Sunday, September 09, 2007


Religulous was a panel discussion with Bill Maher (host of Politically Incorrect and now Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO) and Larry Charles (producer/writer/director on Seinfeld, Curb Your Entuhsiasm, and Borat), moderated by Thom Powers of the festival. The panel was in support of the film of the same name that Maher and Charles are currently working on. The clips that were shown indicate a funny movie that asks some interesting questions and provokes people to think; it will probably offend a whole lot of devout people, but that's not the audience they are targeting.

Below is a summary of some of what was discussed in the session. Note that these are not exact quotes, that in many cases I've paraphrased and summarized what was said:

  • Because of the success last year with the Mavericks session involving Michael Moore for Sicko, Lionsgate requested a similar session this year for this film.
  • A number of rough clips were shown, which generally consist of Maher interviewing religious peoples of all stripes. He talks to Jews, Christians, Muslims, polygamists, satanists, and Raelians, although the focus of the film will be on the first three.
  • The title of the film is a combination of Religion and Ridiculous, which combined equals Religulous. Charles said it made for a better meme than a more conventional title like "Bill Maher is Going to Hell".
  • Maher had always wanted to do a movie on religion; producers suggested he link up with Charles. They both felt it was something that needed to be made and started shooting quickly.
  • On the topic of religion being a taboo subject generally in film and TV, Maher replied that it had never been an area he couldn't go with his audience, but he's sure others would be upset. Charles talked about an unspoken code to avoid discussing religion, but in Curb Your Enthusiasm they talk about it a lot, which can be controversial.
  • Both talked about wanting to challenge people's assumptions, getting them to question rather than just accept things at face value.
  • Charles' parents were secular, but they all lived in an Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood. He actually wanted to be a rabbi at one point, but once he reached an age where he started asking a lot of questions, he ran into problems. Maher comes from a Catholic/Jewish background; in his early career, he would make fun of religion, but in the context of still beliving it. Evolving to his current position was something more gradual over his life. In filming this movie, and a segment with his 88-year-old mother, Maher learned something more about himself and his family.
  • Maher acknowledged that people want to believe, that they find comfort in it, and that his not having a faith is a luxury of his being financially and emotionally well-off.
  • Charles talked about how a punishing god never made sense to him, and that the common explanations are not adequate to the present reality. In his mind, search for answers is anathema to religion, because the answers are supposed to already be there.
  • Both commented that humanity should be able to be nice to each other without requiring relgion to do so.
  • What worries Charles is that most religions come to an end times, which inherently removes the motivation to work things out because what comes in the next life is better than the current one.
  • On the question of spirituality vs. organized religion, neither is willing to say that there is nothing greater out there, just that they don't know what is out there.
  • In addition to the traditional religions, they looked at newer ones like the Raelians. Charles said that even though a lot of these newer ones involve things like spaceships and aliens, if you break their stories and beliefs down, there are parallels.
  • It was actually straightforward getting people to talk on camera, because they generally went to people that are very passionate about their causes and beliefs. In the clips, they travel all over the world, including to Jerusalem and the Vatican. In fact, they mentioned that some of the most candid conversations were with two Catholic priests from the Vatican.
  • Charles believes that rationalism and reflective thought are coming to a crisis point.
  • They said the point of their film is to make people think. They said that using a humourous style helps to get the message across and probably stops people from immediately tuning out as they might with a more serious, earnest discussion.
  • Charles thought the film might come out in the spring, but that no release date had been set yet.
Bill Maher and Larry Charles:

Thom Powers, Bill Maher, and Larry Charles:


My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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