Suffers from too much Gonzo journalism despite interesting subject
Despite an interesting subject, "The Secret Family of Jesus" depends too heavily on its catalyst, Dr. Robert Beckford, who decided to interject a lot of himself into the documentary rather than letting the subject and evidence speak for themselves. Documentaries of this type, where the camera follows the narrator/producer/writer around on a kind of quest of discovery, need to be done very carefully, else they lose focus on the issue at hand. I found when Beckford spoke directly into the camera at the foot of some ancient monument or relic it diminished the import of the object being discussed, maybe because he became the center of attention. Unfortunately, the documentary comes off more like a Rick Steves' tour of the Holy Land rather than bringing me more into the religious debate and the scholarship questions posed by the film.
Another shortcoming was a lack of discretion regarding interviews Dr Beckford does on his travels. I didn't need, and maybe didn't want to see, the scholar negotiating with armed guards to get into the area where resides an ancient tomb. And speaking with locals about their traditional beliefs, most of which I already knew, seemed a little superfluous. There were some interviews of scholars, and I would have preferred more of those than, for example, hearing a woman who manages a religious gift shop. These are members of the choir who only regurgitate doctrine common to the masses. A 50-minute documentary doesn't have a lot of time, and to waste it on those whose views are already known didn't add much to the film.
These are unfortunate shortcomings because I think it is a subject matter that needs exploration and debate. Overall, a film that needed a lot of editing work, less hand-held camera, and less of Dr Beckford walking around. I had no problem with him as a narrator, but which is the story? The family of Jesus or him? I think a documentary using the model of Frontline is far more effective and interesting as the story is the most important aspect of what is being presented. I hope Beckford will create future projects on this and similar subjects. If he just took himself out of the final cut a little bit, I think he could create some very interesting works. But of course, these days, everybody wants to be a movie star.
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