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Interview with Director Mike Arthur for ‘I, Pastafari’ (2019) at the 9th Annual Napa Valley Film Festival
Director Mike Arthur’s experimental independent film ‘I, Pastafari’ (2019) recently held its North American premiere at the 9th annual Napa Valley Film Festival.
Mike holds a business degree from a prestigious public university and considers himself very much an accidental filmmaker. In 2011, while working in a cubicle in Portland, Oregon, Mike took a filmmaking night class to balance out the monotony of corporate retail. The documentary that resulted went from a YouTube short to a full-length feature that eventually aired on American national TV in 2013. The experience ruined his cubicle aspirations. When his wife came across a job opportunity in Amsterdam, he agreed to make the move on one condition: he could make another film.
How did you find out about the pastafarians and is it a global movement?
MIKE: I had always been aware of The Church of The Flying Spaghetti Monster shortly after its creation in 2005. For those who don’t know its genesis story, In 2005 the Kansas public school board, decided to change the definition of science in a way that would permit the supernatural to be a possible explanation for natural phenomena. Essentially what they were trying to do is to teach Creationism alongside Darwins Theory of Evolution in public school science classes state wide. The argument was that they were both “theories” so should be given equal time in the curriculum.
In response to this a young science student named Bobby Henderson wrote a letter to the school board and argued that if this were to be so, that it would only be fair to give this third theory equal time as well: that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe a few thousand years ago. In this letter, known as the “Open Letter to the Kansas School Board”, he brilliantly used their methods of false equivalency to justify his own.
For example he states that climate change is caused by the reduction in the pirate population, and even provides a graph as proof showing over the last 200 years the pirate population has decreased while the global average temperature increased. So clearly we need more pirates to combat global warming. This explains why many pastafarians dress as pirates to express their faith, they are doing their part to combat climate change.
The letter went viral online, and churches of the flying spaghetti monster started sprouting up all over the world. This is where my film begins, when in 2016 a government agency in The Netherlands, where I live now, gave official recognition to the Dutch chapter of the spaghetti monster church. After receiving this recognition the dutch pastafarians have been trying to gain access to the privileges in law granted to other religions, specifically the right to wear your religious headwear in ID photos. Which for them of course is a spaghetti colander or pirate garb.
What was it that inspired you to make the film?
MIKE: I made the film because I grew tired of watching the unproductive debates around the impact of religion in today’s modern society. They almost always end either with frustration and anger, or with someone saying “you just have to have faith”. Meanwhile we see headlines of fundamentalist religious ideology being used as a justification to discriminate, or to spread anti-science nonsense to the masses, all the while getting tax deductions to do so. This seems backwards to me, we should not financially subsidize outdated ideas that cause unnecessary conflict. It would be great if we could just have rational public debate around religions place in today’s modern society, but unfortunately religion often gets a free pass. This idea of “belief” seems to be immune to any serious debate or criticism. This is why I was so drawn to the Pastafarian movement. I think, the pastafarians are saying: ok, if we’re not going to talk like rational adults about these issues, then let’s try another approach.
Was it hard to make being based in Holland and what were some of your biggest challenges ?
MIKE: When I filmed the first Pastafarian trial in The Netherlands, I didn’t understand a word that was being said (I don’t speak dutch) but I was fascinated by the visuals of this dude with a spaghetti strainer on his head in a serious setting like a courtroom, having this fascinating debate around this idea of “what is a real religion” and “who decides that”? The more I researched the Pastafarian movement, I discovered that these issues were merely scratching the surface of what the Pastafarians movement is all about. What they were really doing, I think, is forcing their state governments’ to explain, why are there privileges and exemptions for religious groups anyway? Why does whether you believe in God, Thor, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, or no God at all, impact your rights?
Do you have any distribution plans yet?
MIKE: I’m still looking for distribution. I’m hoping a sales agent somewhere will be touched by His noodley appendage and reach out soon. The thing is, this film was a passion project by an amateur indie filmmaker that kind of took on a life of its own. I’m new to filmmaking, and never went to film school so I don’t really have an established network of industry contacts or financiers. This film was made with crowdfunding and my dwindling savings account. That being said, it has a bigger social media following than any other indie films I’ve seen recently. The trailer alone has over a million impressions online with basically no marketing dollars, no public relations team, and none of the traditional marketing methods that typically goes into films. It’s just been shared a bunch on social media, which to me tells me I have something special. Let’s hope the powers that be see the potential too.
Interview by Vanessa McMahon