While the focus on solely letting its members speak without interruption or analysis from outside commentators debating the merits and downsides of the Unarius Academy of Science might seem unusual to those seeking a more opinionated documentary, Children of the Stars has an overall earnestness that works in its favor.
The 2012 documentary from director Bill Perrine (available on DVD through MVD Entertainment) isn’t perfect, but it’s perfect debate material for sure. Yes indeed, the spiritual group’s strange takes on science and history will seem bizarre to anyone not on their wavelength. But as home-brewed belief systems go it’s one of the more benign yet creative ones you’ll ever encounter.
Although the Academy has been called a “cult” and a religion by some, these are somewhat of a horrid abuse of the terms as the Unarians presented in the film all seem to be fine and upstanding cosmically-minded people who share an offbeat worldview, know violence is a bad thing to practice, and haven’t asked members to cut themselves off from society. If you follow their teachings as presented in the film you’ll see that at some point in time, 33 flying saucers will land atop each other on some 67 acres of land in the mountains east of San Diego, California, whereupon the “Space Brothers” will emerge and create a learning place for all that will help bring knowledge from the stars. Or something like that.
It does indeed sound delusional (and how!), but the Unarians believe so deeply in this and the peace that they believe is necessary for the landing that they’ve created elaborate but awesomely awful but beautiful outsider artwork as well as many low-budget “sci-fi” movies that document past, present and future events as “seen” and “experienced” by late co-founders and self-professed cosmic visionaries Ernest L. and Ruth E. Norman.
The film touches on their lives (and has more on Ruth than Ernest) but is less a biopic than a free-form look at the Academy from its creation in 1954 by the Normans, Ernest’s writings about the “interdimensional science of life” and how after his death in 1971, Ruth took over and made the Academy a moderate media sensation for close to 20 years with her own teachings and videos. Interviews with current members (some of whom have left the planet since the film was made) reveal some insight into why they joined, but it’s the amazing clips from Unarius films that will get your eyeballs popping. Elaborate home-made costumes ranging from laughable to amazing, completely ad-libbed dialog and visual effects that make the original Flash Gordon serial look like Star Wars are the highlight here. Academy members also believe that sci-fi movies (and possibly all movies) are realities and memories experienced by their creators, which is both baffling yet if you follow their logic, absolutely true.
This is a film where gong in cold with no expectations and with an open mind helps out quite a bit in understanding and eventually having a bit of sympathy for the Academy’s students. Members discuss dealing with disliking each other and how it relates to their past lives. It’s somewhat therapeutic seeing two women talk about their issues with each other and senior leaders in the organization, which leads to revealing artwork and more unusual stories. The sincerity of the Unarians plus their dwindling numbers since the 90’s and later, the 2001 UFO landing that didn’t happen (the obviously tragic reasoning makes some very weird sense) lend a sense of sadness to the movie that lingers for a while afterward. You may be laughing at them on the surface, but you’d have to be a hard-hearted person to not have a *tiny* bit of compassion for these harmless humans who all want the impossible to become a reality.
At the end of the day, Children of the Stars will leave you with a lot of questions to ask (the answers can be found at the Academy’s website, of course). But I’d say I’d rather be trapped in a busted elevator full of fervent Unarians than one filled with any other folks who follow more extreme belief systems any day of the week. The conversation would be lighter, Nikolai Tesla would get mentioned frequently and there would most likely be some shared laughter by the time those doors were opened. There are far worse ways to spend a lifetime, but given that the Unarians believe in multiple lives, they’ll be around and waiting for those UFO’s after the rest of us are worm food. A few quirky people aside, you may almost want those 33 ships to land one of these days just to see the jaws on respected figures bounce off their shoes as they’ll have some explaining to do. Or not, what with lords moving in mysterious ways and all that old noise.