'Audience': Let There Be Lights, Camera, Action

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 15, 2007

For Moses, it was the burning bush. For Jacob, it was the ladder. But for Richard Gazowsky, it was . . . a big-budget biblical epic about the life of Joseph, set in the future?

Yes. The 54-year-old San Francisco pastor claims to have seen enough heaven-sent images for a passel of prophets. There was the 60-megabyte computer chip he saw upon waking up one morning in 2002, which he used to design a new 70mm motion picture camera he calls the Abraham. Just the other day he saw a new invention for a digital shutter.

And with these visions, he says, he hears God's voice.

"He speaks in my voice, out of my head," says Gazowsky, a pudgy, amiable man whose gray-blue eyes sit benevolently behind frameless glasses. "I know it's not me because the words that come out are totally out of the blue for me. . . . It just happens and you can't explain it. It's just God."

When the big kahuna vision came, in 1999, Gazowsky was at a friend's house in Southern California. He saw the Earth covered in ice and God told him, "That's your movie story," and to base his film on the Book of Revelation and reach many people. Being God's servant -- Gazowsky is also pastor of Voice of Pentecost Church in San Francisco -- he rolled the cameras. Never mind that in 1995 God told him to launch a seven-station television network, leading him to sell his house, buy a former NBC soundstage and wind up bankrupt. Gazowsky is a believer -- and a doer.

And Gazowsky is the central subject of "Audience of One," Michael Jacobs's verite-style documentary that follows the pastor's Sisyphean bid to make "Gravity: The Shadow of Joseph." "Audience of One," which screens tonight at Silverdocs, the documentary film festival at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, is hardly flattering, as it follows Gazowsky's crew to Alberobello, Italy, chronicling the disastrous results.

Everything seems to go wrong. The camera frequently jams. The Italian extras, often confused, complain. And Gazowsky returns home with only two shots. Back in San Francisco, he's ordered to leave a soundstage after three months for not paying the rent. Then the German financier for the movie pulls out (Gazowsky predicts the film will cost $200 million). Gazowsky, his family and church followers -- all production personnel -- are left weeping en masse.

Nonetheless, Gazowsky has come to attend tonight's screening. He gave Jacobs permission to film him, he says, because God had forbidden the pastor to promote his own film. So when Jacobs contacted Gazowsky, it seemed like part of God's will to greenlight the documentary.

"God warned us, 'It's going to be bad,' " says Gazowsky, referring to Jacobs's film. "He said, 'They're going to laugh at you. They're going to mock you. And you can't defend yourself.' "

"Audience of One," Jacobs's debut feature, won a special jury award at the SXSW Film Festival. But what does Gazowsky think of Jacobs's film? The pastor believes it was made to "make fun of Christians," yet considers it to be part of God's divine plan -- to test his character.

"God doesn't give away his treasures unless your character is correct," Gazowsky says, his black-sneakered feet fidgeting in a hummingbird blur. "That's what he's doing with me and my family. He's trying to develop in us the character of greatness."

Jacobs explains his motive in making the film like this: "I wanted to have fun with the folly of their filmmaking and the inexperience they brought to the table, but I was never there to make fun of Christianity. Whether you are a Christian, a Jew or Muslim, what you see is pretty unique, pretty silly and pretty strange, beautiful and terrifying all the same time. And that's what makes the film so rich for me."

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