NZIFF 51: Hail Satan? Dir: Penny Lane

Oh, my God! Hail Satan? Just might be the most important documentary at this year’s film festival.

Let’s face it, with a name like The Satanic Temple, few people are going to take this organization seriously.  That would be a mistake, as they seem to be doing more “good” and fighting for basic human rights more so than the vast majority of organised religions out there.

Director Penny Lane has put together a wonderfully inspiring, entertaining, humorous and, at times, frightening film about this group of outcasts who formed The Satanic Temple (TST) in the US in 2013 and are headquartered in, where else, Salem, Massachusetts.

The group, founded by Malcolm Jarry and spokesperson Lucien Greaves, began as a sort of 21st century version of the Merry Pranksters, but as Lane’s film reveals, they’ve evolved into an organisation that fights for separation of church and state, women’s rights (particularly abortion rights), they clean up highways and beaches and even have a children’s after school program called “After School Satan” to counter similar right wing religious programs.

An early example of their antics is their July 2013 “Pink Mass”, in which they located the grave of Catherine Johnston, the mother of notorious anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps and proceeded to hold a mass at her grave, where Greaves and his crew “changed” her sexual orientation in the afterlife by placing his genitals on her tombstone.

The act may be seen as crass, but in light of the fact that the Westboro Baptist Church was, at the time, picketing the funerals of the Boston Marathon bombings, it seems both appropriate, and hilarious.

Later, after a statue of the 10 Commandments is erected on government grounds in Little Rock, Arkansas, the TST builds their own statue, an eight-foot sculpture of Baphomet, a goat-headed idol commonly associated with Satanism, and demand that it be erected alongside the commandments.

Needless to say, this does not go down well in Arkansas.

What makes the TST and the film so compelling and satisfying is the fact that Lucien Greaves is so sensible and so articulate. He and his followers aren’t really espousing Satanism, but rather common sense and good will. Their “Seven Tenets” are much more inclusive and humanistic than the 10 Commandments.

The film itself is utterly engaging, with the audience I saw it with cheering and laughing throughout. I’d bet if someone from The Satanic Temple had come around to recruit new members after the screening they would have signed up a majority of the audience.

It’s good to see that important, political activism is occurring somewhere, by someone in the US. Who would have thought it would be a group of “Satanists”?

Marty Duda