The Church of the SubGenius may not be a household name across the country, but beginning in the early 1970s, a pair of enterprising Texas-area satirists turned one wildly overt religious experiment into a genuine phenomenon. That evolving story forms the foundation of “J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius,” a documentary that’s set to play this month’s SXSW Film Festival.
The film is the directorial debut of Sandy K. Boone, who’s served as an executive producer on films like the Ethan Hawke-directed “Blaze,” Keith Maitland’s recounting of the 1966 University of Texas-Austin shooting “Tower,” and Louis Black and Karen Bernstein’s 2016 cinematic profile “Richard Linklater — Dream is Destiny.”
The “Church of the SubGenius” doc features interviews with a number of notable Texans and people who have memories of the church, including Linklater himself, plus Nick Offerman, Penn Jillette, Gerald Casale, and the late Margaret Moser. SubGenius founders Douglass St. Clair Smith (Ivan Stang) and Steve Wilcox (Philo Drummond) also deliver their firsthand accounts of how their idea morphed into a social and financial runaway.
Per the film’s official synopsis, Smith and Wilcox fashioned “a newly minted prophet (J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs), and devised a crusade to expose the conspiracy of normalcy by using humor as the ultimate weapon.” In showing the history of SubGenius’ evolution, Boone uses local television footage and archival tape from church events (both joyful and contentious). In the process, she shows how what started out as a gag became very real for some of the more ardent followers of “Bob.”
Watch the full trailer (including some medieval-looking open field scuffles) below:
“J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius” premieres March 10 as part of the SXSW Film Festival’s Visions section. Additional screening info can be found here.