Love Has No Age: Isis Aquarian & Ron Raffaelli Short Doc Premiers @ SXSW

love has no age header

LOVE HAS NO AGE screens at the following times during the 2015 SXSW Festival in Austin, Tx

Documentary Shorts 2 Saturday, March 14th 2:00 PM Rollins Theatre at The Long Center5
Documentary Shorts 2 Monday, March 16th11:00 AMTopfer Theatre at ZACH15
Documentary Shorts 2Saturday, March 21st6:30 PMAlamo Lamar A10



When I first heard of The Source Family, it was through their spiritual leader, Father Yod‘s psychedelic rock band, Yahowha 13, and the reissues of their material from one of my favorite labels, Drag City Records.  Images of this massive, burly, white-bearded specimen in a vest and knee-high moccasins straddling the grill of a Rolls Royce flanked on each side by stoic pair of long-haired men with electric guitars, a drum kit, and bass, respectively… well, it’s hard not to have your interest peaked, at least slightly.   Those that knew the late, larger-than-life restauranteur-turned-spiritual guru (birth name, Jim Baker) in real life, were clearly drawn to him on a much deeper level and on a much larger scale.  Charlene Peters was one of them.

Over time, I would hear unbelievable stories of how Yod was a minor celebrity in Los Angeles during the late 1960s – early 70s, how he was a health food pioneer with a thriving restaurant, about his over a dozen wives, hundreds of white robed followers (notables among them being both Sky Saxon from legendary psych band, The Seeds, and actor, Bud Cort of Harold And Maude fame), and his eventual demise as the result of a hang gliding accident.  It’s all very fascinating stuff, but primarily on a superficial level.  Charlene, who took on the name “Isis Aquarian” as a member of the family, assumed the role of the family historian and record keeper, a duty and an honor that she’s continued to treat as sacred over the last 4 decades since the collective disbanded in the late 70s.  With extensive archives and recordings — both audio and video — detailing her time in the family, The Source was afforded the benefit of having a legacy preserved that the majority of similar groups from the time simply do not have — many such histories have effectively been erased.  In 2007, with the assistance of fellow Source Family member, Electricity Aquarian, Isis released the book The Source: The Untold Story of Father Yod, Ya Ho Wa 13, and The Source Family.  That engaging piece of literature provided an in-depth behind-the-scenes look into the commune and, along with never-before-seen photographs, included detailed accounts from a number of members, which provided various recollections about their experiences and perspectives regarding that time period.  It’s a highly recommended read that is not only fascinating for the specifics of the story that it tells about this particular group, but for it’s relevance in a larger context regarding our collective and cultural history, and in regards to sociology, spirituality, the health food movement, counterculture, and our existence as human vessels, in general.

Fascinated by the limited amount of outside information that she had stumbled across, director Jodi Wille (who would also go on to edit/publish the book) tracked down Isis and the pair embarked on a documentary film project that was officially released in 2012, to critical acclaim.  Wille‘s film is remarkable both for what it includes, as well as for what it does not.  There’s no way to translate all of the information available into a feature length documentary, so, for those of us that have read Aquarian‘s book — and especially for those of us that have done extensive research beyond that — the achievement of sifting through all of the archives and stories to deliver such a cohesive, telling, and rewarding story in a little over 90-minutes is even more impressive.  One particular addition in the documentary that the book didn’t include — although it did touch on the backstory — was an interview with Ron Rafaelli, the fiance that Isis walked out on with little notice, once she suddenly decided to join Baker in the family.

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Ron himself was, and is, a fairly well-known public figure, in his own right.  A noted rock photographer, he worked with the likes of Led Zeppelin and even had the honor of being chosen as the personal photographer for none other than Jimi Hendrix.  Charlene met Raffaelli after being cast to appear in a Hendrix video that he was filming and their connection was so immediate that they barely left each others sights for the next 3 years.  As they would both describe it, they had a very full and wonderful life together, with Peters managing the studio and pursuing a life in the arts alongside her new fiance.  Then came that fateful day in 1972 when she went to The Source restaurant to find a bunch of “Jesuses” to recruit for a Jesus Christ Superstar poster shoot; ran into her old friend Jim, who had clearly gone through a spiritual transformation of sorts; and, feeling as if her destiny lied with him and his growing commune, unsuccessfully attempted to convince Ron to abandon their lives to join her/them, before leaving and going off on her own without him.  The two former lovers wouldn’t communicate over the next few decades, for obvious reasons, but both of their lives would evolve independently.  Isis would eventually achieve international recognition for her role in what was, by all accounts, an incredibly progressive and forward thinking group, as well as for her ability to document and deliver an understanding of that experience to the masses.  Meanwhile, Ron continued to follow his own path, finding acclaim for his rock  photography, as well as for his work in more erotic photographic works.  But, of course, those paths never overlapped again, until recently.  Even in locking down and filming Ron‘s appearance in The Source Family doc, the two of them never actually came in contact with one another.

The eventual meeting and reconnecting was facilitated by Raffaelli‘s niece/longtime creative partner, Cheryl Watkins, as Ron was incredibly reluctant to revisit those wounds and a situation that he had effectively been able to move beyond, years ago.  When I was working on my own extensive 4-part interview piece with Isis in 2013, during a time in which the documentary was making the rounds through screening events and film festivals, she mentioned it to me when they finally did reconnect with each other, and it was clearly important for her to be able to mend that situation, herself.  From my understanding, with Cheryl‘s prompting, they eventually linked up at a screening in San Francisco, where Ron even apparently enjoyed the movie.  At one point or another, a Los Angeles-based wardrobe stylist, entrepreneur, and blogger (among other things) named, Sara Dinkin was exposed to the film and also fell in love with it.  Inspired by the story, she posted one of the Source-era images from Isis‘s archives on her Instagram account, which was, in turn, seen by Aquarian, who contacted her.  By the end of their initial conversation, the whole thing had culminated in the two of them deciding to work on a photo shoot of Isis, which would focus on “cronehood” aka the elder stages of the goddess, highlighting the beauty of the later years of life.  For Dinkin, one element that continued to jump out at her in the Source doc, which she had then viewed a number of times, was the story between Isis and Ron.  As far as she was concerned, he would be the only appropriate choice of photographer for the shoot.  Of course, at that point, the exes still hadn’t really communicated in decades, let alone met yet.  The fact that it came together at all, even with the assistance of Cheryl, is still fairly miraculous.

ron isis now and then

Aquarian and Raffaelli‘s reconnection resulted in them stepping into the past in more ways than simply sharing stories, as they also chose to revisit old compositions from some of their early shoots together as a couple from over 40 years ago.  Dinkin believed that the encounter should be recorded, for the two figures involved, if for nothing else, but it ultimately manifested into an incredibly touching 8-minute documentary that beat out thousands of other entries to find itself screening this weekend at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas.

The following excerpt about the project is a quote from the first–time-filmmaker that was taken directly from a press release that was sent to me by Isis.

The meaning of “Love Has No Age” is multifaceted. It means that love and time are equal, and that youth is forever eternal. I think that life truly is a full circle, and people always come back around in some shape or form, as we are all energetically connected. I believe that you will feel empathetic for these real life characters, and if you’ve ever had love for someone or something you can relate to the heart of this short film.

Here is the official trailer….

I’m really happy to see a project like this branch off from The Source and it’s archives apart from everything that history has already birthed.  My own project involving Isis began with me arranging to conduct a quick, simple interview surrounding the release of the Wille‘s film, but quickly grew into an incredibly involved piece pushing around 30-thousand words or so.  The more that I delved into her life and the infamous psychedelic rock “cult” of which she played such an integral role, I realized how many more aspects and dimensions there truly are to it.  In doing so, it became incredibly important for me to present my findings in a fashion that portrayed the figures connected to the Source and this story with as much humanity as possible.  For me, the story was about actual people, not over-the-top characterizations of them.  It’s far too easy to continue to marginalize the marginalized, and difficult not to want to focus on such sensationalism as Jim Baker killing people with judo chops, the restaurant being used as a shooting location for Annie Hall, or simply its high profile clientele that included the ranks of such celebrities as John and Yoko.  But for me, the real story was with the real people, who far too often are written off because they are so much larger-than-life, rather than studied from a human perspective.  This is unfortunate, because so much can be learned about our passions, beliefs, and psychological, emotional, and spiritual makeup, for the very same reason.

One thing that I feel compelled to note is that, while many others moved on with their lives after The Source entirely, and others took those experiences along with them on their new journeys, Isis carried the burden and the weight of the responsibility that she felt toward the archives with her for decades, never with the intention of merely capitalizing on it for herself — the idea of being connected to such an organization wasn’t exactly widely accepted, let alone celebrated, until very recently.  When we first communicated, I was lucky enough to cross paths with her at a point where she was beginning to discover her own identity within her history and finally allowing herself to embrace that individualism beyond simply being the messenger for the story of one man or his followers.  She’s never expressed any regret for her efforts and still finds pride in that duty that she’s accepted, but our connection, for me, was rooted in telling her story, not just using her to tell Yod‘s story, or the story of the Source.  Love Has No Age is a testament to the fact that Isis had a fascinating life before and beyond the Source.  A former beauty queen, she moved from a life in the Nation’s capital among senators and politicians to a life in New York attending parties alongside figures like Salvador Dali and at Andy Warhol‘s factory.  Before she ever met Ron, she even briefly dated Rob Reiner.  After beginning my own work with Isis, I’ve had a couple of former members of the Source respond by reaching out to me and wanting me to communicate with them, perhaps to tell their story, or maybe even add their own spin on hers, but that didn’t make any sense to me.  For me, this wasn’t about any of that; it was about the life of the person that I had been communicating with, as any interview that I ever conduct is — it was about trying to understand the person behind the story, their perspectives, gaining a sense of their experiences, and the essence of who they are.

ron isis sitting together

Love Has No Age is a brief 8-minute project that looks to tackle a much more direct story on a much smaller scale, while in reality, taking on a concept that is as large and powerful as anything, but which too often falls through the cracks.  Who are the people?  The details that orbit this story can definitely be a bit sensational, but the core is the same.  As humans, we look for connections and it can be difficult for some of us to open up and allow them in.  When we do and they feel as if they have exploded in our faces, there is a trauma and emotional disfigurement that can seem irreparable, and even mutate our perception of the past, or the human experience as a whole.  But just because something ends, does that mean that it never really existed?  And, if it ever really existed, then does that mean that it ever truly completely ends?

Although Isis is the one that alerted me to this project, I am much more Ron in this situation than she might have realized.  I lived with a woman who I was incredibly close to for 2 years, only to have her vanish under similar circumstances with a certified schizophrenic, van-dwelling stalker who she believed could read her mind (yes, really) — meanwhile, I lost mine.  I won’t go into that in any further depth, but I will say that the details of my story were no less “insane” than how Ron must have interpreted the details of his own, and, as I learned the hard way, there is no amount of analysis that could ever adhere pieces that shattered back together, or make logical sense of what exists on such an intangible plane.  But I don’t believe that it’s an analytical story that Dinkin hopes to relay with Love Has No Age.  The goal of a true documentary (if there ever really is such a thing) is to capture whatever is unfolding right in front of you and, from what I’ve seen, the producer and her crew have really been able to bottle that essence successfully.  This is a story about how people become separated and the connections that we maintain within us that are beyond our own choices or will.  Some of us believe that we are still connected to those that have passed away.  Some of us believe that we are spiritually bonded to specific individuals, even throughout and beyond different lives or “incarnations.”  Isis likes to refer to these as “threads,” and the connections that we have to each other exist at various different levels — with some people we have shared experiences, with others memories, and with others, something that surpasses even that.  For anyone that has seen Jodi Wille‘s Source Family documentary, it’s clear that these two, now in their seventies, still have very different interpretations about whether or not Isis‘s departure was her true calling, or if she was bamboozled by a charlatan.  Those interpretations are also why 2 different people can watch and enjoy the very same film, with very different conclusions, because they are seeing the narrative differently.  But whether or not one leans more toward the spiritual end of things, while the other has their feet planted more firmly in the “logical” and mechanical, both Isis and Ron seem to believe that there was an otherworldly connection bringing them together when they first met, and connections like that just aren’t that simple to unplug.

Dead C

Located in Seattle, Dead C is the founder/editor, as well as the principal writer and photographer, of Monster Fresh. Creating the site in 2007, he did so with a specific dream in mind. Unfortunately, being a muscle relaxer-fueled fever dream, it’s hard to recall all of the details.

I remember that my mom was there, but it wasn’t actually her in the dream, it was actually 70s heart throb, Jan Michael Vincent. And everything took place here, in this room… but it wasn’t actually here… it was different. The colors were washed out and, for some reason, there was a raccoon kicking it with us and it was wearing a holographic monocle.

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