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San Francisco, U.S.A. — Roughly 10,000 people became inducted into the mysterious Jejune Institute in San Francisco between 2008 and 2011. “The Institute,” a full length documentary film premiering at the Mill Valley Film Festival this month, attempts to capture this enigmatic experience for viewers, and to unravel the truth behind the opaque organization.
“Many members described it as a cult,” says Spencer McCall, the film’s director. “But as I delved deeper, there appeared to be elements of an elaborate game being played.” Many of the subjects interviewed for the film disagreed on exactly how to describe their experience, whether it was a game or a much more serious endeavor. This paradox is one of the primary questions explored through the movie, which is McCall’s first feature length film.
At the opening night of the Mill Valley Film Festival, where Bradley Cooper’s new movie The Silver Lining Playbook kicked off the festivities, ex-members of the Jejune Institute demonstrated outside, discouraging audiences from seeing the movie. “Don’t believe the lies!” they chanted, before being ushered away by festival security. “I don’t appreciate this being characterized as just some alternative reality game,” said Gordo McLaughlin, one of the demonstrators, who was also interviewed in the documentary. “It’s not an accurate or truthful film. I think it’s a disgrace to the festival.”
Controversy seems to follow “The Institute,” which is beginning its festival run. “It’s been an incredible struggle,” Spencer McCall says. “Some participants are dealing with mental illness and delusion, and I’ve had them turn on me and try to block screenings. But it just seems to be adding fuel to the fire.” The sensational story has already received coverage by The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Wired magazines, among others.
“The Institute” will be showing at the Rafael Theater on Thursday, October 11 at 4:30 p.m., and at CineArts at Sequoia Theater on Sunday, October 14 at 2:00 p.m. Rumors are already swelling about what strange occurrences may transpire at the viewings.