more fun than global conspiracy? If you
ask former “inductees” of the Jejune Institute, you will likely get radically
different responses. It seems it was all
just a game, or was it? Indeed, truth is
deliberately difficult to separate from fiction in Spencer McCall’s ostensive
documentary The Institute (trailer here), which screens
during the 2013 Slamdance Film Festival in Park City.
upon a time, 2008 to be exact, some strange leaflets began appearing around San
Francisco—strange even by that city’s standards. The Jejune Institute was trumpeting its
revolutionary scientific breakthroughs, like the personal force field, and
inviting interested parties to inquire at their local offices. It turns out the Jejune Institute was
headquartered in the heart of San Francisco’s glass-and-steel financial
district. However, the office was
nothing like Bank of America’s. Visitors
were directed to a trippily appointed room, where they watched a video greeting
from Jejune founder Octavio Coleman, Esq.
a mind-bending intro to some of the basic Jejune buzz-words, inductees were
sent on a scavenger hunt throughout the city, finding secret signs and clues
amid the urban environment. Before long,
inductees found themselves aligned with a rival faction seeking to liberate the
power of “nonchalance” (the rough Jejune equivalent of The Force) from the megalomaniacal
Coleman. Or something like that.
thing is, it was all just a game, engineered by a conceptual artist to foster a
sense of play in the city. Yet, as soon
as the behind-the-scenes architects come clean, McCall introduces a former
player, whose tales of misadventures in the Bay Area sewers have to be part of
the mythology. I mean, seriously.
McCall was brought in to document the final stages of the game and recognized a
doc-worthy story when he saw one. Yet,
by the same token, it seems safe to assume he is to some extent, an accomplice
to the mythmaking. There are enough
digital tracks to suggest the Jejune Instituters truly were running an
Alternate Reality Game (ARG) that some players took very seriously. As for everything else in the film, maintain
a healthy skepticism.
thing of it is, the Jejune mythology is a great story. McCall taps into our deep abiding interest in
secret histories, conspiracy theories, and urban legends, as well as our fear
of cults. For scores of players, the ARG
was like submerging themselves in an Illuminatus!
novel. Yes, some of them might have
become obsessed to an unhealthy degree, but they might also be playing the
openly inviting comparison to Exit
Through the Gift Shop, The Institute will appeal to viewers who enjoyed Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles. It might be strange and
unreliable, but it is never dull.
Recommended for those who appreciate postmodern fables, The Institute screens again tomorrow
morning (1/22) at Treasure Mountain Inn, as part of this year’s Slamdance.
Labels: Documentary, Jejune Institute, Slamdance '13