In 2012, a few broke Spanish kids made a short film called Fist of Jesus that centers around the son of God killing zombies with a giant fish bone. Instead of coughing up five minutes of mirth for the internet, it somehow has more than a million YouTube views and has collected upward of 60 awards at film festivals around the world.
Encouraged by their runaway success, those broke Spanish kids want to make a full-length feature called Once Upon a Time in Jerusalem. Thing is, like most broke Spanish kids, they have no money. Hence this Kickstarter. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the whole venture is also accidentally topical and liable to enrage the fundamentalist right in the US, who are doing such an effective job of mobilizing in the face of emergent atheism that they were able to make a pro-Christian telemovie like God’s Not Dead a big success at the box office.
Director David Muñoz and producer Simon Brading spoke to us about their unexpected success, and tried to explain themselves and their movie.
VICE: Tell me about this travesty.
Simon: Once Upon a Time in Jerusalem is high-risk, high-reward, basically. We did the short film prequel, Fist of Jesus, with no budget whatsoever. None.
David: A thousand euros [$1,370]. Practically none.
Simon: Compared with the millions people usually spend on films and stuff like this, we did it with a thousand euros using recycled elements, and we were doing the directing, stunt work, writing, camera work, and everything else ourselves.
David: Literally recycling. We found a table and made it into a Roman shield.
Simon: It’s ingenuity and desperation mixed together.
Why are you doing this to yourselves?
David: When we made the short film, we wanted to mix Monty Python’s Life of Brian and Peter Jackson’s Braindead. Now we want to mix something like the New Testament and Mad Max. We must merge these two universes.
What are your religious beliefs? I'm guessing you are atheists? Otherwise surely you would fear the wrath of God right about now.
David: Well, I don’t know what to say. I’m agnostic. I say I don’t know; I don’t say I don’t care.
Simon: I don’t think it was so much bringing Jesus down and saying you’re idiots for believing in Jesus. I don’t think that’s the idea. It was just taking a historical character and making it absurd.
David: And making him human, too. We wanted a Jesus who has vanity. He’s a good man, but he’s selfish, too. He will survive at all costs. In the movie, we make him even more human. He tries to do good things, but we all make mistakes, and Jesus will make mistakes too.
Simon: What cracks me up about the short film is when he brings back Judas, and he’s hanging there. He brings him back to life, and he’s still hanging there, and he dies again, “I did it! I di—oh.” Just stupid mistakes that normal people would make. We’re not infallible. Why should Jesus be infallible?
Are you worried about the potential reaction from Bible thumpers?
Simon: Oh, yeah. The first thing I said was, “There are going to be people who hate you.”
David: There are a lot of believers who laugh out loud and tell us, “You made Jesus anew! He’s fighting the monsters!” Then they say maybe they will have to confess the next time they go to church, because they like it a lot. Others have said that if Jesus saw this short film, he would love it.
That is surprising.
David: We’ve only had four or five comments of people saying, “This is bad.” A lot of people are saying, “I’m Christian; I love it.” I don’t know if they’ll say the same about the feature film.
Simon: We haven’t reached the negative people yet, though. It hasn’t gotten to the Christian fundamentalists or anything like that. It’s gone to places where people go to see films about zombies or films that takes the piss out of something. It’s gone to the right audience so far. The feature film might not. We hope it does. Any publicity is good publicity. If we have people picketing outside the cinema, that’s gonna make it even bigger. Historically, that’s what happens to films.
Neither of you seem to care about the religion. Why Jesus over Gandhi or even Hitler?
Simon: Hitler’s been done.
David: I had to study Jesus when I was a kid in Catholic school. My teachers were priests. I used to study a lot of the New Testament. Fist of Jesus came to me when I got to that college and started to learn all these things. I was doing drawings for Fist of Jesus when I was eight years old in class. I wrote this story when I was a kid. I tell my co-workers: “Look at these pictures I did when I was kid; maybe it will be a funny short film?”
Why do you think the short film was so well received online?
Dave: We think it's because nobody in the last few years has done films in the way Peter Jackson used to—mixing bizarre and gory stuff with lots of crazy comedy. A lot of people were saying, “At last someone’s doing stuff like Braindead or Bad Taste or Meet the Feebles again.”
Simon: It’s not an hour and a half of watching blood explode everywhere and people going through the same evolution: A girl gets naked, a guy who saves the day, and everybody else gets killed. This was just so different. It’s a humorous way of telling it.
Dave: Loads of people are gonna get killed, though.
What other biblical figures do you pervert in this film?
Simon: John the Baptist, Salome, all the Apostles. It’s basically the Jesus story retold.
David: Then we mix it with monsters and mutants and demons.
Does God show up?
Dave: It’s about Jesus trying to find God, but wherever he goes, he can’t find him. That’s the journey. He’s always saying to all the people he meets, “God wants to speak with me. I have to go to the desert.”
Who’s the guy playing Jesus?
Simon: Mark. He’s a local. A friend of David’s.
Dave: He’s my neighbor.
Can you give me a brief synopsis of the script?
Simon: The journey of Jesus, tempted by the Devil, goes to John the Baptist, goes to the desert, is tempted by Satan—that’s all there. It’s unrecognizable sometimes. It’s so twisted by their minds. I can’t explain it without giving away too much.
Come on. Anything stick out?
Simon: I had problems with the John the Baptist character
Dave: He puts people underwater and they have to survive. If you get out of the water you are in his religion. If not, you are not worthy. He lives in a swamp. There's a lot of corpses floating on the swamp.
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