Boulder filmmaker iKE ALLEN told friends that he was hoping to make The Rocky Horror Picture Show of country music. Days later, he got a call from Reverend Yolanda, a New York City-based drag queen and minister who was using her campy performances to spread the word of the Lord. Yolanda was interested in starring in a documentary, she said, and without hesitation, ALLEN bit. Now, a year later, he will premiere his film Reverend Yolanda's Old Time Gospel: The Movie at Boulder's First Congregational Church tonight, with another showing tomorrow at Denver's Center for Spiritual Living. In advance of the premiere, we caught up with iKE ALLEN to talk about the movie and his trouble booking venues.
Westword: Talk about the film. iKE ALLEN: The film is based on the Reverend Yolanda's Old Time Gospel live show which takes place at the Duplex every month in New York City, in Manhattan. About a year ago, I was saying I wanted to make The Rocky Horror Picture Show of Country Music. A year ago, in Chicago, two guys asked me about this, and I told them about it, and two days later Reverend Yolanda e-mailed us and said, "This is who I am. I'm Reverend Yolanda, and I sing country gospel music, and I hear you're looking for someone like me." That was the birth of the film.
So we went there, and we interviewed her, and we shot a lot of footage of that, and we filmed a concert at the Duplex that month. Now, I've assembled the film. The film takes a lot of the footage from the concert, but then there is also interview footage of her, her husband and a few other people. There is a lot of music and a lot of the witty things she says like, "The higher the hair, the closer to God." It talks about inclusiveness and what diversity really means to her. It's really just an all-around warm, loving, joyful film filled with toe-stomping, hand-clapping music.
Talk about Yolanda's connection to spirituality.
She is an interfaith minister. She and her husband both went through One Spirit Interfaith Seminary. They both became ministers. Their work is heavily focused on A Course in Miracles. It's a spiritual philosophy developed in the late '60s by a Columbia University professor who channeled Jesus. She channeled it, and she wrote this book, and it's in the public domain now.
There are a few million people around the world who study it. So it really is non-dualism. It's like Buddhism meets Christianity. The whole idea is really that the world is a dream. It's much like The Matrix or something like that. The world is a dream and when it all boils down, The Course in Miracles is really about: "What is the loving thing to do?" So, you're always striving to practice forgiveness and do the loving thing. That is the foundation of Yolanda and her husband Glen's work. That is really the root of her spiritual model. And, of course, she brings it onto the stage in the most loving, most naturally expressive way that is her, you know? Talk about some of the controversy that's come up with booking the show?
That really has finally settled down, but it was an interesting gig. I made a film last year called New Thought: The Movie. I'd probably put myself into that New Thought category. There are probably a thousand Unity Churches and maybe three-four-five-six hundred Science of Mind churches and many independent churches. It's in a category called New Thought.
So we booked two Science of Mind churches and we booked two Unity Churches. One in Denver had a new pastor there. He booked it. He was so excited. He was doing marketing. He was like: "Oh, give me all this marketing material."
Five days after he got the marketing materials, he Facebook messaged me. He said something to the effect of, "Because of my conservative audience, I need to cancel the show. I have a heavy heart writing this, but I've been having misgivings about committing to the Reverend Yolanda movie and performance. I talked it over with my staff today. We all agree that since I'm so new here, that it would be best for us to not go forward with it. This isn't the time. I think the repercussions could be strong from some of our more conservative members. I think it's way too early in my tenure here to have it associated with me."
So he cancelled. It's sad for me from the New Thought perspective, because, you know, you go to the Unity homepage. They capitalize on their page: "We're here for all people." Even David is an openly gay minister, but you know, whatever this means, "a conservative audience...." In American, I don't even know what the heck that means anymore, but you know, I'm a pretty liberal guy.
So, in the New Thought church, there is some concern about the conservative audience. They have gays and lesbians, but for whatever reason, this is not okay. So, he cancels. And then, when we were at Boulder Unity and interviewing them for a future production, we interviewed the ministers over there. I told them about that and Jack Olbermann was so excited. "Oh, yes, I want this."
It's not like I say this is Mini Pearl coming on stage. I say, this is an interfaith minister, country, gospel-singing drag queen. This is what it is. Here is where you can see video clips of it.
We're not hiding anything. I don't want to do anything with anybody who doesn't want to do it. I like to have fun in what I do, and what's the fun in that? Then they called Ande up -- my partner in business and my girlfriend -- and they cancelled.
So I went in the next day, and I talked to them. They compare her to a man dressed as Chuck-E-Cheese. It's so interesting because he says, "Well, just imagine someone else has the same philosophy, and it's an Indian guy who wants to play jazz." I don't even know what that has to do with anything. "But he has to dress like Chuck-E-Cheese."
Read on for more from iKE ALLEN.
Reverend Yolanda uses music and performance to advocate for equality and inclusivity.
How did you respond?
Ultimately, I had my moment of anger and frustration, but really, the biggest thing for me is that I'm really sad for those two Unity churches. Unity promotes themselves as truly inclusive to everyone -- but, "Oh, except for that person because they dress that way." I run into people all the time and see people with piercings or tattoos or I don't know, my God, I was a teenager in the '80s. The parachute pants and all of the colorful clothes we wore, my God.
I'm not going to say I understand everyone, but what I do understand is that people have different expressions, and just because I don't understand their expression doesn't mean they can't be my friend, doesn't mean that just because they dress a certain way that they can't perform. I strive to promote products and create a world of inclusiveness.
So, Boulder falls right when the Daily Camera, in Boulder, is publishing, in the front page of the local section, an article about the premiering at Boulder Unity. That's the other thing about Boulder Unity. It was the premiere. I said, I will give you the premiere location, the very first one. So they cancel and out comes the Boulder Daily Camera the next day, and the whole front page of the local section is about the Yolanda premiere.
So, I'm telling Jack this, and he's like, 'Well, you know, I could let you use the venue, but I'm not going to promote it." The Boulder Daily Camera says I cancelled the venue, but the reality is they cancelled it first. You know, and then they said, "Okay, well if you've done this marketing, we'll let you have it here, but we're not going to do anything to market it."
I get business, but I also get fun. I want to have fun. I'm a liberal guy. I want to work with people that are fun. At the end of the day, it's more important to have fun than to make some money and maybe or maybe not have fun. So, I said, I'm not going to do this. He says, "No one's going to get on stage. No one's going to say it's good. Yadda Yadda Yadda." It's like, you know, sure. Then I cancelled it. I cancelled it because they said, "We'll let you have it here still, but we're not going to promote it or say anything good about it." Would you go through with that?
How did you deal with all this?
I said, "Everything works out perfectly. Everything works out perfectly." So, I stepped back, and lo and behold, here comes the First Congregational United Church of Christ, right? I'm sort of more of a Buddhist. I'm an Eastern philosophy guy. I borrow from everything, but that's probably the most...New Thought is like Buddhism meets certain elements of Christianity. So, here surfaces this United Church of Christ movement, and we go, and we talk to them, and I'm just like, "Look. Let me show you the article. Let me show you the trailer before we lock this in. I want you to understand what this is."
The reverend over there was like, "Oh, yeah, this is our audience. We're totally into this. We're in. We want it and we're in."
So, you know, it's like, as I say, this is kind of interesting. Here I am, an Eastern philosophy guy most of my life, and here I am premiering the film in a Christian church.
I think a lot of us in America or probably around the world have ideas about what Christianity is, and again, I'm still an Eastern philosophy guy, but I have taken a second look at this modern-day Christianity and been like, "Wow, these guys are kind of interesting.
What are the next steps? We premiered the film along the Front Range, so it launches Friday night. I got a giant box, like three feet by two feet. It had a giant wig that just landed from UPS today, a giant box that weighs about a pound. I'm not kidding. It's this giant wig. So the wig is here.
Yolanda flies in. We do the film premiere at the United Church of Christ in Boulder, and then we're in two Denver locations. We just booked the Metropolitan Community Church of the Rockies, which is another Christian, welcoming church. They suddenly came on line. We've got two Denver venues, an Aurora venue and then a Fort Collins show. Where is it going from here?
We also did a Kickstarter campaign. It was my first experience with that. We raised the money for an aggregator, and that's like a broker. You have to have a broker to try to get on Netflix and Hulu and even ITunes. With films, you need what's called an aggregator. So we raised the Kickstarter money so that we could use that.
My goal is big. The industry is changing. In the old days, I could sell a DVD for $20 to $30, but now people want to see it on Netflix. They want to see it on Hulu. And this film's perfect for that. So we'll shell out five-to-six-grand for film festivals and an aggregator and try to get it out into the world and also to help Yolanda, because she loves to entertain. My dream for her would be that she's in Vegas or Atlantic City or traveling around. My dream for her is that she's in big churches around the world and little churches actually encouraging people to truly be inclusive and to actually accept everyone for who they are.
Reverend Yolanda's Old-Time Gospel Hour: The Movie will premiere at the First Congregational Church in Boulder at 7 p.m. tonight, September 5; and will show in Denver at the Center for Spiritual Living, 2590 Washington Street, on Saturday, September 6, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10; for more information and additional screenings, go to the movie's webpage.
Find me at @kyle_a_harris
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