ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Evangeline Griego’s projects are labors of love.
From the first time she yells “action” to the final edit, Griego is a hands-on filmmaker.
The St. Pius X graduate and part-time Taos resident left New Mexico in 1981 to attend college in California and study journalism — but something changed along the way. Enamored with telling stories through film, Griego decided to enter the film industry and become a storyteller that way.
|‘God Willing’ WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 26 on KNME, Channel 5from PAGE B1Project Hit Close to Home
WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 26 on KNME, Channel 5
Her latest documentary, “God Willing,” got started 10 years ago and hit close to home for the filmmaker. It is the wrenching story of families who have lost their sons and daughters to the Jim Roberts Group, a nomadic Christian cult also known as “The Garbage Eaters,” “The Church” and “The Brethren.”
Told through the journey of Griego’s own family, as well as Sandi and Marsha, two moms whose daughters also joined the cult, the film chronicles the struggles of families whose children turn away from them to become “Brothers” and “Sisters” in the group — renouncing their past lives and the world often without ever turning back.
Founded in 1971 by the mysterious messianic figure Jim Roberts, the group has survived for decades as a separatist society that preaches a strict path to salvation, proselytizes for new members, adheres to strict ascetic values, subsists on discarded food and refuse, and shuttles its members from town to town. They’re often on the run from concerned parents and family members who try to see or communicate with their children.
At its height, the group had more than 100 members. Today, the group hovers around 40 to 60 members.
When Griego started the film, it was to look for her nephew who had joined the group. She said he was attending college at the University of New Mexico.
“He was part of the group for three years,” she said. “When he got out of the group, my focus changed from finding him to telling the stories of the families affected.”
Griego said that throughout the filming process she had to get the families to understand what she was doing. She said she stuck to her vision and made sure that she was telling an unbiased story.
“It was important for me to convey that the people who joined the organization weren’t just being irresponsible,” she said. “These people had a sense of purpose and a sense of conviction, and the organization took advantage of them.”
“God Willing” took Griego longer than most projects because she took breaks to work on other projects and get funding through PBS.
“I wouldn’t have been able to finish any of this without PBS,” she said. “They have been great to me.”
As Griego’s career as a filmmaker continues, she’s looking forward to coming back home and doing a documentary on New Mexico. She said it would be about the history of the state, pre-1700s. “If we don’t tell our stories, then they won’t have our point of view,” she said. “I’m going to tackle that as my next project.”
Griego said the Huffington Post has asked her to write a blog, and she’s considering the option.
“Making the film was my educational journey to understand why my nephew, and young people like him, abandoned their former lives and families to be in the Jim Roberts Group,” she said. “I wanted to give voice to the parents’ loss and pain, as well as convey the cult members’ deep conviction and genuine desire to live according to God’s wishes. In the last 15 years a parents group has helped about 75 members leave the sect.”
The Hallmark movie “Beyond the Blackboard,” which was filmed entirely in Albuquerque last summer, airs tonight at 8 on CBS.
The Duke City doubled for Salt Lake City circa 1987, and the movie was filmed largely around the rail yards.
The true story is based on Stacey Bess’ book “Nobody Don’t Love Nobody: Lessons on Love from the School With No Name.”
The film centers around a 24-year-old first-time teacher, Bess, played by “Brothers & Sisters” star Emily Van Camp, who overcomes her initial fears and prejudices and makes a difference in the lives of the homeless children she teaches in a shelter’s makeshift classroom.
SEND ME YOUR TIPS: If you know of a movie filming in the state, or are curious about one, email film@ ABQjournal.com.