AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2010
By Don Simpson | October 18, 2010
Director: Storme Wood
Writer: Andie Redwine
Starring: Andrew Sensenig, Austin Chittim, Dane Hurlburt, Heather Del Rio, Jim Aabear, Marina Seitsinger, Oliver Luke, Richard Dillard, Wendy Zavaleta
Esther (Heather del Rio), a young Jesus-loving God-fearing Christian woman donning an over-sized frumpy and shapeless dress, takes a job at a health food store owned by Gabriel (Dane Seth Hurlburt), who is for all intents and purposes a left-wing Godless bohemian — as they say, desperation makes strange bed-fellows. (“The point on the ideological spectrum where far-left bohemians and right-wing fundamentalists meet is a health food store.”) Esther also works as an assistant for David Sawyer (Andrew Sensenig) — the local preacher for Warren F. Vanderbilt’s Prophetic Watchman Ministries, a very prohibitive Christian sect — and his family.
When David’s son Phillip (Austin Chittim) returns home from Vanderbilt’s Kingdom Bible College after being hand-picked by Vanderbilt to become a minister, Phillip and Esther become “promised to” each other (basically an engagement with no physical contact permitted). One fateful evening Phillip visits Esther’s bedroom; the next thing Esther knows she is being accused by David (who seems only capable of speaking in biblical quotes and references) of being Jezebel (the temptress from the Bible) and she is booted out to the curb.
Esther, now homeless, church-less and friendless, eventually moves in with Gabriel and Mark (Oliver Luke) — a college drop-out who at times appears to channel Steve Zahn and also happens to watch Vanderbilt’s television programs for shits and grins — and the grand discourse and debate regarding philosophy versus theology commences. Gabriel, a son of a preacher man and devout skeptic, is writing a thesis on belief — people who believe something that all evidence points to the contrary (read: Creationism). Esther, however, believes that the Bible represents the absolute truth and cannot comprehend how someone can be a good person if they do not abide by the rules of the Bible. (Vanderbilt’s interpretation of the Bible says no to birthdays, holidays, doctors, movies, music, “unclean” foods, questions, personal rights and freedom; there is no heaven [there is paradise] or hell [there is a lake of fire]. According to Gabriel: “They tell you where to go, what to think, who to marry and they threaten your soul if you don’t do what they say.”)
Gabriel wants to give Esther a break from her highly suppressed lifestyle so he and Mark become her sugar daddies. Soon Esther is outfitted in jeans and t-shirt and wearing make-up; watching movies; listening to music; drinking alcohol; and skinny dipping. But Esther never seems 100% comfortable with the changes that she is making — are Gabriel and Mark tempestuous demons intent on dragging her to the pool of fire?
Producer-director Storme Wood and producer-writer Andie Redwine’s Paradise Recovered is essentially a modern-day retelling of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Wood and Redwine intelligently discuss faith and religious tolerance (and intolerance) — as well as critically analyzing abusive and prohibitive religious sects — all without a tinge of condescension or judgment. Gabriel and Esther’s characterizations are handled brilliantly — in terms of acting, writing and directing. Rather than criticizing religion and spirituality (or lack there of), Paradise Recovered walks the fine line of only taking extreme religious sects to task. More than anything else, Paradise Recovered turns out to prove that religious and spiritual people can peacefully co-exist with atheists, agnostics and everyone else as long as there is an open and intelligent discourse. In other words, listening and understanding is significantly more important than attempting to convert others to your beliefs.
Also check out our interview with director Storme Wood from the 2010 Austin Film Festival.