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Review: “American Mystic” searches for spirituality.

Review: “American Mystic” searches for spirituality. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.

Freedom of religion is one of the fundamental liberties our country was built on, but is that freedom unlimited? Yeah, you can worship whatever or whomever you choose, but stray from one of the more popular and socially acceptable monotheistic religions and you’re certain to butt up against prejudice, intolerance, and ostracism. The documentary “American Mystic” captures how three young people of three different faiths — Spiritualism, Lakota and witchcraft — deal with the realities of their unusual religious choices.

On paper, many of their beliefs sound strange. Two of the three subjects admit to hearing voices and attempt to communicate with spirits, another pierces his skin to show his devotion to God, his body covered in scars from years of practice. With that in mind, I think, director Alex Mar brings us inside these people’s lives and presents their religions from their own perspective. “American Mystic” contains very little dialogue that isn’t delivered in voiceover narration from its three subjects; most of the film is comprised of impressionistic and very attractively photographed images of their lives wedded to audio of the characters talking about their philosophies. There is Kublai, traveling as part of his studies to become a faith healer; Chuck, who reconnected with his Native American ancestors’ religion as part of his recovery from alcoholism, and Morpheus, who is turning her husband’s family’s land in California into a pagan retreat.

05032010_AmericanMystic1.jpgThe three never meet and their lives do not intersect, though they do share some problems (i.e. none have very much money). No external voices are introduced, no experts are provided to contextualize these religions, no alternative viewpoints offered. Though Mar gets a good amount of access to her subjects and their spiritual ceremonies and rituals, the lack of dialogue and the focus on disembodied voiceover keeps us at a remove from Kublai, Chuck and Morpheus. It is as if Mar doesn’t want to pry into their lives, merely observe from a safe and respectful distance.

Her sensitive approach yields a poetic film about people’s struggle to maintain their deeply held beliefs in a world that doesn’t share them. Just don’t expect much drama; there’s three stories here but no real narrative, and two of the three main characters live very stable, even passive lives. It’s only Kublai, still searching and learning, who ends the film in a different place than where he started. At times, that makes for less than provocative viewing, yet that may be Mar’s point. It would be much easier for these men and women if they did change, and conformed to fit in with the rest of us. Their determination to continue down their own path is, in its own quiet way, an act of rebellion.

“American Mystic” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

[Photos: “American Mystic,” Empire 8 Productions, 2010]

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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