Archives For Tribeca Film Festival

The Cook County Crackdown: If you thought unconstitutional and redundant laws against fortune telling only happened down south, think again. The Cook County Illinois board of commissioners (that would be the county Chicago is located in) are proposing a new ordinance that would ban “fraud” under the guise of spiritual services for pay.

“The proposal, from Commissioners Edwin Reyes, Bridget Gainer and Gregg Goslin, includes a swath of spirituality. It would affect mediumship, palmistry, card reading, astrology, seership, “crafty science,” and fortune telling that might take place as gatherings, circles and seances. “This was something that was highlighted to say there is a variety of different things out there that could be covered by certain deceptive practices,” Gainer says. She says the measure was suggested by the sheriff’s department, and that more people dealing with a tough economy might be hoodwinked by frauds posing as spiritual leaders.”

First off, there are already laws against fraud and deceptive business practices in Illinois, and I can’t see how this new ordinance would have protected a recent high-profile Chicago-area victim of the old-as-the-hills “cursed money” scam. Further, how will this ordinance, if passed, be enforced, and who gets to decide what’s fraud? If you pay for a reading at a party, can you call the cops the next day? If you drop $20 when the local Pagan group passes the hat and you later have buyers remorse, can you press charges? The language is so broad (“circles”, “gatherings”), that it easily includes any Pagan ritual where any sort of money changes hands. Since this proposed ordinance doesn’t seem to ban charging for “spiritual services” per-se, how will it actually prevent the most outrageous instances of blatant grifting?

Another Interview with Alex Mar: “American Mystic” director Alex Mar is interviewed by MTV Tr3s about her documentary, which features Pagan priestess Morpheus Ravenna, and discusses gaining the trust of her subjects, her own background, and resources for folks interested in modern Paganism.

“That’s an interesting question. First off, let me say that I’m not advocating any one spiritual path over another. But that said, I know WitchVox to be a useful site for pagans or people who are pagan-curious to connect locally. I was told over and over again how much easier it’s become for people who are curious about different forms of witchcraft to find mentors now that the Internet exists. The Wild Hunt is a widely read pagan blog about the latest politics and culture that’s relevant to the pagan community. And there are major conventions a few times a year where young witches, warlocks, Druids, you name it, get together and mix and network and learn new techniques and dance to gothic metal bands.”

I’d like to thank Alex for the plug, and note that the “gothic metal band” she’s most likely referring to is Pandemonaeon, who played at this year’s Pantheacon. “American Mystic” is currently playing at the The Tribeca Film Festival, and is one of twelve entries in the festival’s World Documentary Feature Competition for 2010.

Guess Who Else Didn’t Like That Episode of  Supernatural: It wasn’t just Pagans who were a bit annoyed by the Supernatural episode “Hammer of the Gods”, where various non-Christian deities were portrayed as shallow flesh-eaters getting worked over by Satan, Hindu activist Rajan Zed (you may remember him as the Hindu priest who got heckled by Christians on the Senate floor) blasts the show for its portrayal of Ganesha and Kali.

“Acclaimed Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, said that Lord Ganesh and Goddess Kali were highly revered in Hinduism and such absurd depiction of them with no scriptural backing was hurtful to the devotees. Ganesh and Kali were meant to be worshipped in temples or home shrines and not to be thrown around loosely in reimagined versions for dramatic effects in TV series.”

Even Annalee Newitz at io9, a fan of the show, slammed the episode, saying it should never have been made.

“My point is just that this episode, in attempting to answer that “what about other gods?” question, made things infinitely worse than if we’d just been left wondering. Now we’re left thinking that somehow Christian deities are more powerful than any other deities in the world. Dean goes so far as to call them “just monsters.” Which A) doesn’t really fit the show’s premise, which is that Christianity is one mythological system among many; and B) makes it seem that Supernatural buys into the idea that Christianity is somehow the “best” or “most powerful” mythological system out there. Thumbs down on that one.”

Many have defended Supernatural as an “equal opportunity offender”, but I’m not sure that’s true. While Christian themes are treated lightly and irreverently at times, it still acknowledges and reinforces the inherent supreme power of the Christian mythos. It has also been careful to steer clear of the third rail of secular pop-culture fantasy portrayals of Christianity by not making Jesus (or even God for that matter) a character. Supernatural, in other words, doesn’t mind being flip about Hinduism, Taoism, Vodou, or Paganism, but won’t court real controversy by having Jesus (or the Virgin Mary) show up and throw down.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Yesterday, The Tribeca Film Festival’s ‘Faces of the Festival’ interview series focused on Alex Mar, director of the new documentary “American Mystic”. The film, which features Pagan priestess Morpheus Ravenna, looks at alternative forms of religion and spirituality in America from three different perspectives, and is one of twelve entries in the festival’s World Documentary Feature Competition for 2010. In the interview, Mar discusses the history of the project, her search for documentary subjects, and the difficulties in finding a modern Pagan practitioner to participate.

“I met with different covens in different parts of the country, and one of the challenges with the pagan element in the film is I needed to find someone brave enough to say, okay, not only am I a witch, and to say that on camera, but I have this coven, I have this group that I practice with, and everyone associated with her had to be brave enough to say, okay, we’re comfortable with this.

In California and maybe in New York, it doesn’t sound like that big of a deal to say that you’re pagan, but obviously being a witch is a big deal in this country. I met with a woman who I thought was so wonderful in Tennessee, and she would have loved to have shared her story but she was terrified. You know, she had seen people lose their jobs, and actually had a friend whose children were taking away from her through child welfare… It was really, I think, all told, six months of going around the country.”

Alex Mar

Mar’s obvious sympathy for her subjects, and her willingness to view the world from their perspective, makes me very hopeful that this will be one of the best documentary treatments of modern Paganism by an outsider. I look forward to the opportunity to see this film, and I wish it every success at the Tribeca festival. I urge you to read the entire interview, and if you’re in New York, to go see the documentary.

The film “American Mystic”, one of twelve entries in The Tribeca Film Festival’s World Documentary Feature Competition for 2010, has released its official trailer and web site.

A still from the “American Mystic” trailer.

Directed and co-produced by Alex Mar of Empire 8 Productions, the film features Pagan priestess Morpheus Ravenna, who, along with her husband Shannon, operates the Stone City Pagan Sanctuary in California’s Diablo Range, just outside the San Francisco Bay Area. If this trailer is any indication of the overall quality, it may be one of the best documentaries featuring modern Paganism in recent memory.

Morpheus Ravenna is planning to be in New York for the premiere, so hopefully we’ll hear about her experiences regarding the film, and get a sense of how the audience reacted. I’ll try to keep you posted regarding screenings, the eventual DVD release, and hopefully an interview with director Alex Mar regarding the project.

The Tribeca Film Festival, one of the most prominent independent film festivals in the world, has announced the twelve entries in their World Documentary Feature Competition for 2010, one of which prominently features modern Pagans. That film is “American Mystic”, directed and co-produced by Alex Mar of Empire 8 Productions.

“Set against a vivid backdrop of American rural landscapes, Alex Mar’s meditative documentary artfully weaves together the stories of three young Americans exploring alternative religion: a pagan priestess in California mining country, a Spiritualist in upstate New York, and a Native American father and sundancer in South Dakota, all yearning for fulfilling spirituality in disparate but often strikingly similar ways.”

The Pagan priestess in question is Morpheus Ravenna, who, along with her husband Shannon, operates the Stone City Pagan Sanctuary in California’s Diablo Range, just outside the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Stone City was founded by Morpheus and Shannon on their land in Santa Clara County, California, beginning in 2002. Our purpose is to provide gathering space and facilities for Pagan community events, and permanent sacred spaces dedicated to the Old Gods. Stone City does not serve one single tradition or subset of the community exclusively – our intention is to be available to multiple traditions as a place for gathering, worship and support. Our community of friends and supporters is wonderfully diverse, representing people with backgrounds and practices including witches from many traditions (Feri, Gardnerian, Reclaiming, California Eclectic, and more), Druids, Thelemites, practitioners of Celtic and Norse faiths, Kemetics, members of NROOGD and CAW, shamans and animists, Buddhists, and others. We are dedicated to fostering ties between traditions and strength within the Pagan community.”

I had the distinct pleasure of not only meeting Morpheus and Shannon at this year’s Pantheacon, but to also talk at some length with director Alex Mar concerning the project (during the Pandemonaeon concert of all places). I was left with the impression that Mar, while not a Pagan, seemed genuinely fascinated with our interlocking communities, and clearly respected the work being done by Ravenna and the Stone City Pagan Sanctuary. I came away from our interactions very encouraged that this will be a worthy documentary that respects the beliefs and aspirations of its subjects (a rare thing).

As this project gets closer to its premiere, I’m hoping to showcase a trailer for the documentary as soon as it’s made available. I’m also hoping to conduct an interview with Alex Mar about the documentary for this blog at some point in the near future. I think it’s very exciting that a documentary featuring the accomplishments of modern Pagans in such a positive way is going to be getting a lot of attention from film-lovers, industry professionals, and the press. You can be sure I’ll be keeping you up-to-date concerning this film.