With self-righteous religious conservatism flooding the airways, Peter Wiedensmith’s unassuming docu on Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell sounds a welcome, unabashedly humanistic note. Conveying little of the certitude that makes inspirational figures so difficult to emulate, Sewell shares her own doubts and fears with her congregants and encourages them to wrestle with theirs, greatly facilitating the pic’s dual focus on the minister’s life and work. Sewell’s openness, ready wit and down-to-earth integrity have nearly tripled attendance at her church in Portland, Ore. But “Raw Faith,” which bowed theatrically June 24 in Gotham, should find most of its flock in ancillary.
Docu follows Sewell over two years, her candid thoughts and personal video diary supplementing the film’s images of her morning exercises, sermons, therapy sessions and visits with parishioners. This period marked a turning point as Sewell inwardly debated changing her workaholic ways, left the ministry to pursue other callings (including a late-blooming romance) and struggled to process unresolved issues from a traumatic childhood. Unfortunately, Wiedensmith identifies too much with his subject, sometimes leaving in repetitions and longueurs that dilute the impact of his preacher’s singular dedication.