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Now Playing! Profiles in Near-Religious Obsession at DocFest

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'J.R. 'Bob' Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius' finds the founders of the Church of the SubGenius pulling back the curtain on their absurdist religion. (SF Docfest)

This week, we look ahead to three pictures from an exhibition, namely this year’s San Francisco Documentary Festival, a.k.a. DocFest (running May 29–June 13 at the Roxie and Brava Theaters).

For starters: Surely there are still a few outsiders, outcasts and outliers remaining in San Francisco, yes? Think-for-yourself folks who recognize the absurd tonnage of conformist BS exuded into our environment every minute? If that’s you, well, you’re the audience for JR “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the Subgenius (May 30 at the Roxie), an in-on-the-joke saga of the ersatz religion founded in the ’70s by a couple of precocious young Texans with a shared love of Captain Beefheart and Chick tracts.

Sandy K. Boone’s film is as alert and bemused as its now-older and wiser subjects (and their followers). One of the founders, Rev. Ivan Stang, describes the Church as “a weird fringe cult for weirdos.” More than simply a history and a character(s) study, the doc works as a mental laxative at this particular moment of collective insanity and collective denial. Free thinkers of the world, unite!

Snapshot No. 2: Near-religious zeal of another denomination altogether fuels veteran Bay Area filmmaker Liz Canning’s irresistible first-person documentary Motherload (June 9 at the Roxie). Transplanted from San Francisco to the northern Marin town of Fairfax, and transformed from cyclist to car slave by the birth of twins, Canning frames her film as a sort of grown-up back-to-nature journey. To that end, she assembles a veritable revival tent of smiling subversives to spread the gospel of cargo bikes.

Motherload breathlessly transports the viewer to a different reality in more ways than one: In the cellphone era, bicycles are a splendid (and occasionally safe) way to capture moving images. Canning’s peripatetic camera captures an existing, sustainable counterculture, and the shrieks and laughter of many, many, many children.


Snapshot #3: Chicagoan Rick Wojcik would have a helluva time using a bicycle to haul the vast troves of jazz and hip-hop LPs and CDs he purchases from music fans-slash-collectors. As cofounder and head man of Dusty Groove, a North Side record store with an international reach courtesy of its long-running website, Wojcik is the rare example of someone who turned his hobby and passion (shopping for rare records) into a successful busines—without becoming jaded.

Dusty Groove: The Sound of Transition (receiving its world premiere June 8, with a second screening June 10) devotes most of its running time to Wojcik’s unique interactions with his “suppliers.” A terminally ill black jazzman plays his own decades-old recording for Wojcik; a black woman with an autistic son recounts her late father’s attributes while Wojcik excavates her crammed storage locker, a well-off white pianist bemoans the dearth of gigs outside of weddings.

Directed with a heart full of soul by Danielle Beverly (full disclosure: she was a producer of KQED’s Independent View, a short-lived TV program that this writer hosted many moons ago), Dusty Groove is less nostalgic and more inspiring than I may have suggested. The music lives on, in Wojcik and the thousands of jazz and hip-hop fans around the world who covet that little-known Sonny Stitt LP.

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