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Originally published Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 3:05 PM

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‘The Source Family’: Looking back at cult leader’s vision of utopia

A movie review of “The Source Family,” an agreeable documentary about a California commune and its charismatic leader, Jim Baker, who became “Father Yod” to his disciples (and 13 wives).

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie Review 2.5 stars

‘The Source Family,’ a documentary by Jodi Wille and Maria Demopoulos. 98 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains nudity, profanity). SIFF Cinema at the Film Center.

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You don’t have to drink the Kool-Aid. Or end up like Charles Manson.

That’s the underlying theme of “The Source Family,” a persuasive new documentary about a utopian California commune and its charismatic leader, Jim Baker, who became “Father Yod” to his disciples (and 13 wives) in the 1960s/1970s.

True, Baker and his famously health-conscious Sunset Strip restaurant became the target of jokes in “Annie Hall” and on “Saturday Night Live” (the filmmakers supply clips from each), and he ended up suicidally disenchanted with his own philosophy. But he left behind a cult that still speaks respectfully of his attempts to “live in the moment.”

In interview after interview, such whimsically renamed survivors as “Sunflower,” “Magus” and “Galaxy” talk about how Baker put on “the most interesting game in town.” Decades after his death, they remember the frequently positive effect he had on their lives. They’re also reluctant to do it all over again.

“It wasn’t all peace and love,” says one woman, who recalls some of Baker’s less-effective schemes, yet she’s convinced he did it all for love. While the movie isn’t up to much more than illustrating how far his reach extends (two of the commune members live in Yelm, Thurston County), it’s a very agreeable entertainment.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

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