Sponsored by San Francisco Magazine
Directed by Spencer McCall
“To the dark horses with the spirit to look up and see, a recondite family awaits.” With this mystical promise—or perhaps sinister threat—that begins the gleefully unclassifiable The Institute, viewers are invited to enter a strange alternate-reality game in which the rules keep changing and the players cannot be trusted. Ostensibly an investigation into the Jejune Institute, a decades-old San Francisco–based underground organization dedicated to socio-reengineering and the deliberately hazy concept of divine nonchalance, this ingenious whatsit is at once a wonderfully strange mystery yarn, a satire of Werner Erhard–era self-actualization movements and a celebration of only-in-NorCal counterculture mania. In his feature debut, Bay Area filmmaker Spencer McCall blends fact and fiction, incorporating found footage, comic-strip panels, clever motion graphics and a dizzily dislocating sense of straight-faced obfuscation within his fascinating exposé. Adventurous viewers will delight in this Pynchonesque fantasia on secret gaming subsectors, human force fields, rainbow-haired improvisationalists and utopian dreamers (real people or actors, you decide).
Film Note Writer: Steven Jenkins