Beyond Our Ken (2008, Directors: Melissa Maclean and Luke Walker): I knew this was going to be an interesting screening when I started to see leaflets in the hands of some of the audience accusing the filmmakers of slander and the film of being a fraud. The subject of Beyond Our Ken is an Australian religious movement called Kenja, founded in 1982 by Ken Dyers and his wife Jan Hamilton (the name is a combination of their first names). Now, any movement that inspires intense personal loyalty to one person will often be labelled a cult, and Kenja is almost always referred to in this way in the Australian media. Over the years, the group and Ken Dyers in particular have also been the subject of investigations into allegations of child sexual abuse. Directors Maclean and Walker, fresh out of film school, wanted to show the world what Kenja was really about. Was it a cult? What do members actually believe and practice? Remarkably, they were able to gain intimate access to the group and conducted many interviews with Dyers and Hamilton. They also interviewed many former and current members to see if the allegations had any merit.
What struck me immediately while watching the film was how similar the culture, beliefs and practices of Kenja sound to Scientology (including the practice of “energy conversion” which takes place in private sessions between two people, and the use of vocabulary such as “processing,” “clear,” and “attached spirits”), and lo and behold, according to Wikipedia (granted, not authoritative), Dyers was a former Scientologist. His life and work had many parallels with the life of L. Ron Hubbard, including a spotty military service record which was later exaggerated for patriotic effect. The directors make no mention of these parallels, perhaps out of fear of stirring up another organization, but I think it would have been interesting to see what relationship exists between the two groups.
Kenja claims to teach a technique for ridding a person of negative thoughts and the body of “attached spirits” leading to a general state of well-being. But toward the end of the film, we witness a complete meltdown by Dyers in which he rages about having to defend himself against charges and allegations for more than ten years. The master seems not to have learned from his own techniques. Tragically, after a fresh series of sexual abuse allegations surfaced, Dyers took his own life in July 2007, just around the time the film was being completed.
Far from being slanderous, the film actually seems to go out of its way to give Dyers, Hamilton, and other Kenja practitioners time and space to explain themselves. Clearly, however, they were not happy with the final film, and actually flew two of their members to Toronto to not only hand out leaflets, but to conduct their own information session. It will be held Thursday April 24th at 7pm at the OISE Building, Room 2-211, 252 Bloor Street West. I’m hoping that the directors show up to that since the Kenja people were at the screening. In my recording of the Q&A, Luke Walker lets them ask their questions at the end and I wish it had been able to go on longer. It’s a bit funny, too, that all the protests from Kenja members will probably just pique people’s interest in the film and give it a wider audience.
Here is the Q&A with directors Melissa Maclean and Luke Walker from after the screening:
Kenja’s response to the film. The trailers for their own “mockumentary” seem particularly bizarre.