At the age of 40, Pastor Richard Gazowsky – the magnetic and vociferous leader of the Voice of Pentecost Church on Ocean Avenue in San Francisco, saw his first movie. Soon after, he announced to his congregation that God had called upon him to direct a major motion picture. But not just any major motion picture – the biggest Christian film ever made; a genre-bending masterpiece that would blow people away as an incredible cross between The Ten Commandments and Star Wars. Gazowsky then sold his house and moved his family into his mother’s house to set up financing, also asking his parishioners to donate. Thus was born WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) Productions and the idea for Gravity: The Shadow of Joseph – a $50 million film to be shot on 65mm in Italy. In his own words, Gazowsky compares his plans for his epic film to the infamous Titanic: “Either it sinks and it’s the biggest flop or it sails and it just blows everybody’s mind.” Unfortunately, we all know what happened to the Titanic. But luckily for us, filmmaker Michael Jacobs, who read about Gazowsky’s plans and decided to investigate, managed to expertly document the trials and tribulations of one of the most divinely inspired (and horribly ill-equipped) directors of all time. The result is the award-winning documentary Audience of One, a film that has been aptly described as Jesus Camp meets American Movie.

Jacobs follows Gazowsky and his congregation-cum-film crew through the planning and design process, a disastrous trip to Italy, and the subsequent rental of a film studio space in San Francisco. Throughout the process, Jacobs’ camera remains a passive onlooker to the events unfolding around him and lets his subjects tell the story for him. It’s a tale of glorious ineptitude and religious devotion gone awry. Gazowsky is so determined that his film will be made and that God is overseeing his filmmaking process that he sees a properly trained cast and crew as secondary and borderline unnecessary. In fact, at one point in the shoot, with his expensive camera on the blink, he announces to his frustrated and overworked crew that “We’re gonna shoot this movie, camera or no camera!” It’s moments like these that make this a hugely entertaining documentary, and even push it into the comedic realm of Christopher Guest’s inspired mocumentary Waiting For Guffman, a film that poked fun at small-town community theatre. Only instead of improvisation and comedians to provide laughs, this is real life. Whether that makes the events of the film funnier or more painful is dependent on viewer interpretation.

The story that Michael Jacobs presents in Audience of One could easily have dropped into parody, knowingly presenting religious zealots as absurd in a similar manner to Bill Maher’s comedic documentary Religulous. Instead, Jacobs lets Gazowsky and his congregation present themselves honestly (and hilariously) in their complete devotion to God’s control of the project through Gazowsky’s direction. And though Gazowsky comes off as a hopelessly deluded fanatic, he’s not protesting the film’s portrayal. In fact, he openly approves of the final film. “It’s required viewing at the church,” says Jacobs. “He knows it’s honest.” This unbiased presentation of Gazowsky’s process gives the film its life, setting the charismatic Gazowsky – a character that even Ricky Gervais, the master of deluded awkwardness couldn’t have created – as its leading man.

Audience of One never falters, and neither does Gazowsky himself. As the film comes to a close, only two shots of Gravity: The Shadow of Joseph are in the can (after two years of development), and though Gazowky has had his production company evicted from their rented studio space and is flat broke, he presents his followers with an ambitious plan for their future development – this is stuff that you have to see to believe so I won’t share it here. In the end, Audience of One showcases events that that can be viewed in any number of ways. The majority will see a dangerously deluded pastor prompting his naively devoted followers down a road of deception and ineptitude… or maybe that’s just me. No matter what you see, Audience of One will stick with you and should be added to your list of required viewing.

Zach’s Rating: A
Perfect For: Fans of documentaries, mocumentaries, or religious themed films in general
Stay Away if: You don’t want your faith to be tested

For more information on Audience of One, visit the film’s homepage
To purchase Audience of One, visit Amazon

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