OK, let's do this thing.
The film got off to a late start probably due to all of the people that came for the screening. One of the volunteers, a lady, informed the audience that we would be starting shortly once everyone got situated. I didn't catch the time, but I believe the film(s) started around 7:30 instead of 7:00.
As I mentioned previously, there were around 200 people in attendance. Of these, roughly 90-95% had to be witnesses. Many of the groups that came in sat near each other. It seemed that with each new group that came in, someone in the group recognized someone from another group. I couldn't help but overhear conversations all around me concerning various JW related items. But you can take it to the bank that my 90-95% estimate was extremely close. I counted roughly 3 men that sported either a beard or goatee. After being a witness for 32 years, spotting a witness becomes second nature. It also appeared that many of the witnesses in attendance came from all over MI. I didn't recognize anyone from my old congregation in attendance.
The film primarily focused on two individuals. Seth Thomas and Joseph Kempler. Lillian Gobitas had a very small portion dedicated to her.
Seth Thomas' story was the heartstring puller of the film. In the beginning, the camera followed Seth's normal routine. In the bedroom scene, the camera slowly pans his room while you hear metal riffs coming from Seth's guitar. The camera glides over a few hard rock CD's with Van Halen noticeably present on the top of the stack. Immediately to the left of the CD's is a Watchtower on a shelf. Very interesting camera work.
You then see Seth and his father going door to door. One family in particular engages the two in a discussion of the JW's not believing that Jesus is God. There are a few scenes of Seth and his father going door to door throughout the film. Nothing spectacular to report here.
Thomas Kempler was found by Joel through Steven Spielberg's interviews for Schindler's List I believe. Joel used a specific name for these interviews, but the name escapes me at the moment.
Kempler's story didn't seem that cohesive to me. I couldn't tell what Joel was trying to describe through Thomas. I realize that he was trying to explain the reasons for martrydom of the JW's at the time. But picking Thomas probably wasn't the right choice. Thomas wasn't even a JW at the time he was incarcerated in the camps. His point of view wasn't as strong as it could have been if it were to come from a JW that went through it. From my perspective, Kempler's story was a filler to increase the film's running time.
There was one comment made by Joel in the film which said, and I have to paraphrase this, "The JW's even went so far to defend the Jews during the holocaust." That comment is pretty close to being accurate, but I wonder if Joel ever read the Declaration of Facts?
Lillian was enthusiastic when speaking of her trials. She was the first to refuse saluting the flag. Joel used her to describe the court cases that JW's won and lost. He showed old footage of brothers being beaten, tar and feathered(although this wasn't specifically shown, it was mentioned), JW teachers losing their jobs, and other injustices. This section was to show the freedoms that JW's brought to all of us living in the USA. Overall, this was informative.
Joel sequenced the stories together, meshing them from one storyline to another. Seth would be featured for five mintutes, then Thomas. And back to Seth. Seth was found by Joel through the USC medical center. Joel said he was specifically looking for a liver transplant patient as that is the most difficult transplant to do without blood.
He narrowed down the hospitals and USC finally called him regarding Seth. Since Seth would not accept a blood transfusion, most hospitals would not perform the transplant. And to make matters worse, the donor program would not allow Seth to receive a liver due to his no-blood stance. In their minds, he was asking for an experimental procedure. They could lose a liver on someone who may not survive. So Seth's father became the donor.
Seth's grandmother was the only negative feature of the film. She wasn't a witness and it showed. In the beginning of the film she mentioned that she hates to use the term "cult." She definitely inferred that the JW's were a cult, but didn't want to come right out and say it. During her brief moments on film, she was adamantly opposed to Seth's family taking the no-blood stance. A minor explanation of the JW's stance on blood was given. Nothing critical was offered.
Small soundbites and old timey movie clips gave us a glimpse of previous WTS presidents in action. Photographs of JW's on the street carrying signs that read, "Religion is a Snare and a Racket" was very amusing to see. Watching and hearing all of these old and new clips could be compared to removing the skim off of milk. No real meat was discussed. The film lightly glossed over the general beliefs and routines that witnesses follow. A few shots done in the kingdom hall were of your typically average Sunday or Tuesday night meetings.
When Joel was describing JW beliefs regarding paradise and armageddon, he showed photos of "paradise" and then moved to a picture of fire coming down from the sky, buildings falling, people running scared, etc. - one of the pictures that are used to scare JW's. I found it amusing and could sense the discomfort all around me. There was one point where the whole audience laughed out loud - and shame on them for laughing. It was a scene where a JW approached a man in a car and the man said that he was the wrong guy they should be talking to. The JW asked why and the man said "because I'm a real asshole."
Seth and his father survived their surgeries. Seth also has an african-american girlfriend. Seth is white btw. During filming, he was 23 years old. Come June, they are supposed to be getting married. Joel said that if he can, he would try to hold a screening in June in the Dallas area during the time of the wedding. Joel also said that this film will be playing in Indianapolis next month. The DVD comes out in June, and will "hopefully" show on PBS in the fall. There will be 3 hours of extra footage on the DVD.
At the end of the film, Joel held a Q&A session. Most questions were about the making of the film. I incorporated some of the answers into the above paragraphs. I didn't get a chance to ask my questions as they were inappropriate to the nature of the questions being asked. But there was one question asked that probably sums up the entire film. Someone asked about what his mother thought of him making this film. He replied that she told him, "Just make sure you put us in a good light!" That my friends, is what this film did.
The credits included many, many brothers from bethel. Even a "Special Thanks" went out to James Pellachia. Phillip Brumley had a small on camera spot with regards to the old court cases. A small blurb at the end of the film said that there are currently 400 cases worldwide that JW's are litigating over Free Speech and Human Rights issues. Quotes anyone?
It's late and I'm pretty sure a few other items will come to me tomorrow. If I forgot something, I will add it here later. Please excuse the jumping around, but the film did that as well.
Oh, and I didn't get to see Joel at the party. I went to the place where he said it would be, but it seemed that they weren't going to start it until after 11pm. I waited there for an hour and a half and then decided to leave. The banquet area was being set up for a party, but I didn't stick around to see when it would kick off. I will email Joel to see if he will come here to answer a few questions for us.
Thanks everyone for waiting,