Moving On | Choose your lifeMoving On | Choose your life
Safe Passage Foundation - Support to youth raised in high demand organizations

Saturday, January 31, 2009    

Home | New Content | Statistics | Games | FAQs

Getting Out : Media Reports

LA Times-Review of Noah's Doco- 9/2007

from sarafina - Tuesday, September 04, 2007
accessed 932 times

Noah Thomson, raised on a commune in Brazil, takes an emotional ride in his Cinemax documentary.,1,6401094.story?coll=la-entnews-tv

also heres the link to HBO

y Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 5, 2007
If Ricky Rodriguez had not committed a murder-suicide two years ago, "Children of God: Lost and Found" would probably not have wound up on Cinemax. Rodriguez was the stepson of the late Children of God cult leader David Berg, and his murder of another former "Family member" and subsequent suicide brought renewed media attention to the 40-year-old California-based religious group that had been accused in the past of abusing its children. Mainly because Rodriguez left a videotape explaining his actions: As the victim of repeated sexual abuse in the name of the Family, he was bent on getting what revenge he could.

"How do you do it, how you do it and sleep at night?" he asks as he pores over his small arsenal of knives and guns. "My goal is to bring down my own mother."

It is as raw and brutal a bit of videotape as one can see, and it is used, to great effect, midway through "Children of God," a Cinemax Reel Life documentary premiering tonight. Filmmaker Noah Thomson, a former member, has called his project a "personal journey," and though this term has been worn to almost meaninglessness by overuse, that is precisely what "Children of God" is.

Those looking for a scholarly or journalistic exploration of the religious group that grew out of the hippie and Jesus movements in Huntington Beach in 1968 should probably look elsewhere. "Children of God" is a documentary of emotion, an attempt to show rather than explore the long-term effects of being raised outside mainstream society by religious zealots creating their own set of rules and social standards. The result is, as one would guess, less than utopian.

Thomson, one of 11 children raised on a Children of God commune in Brazil, left the Family with two of his brothers and two friends in 1999. Over the years, he chronicled their attempt to enter the mainstream as they were joined by two more brothers and a sister. In 2002, he began documentary-making in earnest, interviewing former Family members, including Rodriguez and Davida -- the young woman with whom Rodriguez was raised -- just one month before the murder-suicide.

The result is choppy and amateurish, which is to say very genuine. The genesis and theology of Children of God is explained briefly in a series of subtitles, faded "home movies" and clips from some of its tracts, many of which center on the sexual exploitation of children. The emphasis is on the interviews, beginning with Thomson and his family. They are, unfortunately, not a particularly articulate group. The nature of the communal upbringing obviously did not encourage self-awareness, and their inability to describe their experiences in anything but the most childlike terms is both affecting -- clearly these young people have been emotionally damaged at a very basic level -- and limiting.

"You're not prepared for the outside world," says Solly, street rat hip in his blond dreads and shades. "You think you know what people are talking about, but you really have no clue."

The Thomsons and most of the interview subjects seem to be living marginal lives with minimal hope of rising above them. A major tenet of Children of God was the destruction of "small selfish families" for the good of the collective. Children were raised in large groups by "nannies" and often had little contact with their biological parents. The children's education was spotty, their ideas about the "outside world" formed mostly by rumor and religious tracts, their sexuality exploited at a young age. "You get in bed . . . naked with some nanny and you're rolling around and that's how it went down," Thomson says to his mother in one of his many phone calls.

Thomson's attempt to get his mother to discuss her choices -- she is still a member of the Family -- forms the fragile spine of the film, which burns with the deep desire for mother love. Several of the people Thomson finds have committed or attempted suicide. Others have surrendered most expectations of life. "Wife and family, I don't see that for myself," says one of Thomson's friends. "I experienced severe punishment, so when I am in a relationship, I start to punish her. But I think there is a spirituality in being alone," he says. "I just haven't found it yet."

Not all of the people Thomson finds are bitter about their experience. Some refuse to participate because Family leaders are suspicious of the nature of his film, some consider it a happy time, and one woman, who details sexual abuse at a very young age, shrugs it off as a utopian experiment that didn't quite work.

Only Rodriguez, in the posthumous video, and Davida are unapologetic in their hatred of the Family. They were children living with the secluded, messianic Berg, who communicated with his flock through "Mo letters," illustrated tracts and child-rearing guides. Many of these were sexually explicit -- a tradition called 'flirty fishing' encouraged women to sleep with men to convert them -- and promoted the idea that children were sexual beings.

"There would be theme nights," Davida says. "And when the dancing was done, he would come out and have sex with all the women, from the little girls to the women." She says she remembers having Berg come to her drunk for sex when one of his own granddaughters refused to have sex with him. Davida herself would later get in trouble with her mother for reluctantly giving in to Berg's demands. "Here I am, 10 years old, in trouble because I won't have consensual sex with the guru."

In a phone conversation a month before he tortured and killed one of his former nannies and then himself, Rodriguez declined to take part in the documentary, saying he "can't even go there." When asked if he feels like some of the adults made mistakes, he answers: "Mistake? You don't rape little kids for like 20 years and have it be a mistake. That's not something you can just say you're sorry for. Not that they have ever apologized."

Thomson's mother, however, refuses to believe any of it, including her own son's experiences. Over several phone conversations, she speaks in the polite but firm voice of a customer sales representative, repeatedly refusing to participate in the documentary. When her son flies to Mexico to see her in person, she tells him she will call him back in five minutes and then doesn't respond until several days later.

Thomson remains eerily detached throughout the entire film, including in his conversations with Rodriguez and Davida. Clearly life in the Family required a suppression of emotion almost impossible to reverse. Still, he and almost every person he interviews are plainly longing for a relationship, however dim, however damaged, with a primary parent.

Abandoned, abused, adrift, these children of God are still looking for someone to just love them. As all children do.

'Children of God: Lost and Found'

Where: Cinemax

When: 7 to 8:15 Sept. 5

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)

Reader's comments on this article

Add a new comment on this article

from gritty realism...
Monday, October 01, 2007 - 14:03

...gave the viewer (esp those who didn't have our upbringing ) time to digest each bit of info. In a world of ADHD this is a remarkable piece of storytelling. (Letting emotions speak.--something we were not allowed to do in TF) It enables the viewer to integrate the information into his psyche and formulate an opinion rather than being bamboozled with facts and statements.

Noah you are very brave, my respect and admiration goes out to you and everyone who was involved in this. The sad twist is that these people are in a dead end , a labyrinth. they have no way of going forward or back. the mother said it all by running away from noah in the final scenes. Sad irony being that what she hoped for the most that they woul dbe a family reunited was the thing noah was attempting but that she was resisting. They have no concept of being parents and no idea how to proceed. No area of comunication or emotion. They bravely solider on to the death they think. making sacrifices and believing their highest calling is to be like jesus-sacrificing himself on the cross of rightousness. Completely bound up and living in a hell which they off course wish would end.

All the best to you and your brothers and sisters.

(reply to this comment)
from exfamily
Saturday, September 15, 2007 - 10:37

I just watched it. It's alright I guess, but it's more of a foray into his personal life and how TF has affected him than a general overview with TF and interviews with ex-members, which is what I had been expecting.
(reply to this comment)
from figaro
Monday, September 10, 2007 - 17:19

I was hoping to find a torrent of it that I could download, but not surprisingly I didn't find one. :(
(reply to this comment)
From Opie
Saturday, September 15, 2007, 08:14

I found a torrent at to this comment
from Jedran
Monday, September 10, 2007 - 06:14

Is there any way for those of us not living in the States and without access to HBO to see the documentary?
(reply to this comment)
From GoldenMic
Monday, September 10, 2007, 14:58


Many times, cable channels will sell copies of their documentaries, and that may be possible here. Also, one of us may eventually pirate a copy, then send copies out to friends. This might mean that somebody would be willing to send you a copy anonymously if you write to them personally, express your interest, and send them your address. This may take a while, since that sender would be wanting to avoid liability for copywrite infringement, but I suspect that, if you and others continue to express your interest, that you might, indeed, find a copy in the mail one day. MikeM.

One other thing, I understand why the reviewer called this video "ameteurish", since it lacked a musical score and other "polished" features, but if it had been some famous director putting out the same material, I suspect this would have been called "bold", and "using raw footage for effect". I am thinking of "Raging Bull" being in black and white, and how "The Blair Witch Project" was praised for its "gritty realism". Anyway, that's a hollywood thing, and I personally feel that some day, when and if more professional-looking and polished documentaries and movies are made about life in TF and other similar cults, that this documentary will stand as a classic real-time and starkly-honest commentary whose filming style matched the nature of the subject perfectly.(reply to this comment

from sarafina
Wednesday, September 05, 2007 - 10:34

I personally thought this was a very good,fair and accurate description of the Doco, I don’t think the writer was trying to belittle anyone only merely pointing out that the things we went through show in various ways. If any thing I think she caught things that many outsiders see but we don’t which made this doco very effective.

If you see the Doco I think you will understand why she said those things, I happen to agree with the writer.

“Thomson remains eerily detached throughout the entire film, including in his conversations with Rodriguez and Davida. Clearly life in the Family required a suppression of emotion”

I don’t think she’s bashing him in a negative way only pointing out that the suppression we one suffered still takes its toll and if you watch Noah’s reaction while he listening to some of the horrific things being shared with him you’ll notice he seems very calm and flat in his emotions.

Also I think Noah explained very well in his interview “I'm not trying to make a commentary on the group as a whole. I decided to represent the downtrodden. And that's what this movie is about.”

This film wasn’t about those of us doing good, it was about those left behind to struggle, the “downtrodden” and you’d be surprised at how many of us there are like that, barley making it, holding on by a thread, and sort of lost on their own, left in countries like Rio or third world countries just trying to hang in there.

It was heart breaking to watch as he interviews a group of three brothers just barely surviving together and all they could talk about was how they miss their Dad and wish they could be a family but that they can’t see him because he’s chosen to stay in the family and not be a father to them anymore.

Remember the writer is basing this article on the Doco and the interviews she saw, when she says “and their inability to describe their experiences in anything but the most childlike terms is both affecting -- clearly these young people have been emotionally damaged at a very basic level -- and limiting.” When you see the interviews you will understand completely what she is saying. Again I felt this was a very good review I did not get the impression she was knocking us as a whole but that she felt compassion for those she saw in the interviews as did I..

(reply to this comment)
from Boss Lady
Wednesday, September 05, 2007 - 09:59

(Sent this Morning)

Hello, Mary;

I am the oldest of 11 children born into the cult. I left with nothing except my daughter who was 2 weeks old. As you can imagine, the process has not been simple. I am writing you in response to your article concerning the documentary "Children of God, Lost and Found."

First, I would like to thank you for writing the article. It is very important that the emotional, raw truth come to light. The recompense has yet to be paid through the public exposure of the cult leadership, specifically that of Karen Zerby.

Second, although I do not agree with the tragic methods Ricky employed, his goal was specifically to facilitate a media storm. Noah's documentary is the beginning of the execution of that destination. (Pun intended)

Third, as for the "scholarly or journalistic exploration" you say is missing from this piece, Noah's purpose was to spark that interest, not to fulfill it. And although, Noah may not have met your standards for what a documentary should include, the simple fact that his documentary IS making it to Cinemax speak volumes to his ability. This documentary, is his eloquence, his voice. Remember, this was his first attempt at a film creation. I am sure your critique will improve his method in the future.

I want you to know, that there are some of us who were raised in the cult, that are able to express themselves with depth of feeling and intelligence, not because of our education but because of our own will and determination to integrate into society, Noah included. My fuel for finding peace in life has been my daughter.

Thirteen years later, my daughter is entering her last year of middle school. I am in my last year of college, finishing with a degree in business management. I own my own home. I have have found what makes me happy, besides being a good mother, and I am pursuing those dreams daily.

Within that crude, philistine cult, there were born some intellectuals. Most of us, (and not all) left the cult.

Thanks for reading.

(reply to this comment)
From Phoenixkidd
Wednesday, September 05, 2007, 13:42


I completely agree with Boss Lady and her views. Although there are some definite cases of ex-2nd generation cult members who have left and are still struggling or getting caught in the mire of drugs and legal issues, still there are many more who have made good of their lives and what little resources they had available to them. I agree that although amateurish and rough cut, still this documentary really brings the plight of certain concentric groups of our country to the fore. It should be rated alongside any of Michael Moore's documentaries in contextual pertinece.

(reply to this comment

From sarafina
Wednesday, September 05, 2007, 13:47

Pheonixkidd, I agree with that too but you are both missing the point,this doco isn't about that and the writer is writing a review on what she watched neither you nor boss lady have seen the doco yet, I think you will understand this article better once you have. Don't take it personally.(reply to this comment
From Boss Lady
Wednesday, September 05, 2007, 18:08

Point is well taken that this documentary (one I have not seen) is about those who are living with the difficulty of growing up the way we did. It is very important for that message to get out.

Two of her comments, specifically, were the reason I wrote:

“If Ricky Rodriguez had not committed a murder-suicide two years ago, "Children of God: Lost and Found" would probably not have wound up on Cinemax.”


“Most of the interview subjects seem to be living marginal lives with minimal hope of rising above them.”

We cannot forget that we are all on different levels of moving through life. Some left years ago and are quite recovered. Then there are those that we will find in the film who are struggling to make it (I was one of them, when I first left).

In general, critiques are not usually kind. I do think her article for the most part was positive. But those two comments I felt needed clarification. I wanted her to know. Never to take away from the serious nature and raw emotions of the film.

This was a personal email for a minute. Maybe I should have left it as the private email it was, for the hour before I posted it on moving on. However, I thought it would bring about a good discussion.

(reply to this comment
From Wolf
Monday, September 10, 2007, 12:33

She wrote "interview subjects", which to me means the people who gave interviews for the documentary (including, it seems, some current members of TFI). I don't think she's insinuating that all ex-members are lost.(reply to this comment
from Phoenixkidd
Wednesday, September 05, 2007 - 07:35


Wow finally, the culmination of 5 years of work for Noah. Honestly I don't like the review of this doco, and am dying to see it myself. IT's too bad the review mentioned that they were inarticulate and made us all seem like a bunch of uncouth miserable people. Sara do you think this will ever be taped or copies available for purchase?

(reply to this comment)

From GoldenMic
Wednesday, September 05, 2007, 11:10

As Sarafina mentioned above, I don't think the author was speaking of "inarticulate" in the sense of stupidity or poor verbal skills, but in terms of trauma and suppressed pain, and how the horror of it all has rendered many victims nearly speechless. It was very evident, in the film, how a person would be speaking quite well right up to the point where they tried to express their reaction to what they had experienced in TF, then became disoriented and dissasociated as they started talking about what had happended or how it continues to effect them. (reply to this comment
From sarafina
Wednesday, September 05, 2007, 11:13

Thank you! That was exactly what I was trying to say. I think you really have to see the Doco first before you are able to understand what Mary is saying in this article, she's certainly not trying to put anyone down.(reply to this comment

My Stuff

log in here
to post or update your articles


60 user/s currently online

Web Site User Directory
5047 registered users

log out of chatroom

Happy Birthday to demerit   Benz   tammysoprano  

Weekly Poll

What should the weekly poll be changed to?

 The every so often poll.

 The semi-anual poll.

 Whenever the editor gets to it poll.

 The poll you never heard about because you have never looked at previous polls which really means the polls that never got posted.

 The out dated poll.

 The who really gives a crap poll.

View Poll Results

Poll Submitted by cheeks,
September 16, 2008

See Previous Polls

Online Stores

I think, therefore I left

Check out the Official
Moving On Merchandise
. Send in your product ideas

Free Poster: 100 Reasons Why It's Great to be a Systemite

copyright © 2001 - 2009

[terms of use] [privacy policy] [disclaimer] [The Family / Children of God] [contact:] [free speech on the Internet blue ribbon] [About the Trailer Park] [Who Links Here]