In a small town in America’s Bible belt, Christianity and tradition reign supreme. For the past 88 years a community in the Holy City of the Wichitas have staged an Easter passion play/pageant that once saw audiences number the tens of thousands. Jesus Town USA is a documentary that is warm and sweet-enough but can be a little unfocused even though it does manage to have some themes that are relevant for people of any faith.
Filmmakers, Billie Mintz and Julian T. Pinder originally set out to make a documentary about whether a Jewish man would find Jesus in this small town. Instead they changed focus even though the result actually seems a little more aimless at times because they felt that the events that unfolded before them were more interesting. The man that had been playing Jesus for the past eight years in the pageant decided to retire, leaving the pageant director to conduct a search for a new saviour. They eventually settled on Zach Little, a fat paper boy and man child who has a heart of gold.
The film goes into the history of the play and its heyday in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1949 it also inspired the film, The Lawton Story or The Prince of Peace. At first the tone seems a tad comical where these townspeople are framed as simpletons. At times there are also more than a few things in common with the mockumentary, Waiting for Guffman.
The direction of Jesus Town USA changes somewhat when Little reveals that he is having a crisis of faith. He’s actually converted to Buddhism and is unsure whether the town will accept a Christ of this faith. It’s during these scenes that the story actually echoes some of the bible’s stories because Little is betrayed by his friend and he encounters resistance from the religious community.
Jesus Town USA is a quirky little documentary. It lacks focus but it does have a charming subject and is generally rather warm-hearted in its approach. This documentary has a light tone overall and it looks at some Christian eccentrics and the interesting things that Jesus does in Oklahoma. It’s certainly a different take on the idea of “Do what Jesus did”.
Originally published on 7 September 2015 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/sydney-underground-film-festival-review-jesus-town-usa-2015/
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