I Am Jesus
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I Am Jesus

Valerie Gudenus and Heloisa Sartorato (Italy, MADE IN ITALY)

Sunday, May 1, 9 p.m.
Cumberland 2 (159 Cumberland Street)
Tuesday, May 3, 4 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 (350 King Street West)

I Am Jesus travels the world to three very different isolated religious communities led by three very different men, who all claim to be the second coming of Jesus Christ.
The men themselves are captivating subjects. In Brasilia, Brazil, the SOUST community is led by Inri Cristo⎯a frail man in his 60s with shoulder-length hair, a braided crown, and white robes, surrounded by a convent of mostly young, attractive women enamored with his persona. Elsewhere a younger man, who goes by the name Vissarion, also wears traditional robes—a bit thicker for much colder climates of Siberia, Russia—but has longer hair and a beard. Also known as the Teacher, he leads a polygamous community where women exist to serve their husbands. But perhaps the most intriguing figure of the three is David Shayler, a former secret service agent and whistle-blower who experienced a religious awakening after a prison term, who now lives in a small alternative community of followers in Guildford, England, and has a transvestite alter-ego named Dolores.
The three “Messiahs” have already received more than their fair share of media attention in their respective countries and around the world, so Gudenus and Sartorato are smart in not building the film solely around their claims (though they do prove fascinating interview subjects). The film’s strongest moments instead explore the lives of the followers and their—to our eyes—inexplicably blind devotion: when one of Cristo’s “daughters” bursts into tears at the thought of his death, or when wives of Vissarion’s community explain they purposely omit historical facts of war and death from the curriculum at a girl’s school, we’re struck by the fervency of their beliefs. Despite inhabiting a world of doubters, they’re relentless in their faith. In fact the film could benefit from a bit more conflict between the world of the believers and that outside their walls. But in the end, the film doesn’t try to make a comment about whether or not the claims of Vissarion, Cristo, or Shayler are true or untrue, because to their followers the answer is clear.