This past weekend I made my way down to the AFI theater in Silver Spring, MD, to watch a documentary in the annual SilverDocs film festival. Knowing nothing more than the title and a brief blurb I decided the film What Would Jesus Buy? would be well worth the gamble of my $10 admittance.
What Would Jesus Buy? is focuses on the commercialization of Christmas, consumerism, globalization, and the eagerness of America to over spend. The film’s main character is Bill Talen better known as Reverend Bill, head of the church of Stop Shopping. As you might guess from their name, the Church of Stop Shopping preaches anti-commercialism through choir songs that deal with anti-shopping and anti-corporate themes. Taking their message to the streets, the film documents the many public demonstrations in malls and shopping centers across America, including the Mall of America in Minnesota and Disney Land in California, as the group travels the country in their bus one month before Christmas.
Reverand Billy is an eccentric character who plays the part of a reverend through his wildly energetic speeches to exorcising of large corporate headquarters at big box retailers like Wal-Mart. He was arrested or escorted away by police several times throughout the movie but that doesn’t stop his motivation to get his message out. It is hard to tell if Reverand Billy is a special character for the film or if Bill Talen really acts this way from day to day.
The film was directed by Rob VanAlkemade with Morgan Spurlock as executive producer. I was hoping this film would be more like Spurlock’s hit documentary Super Size Me or another one of my favorite documentaries The Corporation, packed with hard evidence about the topic. What Would Jesus Buy? starts out like that showing dramatic news footage of people getting trampled stampeding to buy Christmas gifts and reading facts about American’s debt after the holidays but quickly drops off to a roadie adventure. The film was entertaining as the Church of Stop Shopping was a zainy bunch, but it just didn’t live up to my expectations as a hard-hitting take action kind of film. Instead, it felt too preachy. I did come away from the film with a bunch of funny quips and terms like “The shopacalypse is upon us” and “Change-a-lujah”.
After the screening, Reverand Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping made a special appearance on stage where they performed two songs and answered questions from the audience. It’s these kinds of events that I really enjoy about film festivals since you would never get a show after the movie at your local cineplex. That made the price of admission totally worth it.
What Would Jesus Buy? is making the rounds in smaller film houses across the country but they expect to have a global release in time for Christmas this year. If you are in an anti-consumerism, preachy-gospel mood, then go check out this film when it comes to your area.
Reverand Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping homepage