By: Mackenzie Lambert
Religious cults can be violent in nature and intention. After hearing about it from Edward Summer, founder of the Buffalo International Film Festival, and knowing that it was worked on by director Preston Miller and star Shing Ka, the screening of God’s Land intrigued me. Additionally, learning that shards of a real life cult from Lockport, NY served as the basis for the film increased my interest. What Preston presented in God’s Land was an interesting story about conflicting cultures, assimilating into a new place, faith, and how the media focuses on cults, even those that are non-violent in nature.
The film begins with the Hou family moving from their apartment in Taiwan to Garland, Texas on the claim that Jesus will appear on television. Such was said by the leader of the cult, Teacher Chen (played with mirth by Jackson Ning). Hou Xiu (Jodi Lin) and her son, Ollie (Matthew Chiu), struggle to adapt to their new surroundings and are unsure of what the future will hold for them. Shing Ka plays the headstrong patriarch of the family, yet he is conflicted by his calling with Teacher Chen and his responsibility to his family.
This film is described as a comedy-drama, yet there is very much a documentary feel at work here when the Hou family or the cult are in public. The scene with the Hou family in a store eerily similar to Target makes the film seem more real. And there is much humor to be had in the film, although much of it is subtle. A scene where the cult members try to figure out the means of their exodus was riddled with references to Star Trek, Boba Fett, Carbonite, and Cryogenics.
Portions of the movie I found most interesting included shots of people watching the press conferences held by the cult. In the scene, the press are so used to fanatically-aggressive groups that when a harmonious group comes though, they panic. A scene where Xiu and Ollie are in a hotel has the hotel owner panicking over whether the mother and son will commit suicide in the room, and whether the hotel will be of worth if they try to sell it in the event of the feared suicide.
If there was one problem with the film, it was the pacing. There were parts where it slowed down and disrupted the momentum. Yet, it quickly picked back up and the momentum was regained. There were only two or three occasions where this had occurred, but the overall impact of the film more than made up for it.
The post-screening Q&A session at the Screening Room brought some interesting tidbits to light. The majority of the film was not shot in Texas, a tip of the hat to editor Krishna Kokopelli Anderson. A delightful scene where Master Chen teaches the children about life force in plants was ad-libbed, yet felt natural. Shing Ka was not who the producer Jeremiah Kipp had in mind for the character of Hou, yet he fit perfectly into the role.
The film brought a level of thinking typically reserved for full-blooded documentaries. The dramatization provided some distance between reality and fiction, but the emotional elements kept it close to the heart and mind. This was a great film and BIFF was the occasion upon which God’s Land had its world premiere. Not often do we have that bragging right for such a worthy film.
Mackenzie Lambert is a Buffalo-based columnist. He has been
featured in such publications as Penny Blood and Pantechnicon. He is
also a movie columnist for The Men’s Room Today (www.themensroomtoday.com).