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Friday, April 20, 2018

AFF Review: WAITING FOR DAVID unveils the present day impact of the Branch Davidian cult

Cults are something that we as a society seem to be fascinated with; just look at all the attention that Scientology's celebrity membership gets, or Tarantino's upcoming adaptation of the the Manson Murders, or 1974's Helter Skelter, which is still the best selling crime book of all time more than forty years later. We all often eat up these news stories of someone escaping, or when the worst happens and people end up injured or dead during the chaotic last days of the cult. Waiting for David, directed by first timers Karin Oleander and Emelie Svensson, dives into a subject not often broached, though: what happens to those cult members after those headlines?

At its core, the documentary follows Clive Doyle, a follower of the Branch Davidian cult of David Koresh, and one of the survivors of the stand off and fire that claimed the lives of 76 people in 1993. Clive's daughter was one of the many children that died in the last day of the siege in Waco, but Clive is still a loyal follower today; in fact, he believes that at some point Karesh will literally rise from the grave to return to his flock.

Waiting for David begins with a very sympathetic look at this old man and his friend, who live together watching movies on VHS and methodically compiling information from thousands of books on herbal remedies just to have something to do. Over time, however, the film gradually adds in interviews with other survivors, most of which are very critical of what was happening under the guise of a new religion. It seems that Koresh was using his power as the leader of the cult to have sex with many of the women, often having children with them, and in some cases the women were very, very young. This is where the film gets especially interesting.

Clive, whose deceased daughter may have been one of the girls raped by Koresh, must find a way to reconcile this with his admiration and worship of the man, and this is where a lot of his sympathy goes out the window. He claims that when a girl beings menstruating, she's ready to bear children and its her own decision to have intercourse or not with who she wishes. This is obviously problematic to say the least, but it creates an even more fascinating look into the mindset of a cultist–did he believe this before, or is it something he's had to make himself believe because of what happened?

Waiting for David is a very well crafted documentary that is engaging from start to finish. The subject is, on its own, a very compelling one, but the number of interviews Oleander and Svensson were able to capture–including one with one of Koresh's sons–really ups the ante. The use of animations to explain some of what happened in Waco works well, and the archival footage and audio recordings are entrancing and expertly edited. The only real issue with the film is its length: at a mere 41 minutes it just barely makes the Academy's cutoff for a feature, and feels more like a long short film. Although making Clive the center of the story is a smart move, the movie could have easily balanced it with more material on the history of the cult itself–how it was formed, how Clive got involved, his relationship with Koresh, etc. Perhaps an intercutting between these two things might provide a fuller picture of why Clive still believes while still giving the gut-punch revelation of his troublesome reasoning.

Even so, it is an absorbing 41 minutes and a fantastic film. I look forward to seeing if Oleander and Svensson expand on this story or move onto another subject, but either way I'm interested!

Waiting for David premiered last night at the Atlanta Film Festival. You can find more information about the film on it's official website.
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