Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Film

The Institute

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Film

The Institute

Article excerpt

Directed by Spencer McCall

(Slamdance Documentary Feature)

The Institute is a mind- boggling documentary (or is it a documentary...?) about a live game (or is it real? or is it art?) purportedly played out in the cityscape of San Francisco (henceforth SF) roughly between 2009 and 2012. This game attracted players by distributing intriguing flyers around SF and Oakland. Some of them discussed something called the "Jejune Institute," some of them revealed the benefits of "nonchalance," and others were a plea for information for a woman missing since the 1980s named Eva. When the curious called the phone number, they were directed to an office building in downtown SF, where they were led to an "induction" room. From then on, the game was afoot. Initiated players would receive phone calls, texts, flyers, maps, radio programs, and other signals to pursue an elaborate scavenger hunt through the city streets - though without really knowing what the ultimate goal was.

The film depicts the game as the brain child of artist Jeff Hull, who wanted to find a way to make the mundane, workman-like aspects of an urban center seem mysterious and magical, forcing participants to see their surroundings anew for the first time. Everything around them might be a clue; to what, who knows? As they participated in the emerging story, some of them found themselves becoming part of the story, or even "programmers," authoring parts of the game for others. The parallels with a "God's-eye view" of human life are obvious, and in fact the game pushes the spiritual aspect in several areas - the concept of "nonchalance," which seems to borrow from various "divine fool" traditions; the mystical powers apparently developed by the missing Eva, perhaps in conjunction with her father, who invented the mysterious "Algorithm" which may allow people to enter an alternate form of existence called "Elsewhere"; and especially in the "cult"-like attributes of the Jejune Institute and its autocratic director, Octavio Coleman, Esq. …

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