He Looks like Jesus Christ. And Preaches like St. Francis of Assisi. Some say he's "a kook." Others, a "blessing from God." He is America's "Barefoot Evangelist," a solitary figure who has attracted both faith and controversy in the 16+ years that he has spent walking across 47 states and 13 countries sharing the Gospel without advocating for any specific organization or, for that matter, asking for any financial contributions. For years, he went by only the identity of "What's your name?," at times refusing to reveal his identity with such zest that he would attract or even anger his naysayers and skeptics.
Conceived and directed by Sean Tracey, who followed "What's your name?" across the mid-Atlantic region of the United States for the better part of three years through all kinds of weather, a wide variety of cities and towns, and in times of harsh rejection and remarkable acceptance.
Filmed utilizing single-camera filmmaking, The Jesus Guy
is a refreshingly honest 66-minute documentary that portrays both the stark humanity and the peaceful conviction of a man who openly admits to being on a spiritual quest that even he does not fully understand.
The power of The Jesus Guy
is in Tracey's refusal to paint the self-described preacher into a corner as either good or bad. Tracey has, quite wisely and honestly, allowed "What's your name?" pretty close to free reign in terms of topics, conversations and interpersonal encounters. In addition to filming numerous random encounters as he travels from city to city, Tracey includes in the film several interviews of those who have encountered "What's your name?" in both positive and more challenging circumstances. While many of his visits are overnight or rather brief, there have been times where the subject of this documentary has stayed up to a year in one location when offered the opportunity and when he feels called to an extended stay. Tracey interviews two individuals, Mary Elizabeth Battles and Connie Muir, who both invited "What's your name?" for lengthier than usual stays with decidedly different final reactions to their experiences. Muir, on the one hand, seems to reflect upon the experience with both resentment and bitterness by recalling the man whom she'd welcomed into her home as ungrateful and with almost a sense of "entitlement" (while also continuing to acknowledge that Jesus had done great things through him). Battles, on the other hand, becomes tearful and quite emotional in recalling the blessing of this man's presence and the many ways in which he blessed her life and the lives of others during his time in her home.
Yet, "What's your name?" at no point ever proclaims himself to "be" Jesus, simply a preacher who is doing what he feels called to do. The Jesus Guy
presents a balanced portrait of the man who can, at times, exhibit such zest during encounters and such a love for media attention that at times his ministry becomes fuzzy and, in fact, it would seem at times that he could be his own worst enemy (Though some might make that same argument with Jesus himself). "What's your name?," who is actually now going by James Joseph and has been in the Tampa, Florida area for about a year with no current plans to leave, is painted simply as a remarkably human man with a humanity that can be both humble and charming along with just a bit feisty and self-aware. Depending upon your point of view, these qualities will either affirm his mission or invalidate it.
Undoubtedly a byproduct of the challenges of filming with a single camera for three years on the road, there are times in The Jesus Guy
when both the video and sound waver in quality, however, the quality of Tracey's filmmaking remains consistent and admirable as he creates an authentic and inspired portrait of an intriguing man whose faith has been brought to life one step at a time.
The Independent Critic congratulates Joanna D. of Mesa, Arizona - winner of a copy of "The Jesus Guy" on DVD courtesy of Sean Tracey and the fine folks at Cinevolve. For more information on purchasing "The Jesus Guy" on DVD, visit "The Jesus Guy" website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic