“I'm the father you all wanted, but never thought you had—but you do have,” proclaims Father Yod (née Jim Baker), patriarch of the Source Family, in his imperiously guttural voice. In the early '70s, having amassed his wealth and kicked off the now-permanent trend of health food in Los Angeles, the erstwhile restaurateur developed delusions of grandeur, amassing impressionable young hippies and claiming them as children, positioning himself as their megalomaniacal guru leader with all the answers to a carefree life of simplicity and pleasure. More concerned with presentation than examination, Maria Demopoulos and Jodi Wille's The Source Family exhaustively documents this so-called utopian community that Father Yod created and superficially based on the promise of love and wisdom. It was spirituality driven by a communal appreciation for beards, health food, meditation, marijuana, and insouciance—all glossed over with wide-eyed New Age moxie. Driven by a patched-together belief system, the Source Family's caution-free ideology reflected a composite of tenets Father Yod cherry-picked from mostly Eastern religions, forming a creed known as “The Ten Commandments for The Age of Aquarius.”
With The Source Family, Demopoulos and Wille walk a cinematic tightrope, attuned to the balance of presenting a singular portrait and a microcosm. They organically arrange the expository details of the family's constantly morphing culture, and also contextualize the Vietnam era and Hollywood's influence on Father Yod's mini-model for cults. But similar to the overcrowded house where his followers lived, the filmmakers cram in too many interviewees, whether directly affiliated with the Source Family or not, in hopes of establishing the varied experiences of each member of Father Yod's clan. The filmmakers also use transparent, hypnosis-based techniques—such as slow-build close-ups and twinkling bells—to infuse images of Father Yod in hopes that his brainwashing allure will be as omnipresent for the viewer as it was for his followers. However, these moments register more as put-upon tricks than actual investigation into the man's much-documented power.
The film's main strength is its massive amount of archival footage and primary documentation of the family unit, mostly thanks to the collections of “family historian” Isis Aquarian. The fascinating and comprehensive collection of Super 8 video, photo stills, and the Source Family's own trippy music already tease out the classical linear rise-and-fall story—even concluding in Father Yod's Icarus-like “flying too close to the sun” hang-gliding demise after the Source Family moves to Hawaii. As one interviewee notes in relation to her daddy-issue-plagued sister's affiliation with the group: “I don't have to have a graduate degree in psychology to realize why the Source Family was meaningful to my sister.” Although The Source Family doesn't possess a palpable thesis worthy of a grade-A school paper, the research and elucidating synthesis on display effectively illuminate the pernicious aura of a lifestyle pursued by the yearning, lost souls of the time.