Variety reports from the Toronto International Film Festival:
Footage of “Religulous,” which amounted to an extended trailer, saw Maher poking fun at Christians, Jews and Muslims with equal dexterity. “God made homosexuals; man made Bibles,” quips Maher in one vignette musing on the major religions’ occasionally backward attitude toward sexuality. Other clips find Maher visiting the Vatican, Jerusalem and even a London underground underpass in search of the truth. Mostly, all he seems to find are punchlines.
Pic is virtually guaranteed to generate wells of ink when it finally bows. It’s been snapped up in all hot-button zones, with Falcon handling Arab-language territories and Forum the Israeli release. Charles described it as “pan-offensive.”
“People who say they’re religious say they’re humble, but they’re arrogant, because they say they have all the answers,” said Maher at the generally appreciative press confab.
“This isn’t a Michael Moore-style polemic,” said IM Global topper Stuart Ford. “The subject matter is very much of the moment. All the major religions take themselves too seriously. We’re saying it’s OK to laugh at yourself. Don’t take this stuff too seriously because it’s destroying the planet.”
The Charles and Maher double act added some much-needed laughs to a fest sked that has at times carried the world on its shoulders. . . .
Hmmm. I call myself religious, but I don’t think I would ever say that I have all the answers. I wonder what Maher means.
Meanwhile, in other news, the new poster for the film is here.
SEP 11 UPDATE: The Chicago Reader‘s On Film blog adds:
. . . Maher was quick to distinguish the project from mainstream movies like Evan Almighty that lightly spoof the Bible while leaving its bedrock assumptions unchallenged. As Charles put it, “Most movies tend to poke gentle fun” at religion, whereas “we want to stab it to death.”
As far as I could tell from the clips, that mercilessness seems to be the project’s chief asset. Real comedy requires a point of view, and whereas most MSM debates about religious matters try to manufacture a facade of fairness by respecting irrationality, the funniest segments screened tended to be the most unfair. In one scene Maher is interviewing an imam about the concept of the fatwa when the imam interrupts the interview to answer his cell phone. As he’s reading a text message, Charles and Maher superimpose their version on-screen. “What r my orders?” asks the sender. The imam replies, “Death 2 Bill Maher. LOL. :).”
Most of the other clips featured similar gags, with the sort of quick cuts to stock footage that we’ve all seen in Michael Moore’s movies. (One particularly choice sequence tells the story of Adam and Eve through a cheaply animated kiddie flick; whenever God appears, he does so in the person of the title character from the camp horror flick Leprechaun.)
Later, when the moderator opened the program to questions from the audience, one participant called Maher and Charles on their tactics, saying that it was one thing to let the interviewees hang themselves with their own words but another thing to take “cheap shots.” The difference in their responses was illuminating: Charles hotly advised the audience member to “make your own movie,” but Maher pointed out that it was a work in progress and said that, in keeping with the spirit of openness, they would keep his criticism in mind. Maintaining a certain amount of respect for the other side has made Real Time the fairest debate show on TV, but Maher’s unwillingness to suffer fools gladly has made it one of the most productive as well. We’ll see whether his movie can walk the same fine line.
UPPERDATE: The Globe and Mail adds these bits:
The twinning of power and violence . . . also came up at the Ryerson Theatre on Sunday during the discussion between Bill Maher and Larry Charles (the bearded and be-hatted writer and/or director of Borat, Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Entourage). They came to town with clips of their documentary-in-progress Religulous, which details the absurdities they see in Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
“Americans are now one of the leading torturers in the world,” Maher said. “And the government is run almost exclusively by ‘people of faith.’ It’s amazing to me how many evangelical Christians are okay with torture, considering how their boy got tortured so bad. But their Christianity isn’t about morals or ethics, it’s about saving their ass. They pray to Christ so that they can do whatever they want in this world, and he’ll forgive and protect them in the next. That’s ass-backward.”
“All these religions believe in end times, so there’s no need to believe in peace or working things out,” Charles said.
“We don’t need a person of faith in the U.S. presidency; we need a person of doubt,” Maher said. “We need a person who says, ‘I don’t know what will happen if we invade Iraq, let’s think about that.’ We have a person of faith, and it’s a mess.”
UPPESTDATE: Incidentally, I have to ask: Why does this film seem to be going after the three major monotheistic religions only? What about Hinduism or Buddhism or paganism or…? Surely a “pan-offensive” movie could be a little more inclusive.