and he apologizes to the child "for spanking you."
Timoner and her partners, Vasco Lucas Nunes and Tim Rush, financed "Join Us" themselves. Timoner, a Yale graduate, has also made films about women in jail as well as commercials for such clients as McDonald's and Ford and music videos and documentaries for such groups as the Vines and Lucinda Williams. She's shooting documentaries on the history of Jamaican music and Lollapalooza as well as finishing a film about Internet entrepreneur Josh Harris, who started an artistic experiment called We Live in Public, in which he and his girlfriend lived in public via the Web, with the help of 32 cameras and 50 microphones installed in their apartment.
Timoner's shooting style is intimate, and the former group members in "Join Us" don't stint in describing their own sins.
"I don't really judge people when I'm filming them," says Timoner. This said, she's come to believe that all people can fall under the sway of brainwashing.
"This could happen to me. Me," she says. "I'm such an individual. I've always been independent. Never liked groups. Yet given the right set of circumstances, and this has been proven again and again by different case studies, any one of us is susceptible to mind control."
BY ROBERT KOEHLER
Friday, January 18, 2008 - 1:24 pm
An Interloper Films & Lusitan presentation. (International sales: Flach Pyramide Intl., Paris.) Produced by Ondi Timoner, Vasco Lucas Nunes, Jared Tobman. Co-producer, Tim Rush. Directed, written by Ondi Timoner.
With: Raimund Melz, Deborah Melz, Joaquin Sullivan, Kristy Sullivan, Tonya Rogers, Travis Rogers, John Dwyer, Deidra Lee Dwyer, Josiah Sullivan, Charissa Sullivan, Victor Wakefield, Karen Chrisman, Marc Chrisman, Robert Jay Lifton, Paul Martin, Liz Shaw, Phil Elberg, Steve Hassan, Rick Ross, Patrick Provost-Smith, Jorge Ederly, Parris Rogers, Skylar Rogers, Tristyn Rogers, Brandy Rogers, Dustin Rogers, Zachariah Dwyer, Benjamin Dwyer, Sean Chrisman, Martin Chrisman, Daniel Wakefield.
Filmmaker Ondi Timoner makes a striking departure from her lauded rock-band doc, "DIG!," with "Join Us," a frankly partisan but revealing look inside the twisted psychology of a Christian cult in South Carolina. Wherever Timoner's camera goes -- either with ex-cult members or their stern and reportedly abusive former leader -- the director is closely involved with her subjects, resulting in an unusually intimate experience, as parents absorb the fact that they've allowed a stranger to control and even violently manhandle their children. Pic contains the kind of intense drama suited for theatrical clout after a promising fest run.
Timoner follows families who have fled from the control of Raimund Melz, German-born pastor of Mountain Rock Church, founded in upstate New York and then moved to Anderson, S.C. Families gather at the Ohio-based Wellspring Retreat, run by Dr. Paul Martin and Liz Shaw, experts in de-programming cult followers and the mind-control methods first examined by Robert Jay Lifton in his classic tome, "Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism."
As the families undergo weeks of therapy, gradually understanding the techniques Melz used to create enormous emotional dependency and unquestioning trust in his guidance, they also open up to each other and Timoner about the emotional and physical pains suffered and regrets endured under Melz's total control.
Cult originated with John Dwyer, who was Melz's cohort, along with Melz's wife Deborah, when they moved to Anderson. With his marriage to Deidra Lee Dwyer, a larger circle of relatives was brought into the new congregation, which appeared to be practicing Christianity of a fire-and-brimstone evangelical variety.
Guilt-wracked Deidra is typical of the parents who recall with stunned self-disgust how Melz created a situation -- including funding a suburban housing development built by and for the families from the ground up -- in which their individual identities were worn down, allowing Melz to dictate when and how their children should be disciplined, and even, in the case of Kristy Sullivan, when to divorce her husband, Joaquin.
Latter leads the charge against Melz, taking legal action that the local D.A. is reluctant to support for lack of evidence of Melz's alleged child abuse. By contrast, Tonya Rogers still feels pangs of loyalty to Melz, and wonders if the group's time at Wellspring is an act of betrayal. Still, she manages to play a key role in a meeting between Melz and his former flock that reveals the considerable wounds felt by family members.
Skeptical viewers may wonder how such outwardly conventional and otherwise unremarkable people could allow themselves to be dominated by one man -- particularly someone like Melz, who comes off as a stern control freak on camera. Lifton and other experts remind that the very nature of belief, plus the power of a particularly strong leader, makes the mind vulnerable to cult-like obedience. It's this lesson, as well as the vivid recording of actual events, that makes "Join Us" an unusually useful doc.
Yank auds will be left with the additionally disturbing fact that the U.S. has more cult activity than any other country, raising questions about what it is in the American character that spawns such bizarre cul-de-sacs, from the mass suicides of Jonestown to the barely averted tragedy of Mountain Rock Church.
Production credits, including vid lensing by Vasco Lucas Nunes and Timoner and editing by Tim Rush and Timoner, are aces.
Camera (color, DV), Vasco Lucas Nunes, Timoner; editors, Tim Rush, Timoner; music, Richie Kulchar; sound, Wyatt Tuzo; supervising sound editor, Jeff Sobel; re-recording mixer, Sobel; associate producers, Jeff Frey, Meagan Keane. Reviewed at Wilshire screening room, Beverly Hills, June 7, 2007. (In Los Angeles festival -- competing.) Running time: 103 MIN.
BY STEVEN HASSAN M.ED, LMHC, NCC
AUTHOR OF COMBATTING CULT MIND CONTROL AND RELEASING THE BONDS: EMPOWERING PEOPLE TO THINK FOR THEMSELVES
DIRECTOR OF WWW.FREEDOMOFMIND.COM
Friday, January 18, 2008 - 11:13 am
One of the most ambitious documentaries ever done that shows the suffering caused by authoritarian cult groups. As a former cult member myself, and a mental health professional who has helped counsel and rescue people hypnotized and indoctrinated by others for thirty years, I concur that the problem is bigger than ever. The issue of mind control cults has not been dealt with by legislators (too many cult lobbyists with lots of cash) nor the media (fear of law suits), nor by educators to do preventive education. It is my sincere hope that millions of people will watch this movie and DO SOMETHING!
LAFF 2007, FROM A TO Y
BY L.A. WEEKLY FILM CRITICS
Wednesday, June 20, 2007 - 6:00 pm
GO JOIN US (USA) Raimund Melz emigrated from Austria after WWII to become one of the American South's overlooked success stories: the pastor of a small Christian cult is one of the nation's estimated 3,000 to 5,000 cults whose women are taught to hate themselves and whose men build houses for the grandfatherly Melz, move into them and pay inflated rent to his Mountain Rock Church. Nor are the children suffered, enduring whippings and canings from their brainwashed parents and Melz. Ondi Timoner chronicles several families' attempts to deprogram themselves of Melz's baleful influence and, ultimately, to bring him to court. It's an affecting, disturbing and well-edited tale that offers an unforgettable glimpse into the mind of a benign tyrant. (Majestic Crest, Sat., June 23, 7:15 p.m.; Landmark Regent, Mon., June 25, 5 p.m.; Billy Wilder Theater, Tues., June 26, 9:45 p.m.) (Steven Mikulan)