It’s the last Sunday of September, which means the fourth and (for now) final film in Daniel Kraus’s “Work Series” is debuting on Documentary Channel tonight. Hopefully you’ve been following this vérité series all month and are well-acquainted with “Sheriff” Ronald E. Hewett, “Musician” Ken Vandermark and “Professor” Jay Holstein. Now meet “Preacher” William Nowell, a self-taught Pentecostal bishop who heads a church and leads a community in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Once again, Kraus follows a worker whose job entails a kind of performance, and we get to observe plenty of Bishop Nowell’s lively sermons. It would seem this film is most related to “Professor” in that they both involve a religious leader, but I actually find it most like “Musician,” because the 71-year-old Nowell is often seen playing guitar, backing his gospel singers. In other scenes, he sings. But he does have some kindship with Holstein and even Hewett. I must agree somewhat with Chicagoist’s Steven Pate, who says the subject of “Preacher” is “an amalgam of the earlier three films’ roles.”
I love how Kraus finds ways around the vérité nature of these films to provide some background into his characters. This time there’s an interview with Nowell onscreen conducted by a young college student, which allows us to get to know the preacher without more direct material. Otherwise, who this man is comes through primarily in his actions, and also through his words to his congregation, his community and to local prisoners he hopes to inspire.
And inspire he does. It’s hard to call a film like “Preacher” inspiring, because vérité films should not as a rule have that intended effect. Still, the subject of the film may be inspiring, and Nowell does lift spirits with his tale of being on the wrong path in his younger days and eventually finding God. Now he talks of reciprocation. Bless god and he’ll bless you; be good to others and they will be good to you.
Given that so many docs involving preachers these days are critical of either religion overall or specific figures, with filmmakers too often interested in the negative stereotypes of evangelicals and/or morally questionable priests, it’s a real treat to get a glimpse into the life of a seemingly great religious man like Nowell.
In the event that you don’t have Documentary Channel and so can’t catch “Preacher” tonight, you may purchase the film in the Doc Store (the first three “Work Series” films are also available). Also, if you don’t have DOC, demand that your cable provider offer it using this easy application.