Throughout history religious groups have encouraged people to express their shared values through how and where they live. Some cultures also put a heightened emphasis upon community life. Here are two films about these forerunners of today's intentional communities.

  • The Amish, directed by David Belton, is a wide-ranging and well-done documentary on the simple rhythms and strict lifestyle of these people who refuse to organize their lives around technology. The Amish place great value on the family as a place to teach religion and the church as the institution that provides a lifeline to every member of the community.
  • Inventing Our Life, directed by Toby Perl Freilich, is an enlightening documentary which covers the 100 years of the kibbutz movement in Israel. Members from three generations speak about their participation in this idealistic communal movement.

We may embrace the idea of living in an intentional community after reading about them. Films, both documentaries and features, give us a sense of what it would be like to actually share a space with others. These films shine a spotlight on both the challenges and the blessings of these communities.

  • God's Land, directed by Preston Miller, focuses on a man who leaves behind his prosperous career to follow a cult leader who is obsessed with the End Times. The film depicts the challenges this disciple faces as he struggles with the demands of faith. It also covers how hard it is to flee from fringe religious communities and their rigid ideals.

  • Higher Ground, directed by Vera Farmiga, presents a realistic, nonjudgmental, and soul-stirring account of a conservative woman's spiritual journey over a 20-year period. Her story brings to mind our experiences with religious communities and our search for love and meaning.
  • Into Great Silence, directed by Philip Groning, is an extraordinary film that takes us inside the Grand Chartreuse Monastery in the French Alps where we witness the daily activities of Carthusian monks, members of the Catholic Church's most ascetic order. These men have dedicated their lives to God, to silence, and to solitude. The film, which both depicts and creates a contemplative experience, offers a fascinating look at Christian community life.
  • Kumare, directed by Vikram Gandhi, is an oddball film about an Indian-American who tries an experiment of passing himself off as a guru in Phoenix, Arizona. He soon gathers a community around him. When he reveals that he is a fraud, his New Age devotees have a variety of responses. This documentary explores some of the pitfalls of communities built entirely around one teacher.
  • The Master, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, revolves around the mysterious connection between a charismatic guru and the disciple he singles out as his special project. In the sparks that fly between them, we are given a chance to consider our own views on attitudes toward a cult-like spiritual community.

  • Of Gods and Men, directed by Xavier Beauvois, tells the true story of eight monks living at the Cistercian Monastery of Our Lady of Atlas in Tibhirine, Algeria. They follow the Rule of Benedict, gathering for prayer, doing daily chores, and selling honey at the local market. Their intention to be of service to their Muslim neighbors becomes clear when they choose to take risks in the name of compassion.
  • Together, directed by Lukas Moodysson, is a wonderfully idiosyncratic and totally satisfying drama set in a 1975 commune in Stockholm which convincingly portrays the ideals and disappointments of a group of free-spirited individuals trying to find a sense of meaning and purpose together.