FILM Under the guidance of charismatic, luxuriously-bearded leader Father Yod (once named Jim Baker, later known as YaHoWha), the Source Family operated one of the country's first health food restaurants. They lived in a Hollywood Hills mansion, wore flowing robes, assumed dreamy new names, meditated, and studied Father Yod's custom blend of Eastern and Western philosophy and mysticism.
As the home movies that comprise Maria Demopoulos and Jodi Wille's documentary, The Source Family, suggest, there were golden moments aplenty, even as the mainstream began to view the group with suspicion (and an aging Father Yod's decision to take multiple wives confused some members — particularly the woman he was already legally married to). Tapping into the group's extensive film and music archives, as well as interviews with surviving members, The Source Family (opening here with a big gala Thu/2 and running through May 9 at the Roxie) offers a captivating look at what had to be the most earnest (and most photogenic) cult of the 1970s. I spoke with Demopoulos and Wille to learn more.
San Francisco Bay Guardian When did you first hear about the Source Family, and how did you hook up with "Family historian" Isis Aquarian?
Jodi Wille In 1999, a friend showed me a CD box set with all nine of the original Family records. I'd been obsessed with cults, communes, and radical groups from the 1960s and '70s for 20 years — but I'd never heard of the Source Family. I was shocked that this existed, and that they had this kind of musical output. Also, there were pictures of them looking very beautiful and stylish. But I went online and there was nothing there [about them].
One day, my then-husband, [Feral House publisher] Adam Parfrey, came home with a DVD he'd found at Amoeba Records: a very limited-release student film on the Source Family. We watched it, and I was struck by how thoughtful and charming the Family members were in the interviews.
I went online again, and this time there was a website. I'm a book publisher, too — I put out books on counterculture, sustainability, and things like that [on Process Media and Dilettante Press] — so I emailed, asking if they'd ever considered doing a book. Isis Aquarian wrote back and said [she and her Source Family brother Electricity] had been working on a book for seven years. So I started going through her massive archives with her; we worked to expand the book, which had been written for Family members, for the public. As we were doing that, we were filming interviews with other Family members. When Isis let me know about the film component to her archive, I realized that this was an extraordinary story that had all of the elements we would need for a great documentary.
At that point, I brought in Maria, a close friend of mine who had become a very talented commercial director. Before the book, [The Source: The Untold Story of Father Yod, Ya Ho Wa 13, and The Source Family], people were really private about their experiences, and I think some of them were uncomfortable about going public. But the book was received positively; it told the story from the believers' point of view and I think that helped develop their trust. So we were very lucky to get incredible access.
SFBG You were friends with Isis, who's credited as an associate producer, by the time you started working on the film — yet it offers a balanced portrait. How did you stay objective?
JW Isis has done an enormous amount of work helping us in many ways, but she was not involved creatively. That was really important to us, to have that freedom, and she agreed to that. But I became close to some Family members, so I think bringing Maria in was really essential to help with the balance.