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The Wayshower

In my previous post on the Atlas Shrugged movie, I happened to mention the actor who plays Francisco d'Anconia in it, Jsu Garcia. One of the funny things that happens while blogging sometimes is that you write about someone famous, and then they come out of the woodwork and contact you about it! I've had this happen a couple times, and it always takes me by surprise, but this one turned out to be quite interesting. His publicist contacted me asking if I'd like to interview him about his newest film The Wayshower, which he not only stars in, but also co-directed and co-wrote.

After taking a look at the trailer:


I thought "Ok, looks like a movie I might want to see. Sure, why not?" But before I interviewed him, I dug a bit deeper online to find more background on the film and on him, and the further I looked, the more intrigued I got about this. It felt sort of like "tumbling down the rabbit hole"!

At first, I was thinking I'd just do a quick post, based on some brief questions over email he could respond to for the "interview". I did that, and that transcript is below. But then, I got too curious about a lot of the stuff I was digging up and realized I had to talk to him over the phone to get more of the story, and fit together a lot of missing pieces. So on Friday we talked for about an hour, and I found his personality and life both complex and fascinating.

So for the short version, below is the transcript of my email interview with him. Then, for those intrigued, behind the cut you'll find some more information I've gathered about the movie and the movement behind it, as well as my thoughts and impressions of Jsu Garcia, based on our phone conversation. Including a reasonable explanation of the seeming contradiction I pointed out in my last post, of him choosing to take roles in both the ultra pro capitalist Atlas Shrugged and the anti capitalist movie Che.

I'm told that the Wayshower had a fantastic response at Sundance, and has screened at a few other film festivals so far but has not yet gained a national audience. As you may infer from the trailer, it deals with spiritual themes, that go beyond and outside of mainstream religion. Jsu plays himself (Jesus, his birth name) as the main character, but the plot is taken from a combination of stories that Jsu's spiritual teacher (and close friend) John-Roger has told, and some from Jsu's own experiences. The spiritual movement John-Roger (aka "J-R") founded is known as the Movement for Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA). Although it's based on John-Roger's stories, Jsu says that he believes the film will stand on its own and appeal to a wider audience (as it did at Sundance), and is not necessarily aimed at converting anyone or convincing anyone to join their church.

spoonless : Which do you find more difficult, acting, writing, or directing? Which do you enjoy the most? Did you find it hard to juggle all of these roles at once with The Wayshower?

Jsu : I find Directing and Acting at the same time very difficult. I think directing is easy but trying to sell the movie you poured your heart can be very difficult.

spoonless : From the Wayshower movie website: "Garcia makes his directorial debut with this project, collaborating again with long time friend John-Roger, and also working with mentor and friend Steven Soderbergh." Does this mean Steven Soderbergh had some involvement with this movie? What was his involvement and what is he like to work with?

Jsu : Yes on Steven being a friend but John-Roger is my best friend and we directed this film together as a team. Plus it's his stories we helped tell. On my part, I'm owning my part of the friendship with Steven buts it's like he directed me in two features so I'm like actor friendship with director. But the best part was when I asked him for "big help" on The Wayshower. All done on email, it stated when he offered great advise from the the first day on the film "Che" in lobby of the hotel while waiting for the vans to take us to the set. I asked him something about "story" and he told me to read "Cut to the Chase", by Sam O'steen. Sam was one of the great editors. I read his book and thus began my quasi-film making lessons with THE MAN. Steven Soderbergh broke the mold and changed the way to make films. The Red camera was his weapon. I loved him for opening my eyes. So while shooting and editing and post: Steven gave me uplifting gems that helped complete the film. John-Roger also gave me the wisdom and openness to ask for help and admit when I didn't know something.

spoonless: Is the plot of The Wayshower entirely fictional, or is some of it based on experiences from your own life? (If not, are there themes in it that relate to your own life?)

Jsu: Mostly it's the stories of John-Roger in this life and others that he has spoken about through seminars. My stories too.

spoonless: Your character's name in the Wayshower is Jesus, while your own name is Jsu. (I don't know whether Jsu is a name you chose or if you were born with it.) Are the names Jesus and Jsu related, and are either of those a reference to Jesus Christ?

Jsu : I was born with Jesus Garcia and I changed it for acting Jsu Garcia. I love Jesus Christ so I'm proud to have his first name which is Yahshuah in Hebrew. Love it.
[This question I asked over email before realizing he was playing himself; he clarified that over the phone.]

spoonless: Was making this film more about telling a story of human drama, or about spreading the spiritual teachings of John-Roger?

Jsu : Both. When you tell the story of Human Drama it's Universal. John-Roger's teaching are very simple and are all about love. God is Love so I believe Love is his teaching and I think if you see the film you'd agree.

spoonless : How would you compare The Wayshower to your 2007 film, Spiritual Warriors?

Jsu : It was a different time. I can't. I love it it like another child. John-Roger and wrote and produced Spiritual Warriors adapted by his teaching from his book Spiritual Warrior. We Directed The Wayshower so it just means in this film we had less people in the way of completing what we wanted.

spoonless : What's the most important thing a viewer might take away from this film?

Jsu : I didn't want to babysit people. We wanted to provoke thought. Like the film Inception, Black Swan and Hereafter. We wanted to let people discover for themselves.

John-Roger founded the Movement for Spiritual Inner Awareness in 1968. He has also started at least two (non-accredited) universities, the Peace Theological Seminary, and University of Santa Monica. If you notice, John-Roger as well as Jsu both list their names in the movie trailer with a ",DDS" suffix. This is a degree awarded by the Peace Theological Seminary. Jsu told me he "read all the great philosophers" during the course of his study at PTS. Currently, he lives with John-Roger (now in his 70's) and acts as his caretaker.

It's a relatively small movement I hadn't heard of before, but one thing I found during my googling online is that Arianna Huffington, founder of the newspaper The Huffington Post, has reportedly taken some courses associated with MSIA and is friends with John-Roger. She took some heat over it during her husband's campaign for US Senate. There are rumors that she often sends her employees at the Huffington Post over to MSIA for help with their personal problems, although like most gossip I find on the web, I have no idea if that's true. It's interesting that some in the media have used this as an indictment against her or her husband, while to me it's more a good recommendation for MSIA. I have great respect for Arianna Huffington and her newspaper, so if she thinks the courses are worthwhile, well... maybe there's something there!

For a short clip of John-Roger in action, check out this video of him meeting with Mother Teresa:

In addition to personal spiritual practice, there seems to be an aspect of this movement that tends towards some more missionary type activities. Jsu told me of a recent visit they made to Morocco, where they did some public group meditation.

Like any small religious movement, MSIA has gone through its fair share of scandals and is often branded as a "cult" by the big mainstream religions. The scandals appear to have been mostly restricted to the 1980's--throughout the 90's and the past decade, the movement has continued to grow unhindered, and some of its original loudest critics have apologized and retracted their complaints. I asked Jsu about some of their accusations and he assured me that these were more about tabloid journalism, and a few bad apples trying to bring MSIA down, than a real scandal. I have found no hard evidence any of them are true, so I will give MSIA the benefit of the doubt and not discuss them here any further.

While talking with Jsu, I came to understand more how several pieces of his life and personality fit together, such as his appreciation for Ayn Rand, his mixed feelings about Che Guevara, and his spiritual beliefs and passionate commitment to MSIA.

Jsu's parents were born in Cuba, and fled to New York just after Fidel Castro came to power. He and Johnny Depp both got their start in the same movie, playing two of the main male roles in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. Much later in his career, he eventually wound up in one of my personal favorite movies, Steven Soderbergh's Traffic! He also played in another of Soderbergh's films I enjoyed, Che, and considers Soderbergh a friend. Jsu Garcia played a supporting role in Che, but he also played Che Guevara himself in another movie about the Cuban revolution, Andy Garcia's Lost City. I haven't seen Lost City but my impression is that it is less favorable towards Che than Soderbergh's film.

As part of his preparation for playing these roles, Jsu spent some time talking to a close friend of Che's (who had been his personal bodyguard for a while, and was in Fidel Castro's inner circle), Benigno. But later, he also talked to people whose parents had been killed by Che. And while he admires his vision and revolutionary spirit, he came to the realization over the course of making these movies that Che had tragically let himself turn into little more than a "killing machine" and Castro's government ended up being far from what they had dreamed it would be. Since his parents only fled when Castro came to power, I asked him how they felt about Batista, the US-friendly mafia-style dictator Che and Castro fought to overthrow. He says that they had dreamed of the day when Batista would be overthrown for a long time, and were excited when the possibility arose, but disappointed when Castro came to power because things didn't seem to get any better, and if anything got worse. This reminded me a lot of the current situation in Egypt. It's great that Hosni Mubarack has been overthrown, but it remains to be seen who will rise to power in his place and whether it will be a true step in the right direction (I tend to think so, but sometimes you never know until history plays itself out).

With regard to his attitude about capitalism, he says "I love capitalism, but I hate greed." I mentioned that one of the things I see as naive about Ayn Rand's view of capitalism is that she seemed too trusting of people's human nature. In order for capitalism to work the way she thinks it works, I think you'd have to assume that everyone is naturally very honest and operates with the utmost integrity. But he quickly pointed out to me that Rand made no such assumption about human nature in her books. Most of the characters in her books were portrayed as vile self-loathing dishonest crooks--in Atlas Shrugged there were only a handful of truly virtuous heros, and they're the ones who end up leaving the US and living in "Galt's Gulch" in their own utopian laisez-faire capitalist paradise. Touche! He likens Atlas Shrugged to the story of Revelations in the Christian Bible, where all of the virtuous people are redeemed and live in heaven for the rest of eternity, but the wicked masses that get left behind end up burning in hell for eternity. I had never thought of Atlas Shrugged in this way, but it does shed new light on it for me.

In addition to the conflict between capitalism and communism, I also asked him about the seeming conflict between spirituality and materialism. Rand was a dogmatic atheist, and very critical of religion and mysticism, but it's clear to me that Jsu considers himself a very spiritual person. He said that while Rand hated mainstream religion as much as he does, he believes that she really did have a spiritual side. He said he could see it come out in watching interviews with her. That was really interesting to me--I think she would have denied it, but I might have to agree with Jsu there.

One thing that I often hear people complain about with regard to the Church of Scientology is that--while they claim to be motivated by spiritual concerns, and in some places even enjoy nonprofit status as a religious organization--they charge an arm and a leg for their courses, and I've heard that every time you get to a new level, they zap you with another set of big fees. Often they're accused of just being a big money making machine. I asked him whether MSIA charges for their courses, and that's when I really started to see the connections between Rand and the rest of his beliefs come out. "Yeah we charge, of course we charge" was his answer, and he followed it by a rant that sounded like something that could come straight out of Rand's mouth, who talked a lot about trading value for value and not getting any free lunches. I could see his love for capitalism coming out, and it suddenly seemed perfectly consistent with the rest of his personality. Perhaps materialism and spirituality aren't incompatible after all!

Hearing his point of view on whether it's right for a Church to charge for courses aimed at spiritual enlightenment, I was also reminded of how close the overlap between religion and self help is. A friend of his, David Allen, is both a self help guru (author of "Getting Things Done") as well as involved with MSIA. I used to think of religion as a competitor with science, something that provided people with an alternative picture of how the world is put together. But several years ago, I started shifting towards seeing it more as a type of self help. In some ways, I think that's a much healthier way to look at it. After all, if your religion doesn't actually help you to be happier in your life and your relationships, what good is it? I have a lot of friends and friends-of-friends in the life coaching and self help world, and none of them would think twice about charging for a seminar or a course. So what's the big deal if a church does it, if they're also trying to help people? Maybe I'll have to rethink my perspective on that aspect of Scientology. (And interestingly, he also commented that while he's not a Scientologist, he's tried a couple of their courses and knows other people who are more involved with it, and believes there is some good to be found there as there usually is with any well-intended movement.)

Finally, just as I was having to get off the phone to take another call, he went into a last-minute rant about sexual harassment lawsuits in the US, saying that the system on the island of Dominica (where he visited recently) works much better and allows for more personal responsibility. He even went so far as saying yes when I asked if he thought the women's rights movement had gone too far in some ways. This kind of shocked me and was hard for me to agree with, considering myself a feminist and generally as much for women's rights as possible. But I could also see how it fit in with everything else he was saying. Personal responsibility and "every man for himself" was always a theme that Rand harped on. And frivilous lawsuits and prosecution based on vague notions of coercion (rather than more "objective" notions of direct use of physical force) have never been popular with Rand's admirers, or with libertarians. Also in line with that theme, he also surprised me by saying "there's no such thing as brainwashing" at some point during the phonecall. (Surely this is a charge most small religious groups have to deal with from time to time!) If someone tells you a bunch of stuff that sounds kind of bizarre, who's fault is it if you accept it? According to Rand (and Jsu Garcia) people always have a choice, they always have free will. The decisions they make are their own responsibility, and someone else cannot make those decisions for them. And there's where small groups like MSIA have a lot of common ground with Libertarians and Objectivists (and I imagine, Scientologists). I suspect the state often tries to impose restrictions on such groups, and these groups feel oppressed by the laws the state lays down because they don't give individual members the right to make up their own minds. While it would have been fascinating to talk more about the ways in which I both agree and disagree with that, I had to go. But I suddenly felt the last few pieces fitting together in my mind! What an interesting guy, and a learning experience for me.

I told Jsu I'd stop by MSIA next time I'm in LA--and as John-Roger apparently likes to say "check it out".


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Feb. 8th, 2012 03:37 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the thoughtful article. Much appreciated. One small correction - Jsu holds the DSS degree - Doctor of Spiritual Science (not DDS).
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


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