Documentaries about alternative religious belief systems are always a dicey watch, especially if the religion being examined doesn’t jibe with your own or sounds totally off the wall. The temptation to snicker or outright mock the people who believe this crazy stuff is always there. But religion is such a personal thing; laughing at someone about what they believe just feels disrespectful.
The film, Children of the Stars, examines the Unarius Academy of Science. They’re not really a church, and I’m wary of calling them a cult. Based in El Cajon, California, the students of Unarius believe in reincarnation. They also believe that science fiction movies are real, being a reflection of the past lives of the writers and filmmakers.
The group was founded by Ruth Norman, a former real estate broker, who bought 68 acres of land in 1973, dedicating it as a landing site for the Space Brothers, visitors from another dimension who would lead all of humanity to a golden age of peace and enlightenment. The Unarians refer to Norman as the Archangel Uriel, who hailed from the Planet Aries. Norman herself believed that she was the reincarnation of some of the wisest historical personages, including Buddha, Peter the Great, and Quetzlcoatl.
In order to spread their message, the Unarians made their own sci-fi films. Members of the collective star in these movies, some of which are unscripted and feature Unarius students reenacting who they were and how they behaved in their past lives. Imagine primitive people meeting aliens for the first time, and you’ve got the idea.
It sounds crazy. But who are we to judge? When you see an older woman crying, because she remembers how being a Unarian student and engaging in some of their psychodramatic exercises enabled her to stop drinking and be a better mother, how much crazier is that than prayer or faith healing?
Their insights into popular culture are utterly fascinating. They’ve got explanations for just about everything. According to Unarians, when we look at a science-fiction movie, we’re seeing flashbacks of cosmic history. Characters like Emperor Palpatine and Ming the Merciless are reflections of Tyrantus, an evil overlord who used to rule the galaxy. Space battles are psychic remembrances of a time when Earth waged war against aliens and other planets. Humanity lost that war, and the only spaceship to visit us was piloted by the Space Brothers, who implored us to end our warring ways. They even contend that loud vehicles, like muscle cars, are reflections of the giant spaceships of the past that roared the skies of other planets, the planets they used to live on in past lives.
Director Bill Perrine doesn’t seem to guide the conversations with Unarius students at all. He just lets them talk, and they are more than happy to share their experiences. They’re an easy target, but Perrine never takes the cheap shot. The viewer may not claim to understand the Unarians, but they’re difficult not to like. Their belief is sincere, and the changes made in their lives since becoming Unarius students seem real.
From an objective standpoint, the Unarians don’t believe anything weirder than any other religious person does. They have a strong focus on releasing negativity from themselves and becoming better inhabitants of the planet. If the Space Brothers ever do show up, it’s a safe bet that the students of Unarius will be the only ones not shooting at them.
Children of the Stars is remarkably bias-free. It’s simply a portrait of a belief system that many people may not have heard of. The clips of the movies made by the Unarians are amazing. I don’t know what kind of budget they were working with, but some of their special effects are really good.
A fascinating look at a religious splinter group, Children of the Stars keeps its nose out of the Unarians’ business, allowing them to speak frankly about their thoughts and beliefs. If the concept of people believing in sci-fi movies that much seems strange to you, then you need to spend more time on the Internet or at conventions. It’s all about perception, what you think is real, and in the end, nobody can take that away from you.
Children of the Stars is available on DVD and streaming on Amazon and Hulu from Billingsgate Media.