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Courtesy of Fabrica Production

I Am Jesus

Film portrays modern-day ‘messiahs’ without judging them

By Trisha Elliott

I Am Jesus
Directed by Valerie Gudenus and Heloisa Sartorato
Fabrica Production

According to a handful of Christian sects around the globe, the Second Coming isn’t nigh; it’s already here.

“The teacher has come as promised,” claims a Siberian priest in I Am Jesus, a documentary that explores communities in Siberia, Brazil and the United Kingdom that revolve around charismatic leaders claiming to be Jesus Christ.

In Siberia, an organic farming community has sprouted up around Vissarion, a soft-spoken long-haired man who claims he knows “the essence of everything.” His followers believe Vissarion is the Second Coming of Christ. The polygamous group lives in a self-sustaining community, often enduring -40 C weather while devoting themselves to his teachings.

In contrast to Vissarion, U.K.-based David Shayler, a former secret service agent turned whistleblower, is loud and flamboyant, claiming that the Holy Spirit first spoke to him during a mushroom trip. Shayler believes he is called to “do God’s work on Earth” and lives with a small group of anti-capitalist dumpster divers who are committed to spiritual development and minimizing their environmental footprint.

While Shayler and company live minimally, the Brazilian self-proclaimed Jesus going by the name “INRI Cristo” lives with a flock of singing beauties dressed in long powder-blue robes in a resort-like compound. Whether he’s travelling around the countryside in his white tour bus wearing a crown of thorns or popping up on Brazilian talk shows, INRI Cristo always expounds the virtues of spirituality and unconditional love. He plays a passable game of pool, too.

Even though Vissarion, Shayler and especially INRI Cristo encounter ridicule for their extreme claims, the documentary records their lifestyles and beliefs without judgment.

“Right from the start we decided not to explore the question of whether these claims of the Second Coming were true,” directors Valerie Gudenus and Heloisa Sartorato state on the documentary’s website. “Throughout the journey, we never questioned their authenticity but rather focused on what messages they had to give to society.”

The film’s portrayal of modern-day “messiahs” and their followers invites the viewer to consider who Jesus would be if he were alive today and what values his community would embrace. More curious than enjoyable, the film captures and contrasts these utterly human attempts to live a wholly spiritual life.

Rev. Trisha Elliott lives in Orleans, Ont.

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