James Brandon was raised Catholic in St. Louis, "the Catholic capitol of the world."

"My mom said after my confirmation she had done her part as a mother and I could do what I want. I said, 'I'm done.' Clearly [Catholicism] did not go with my own beliefs."

So it may come as a surprise that he is now the lead in the play "Corpus Christi" that portrays a modern day Jesus living in Texas that is now being made into a feature documentary that screens for the first time ever to a public audience at the Atlanta Film Fest today at 2:15 p.m..

‘Corpus Christi’ film about gay Jesus screens today at Atlanta Film Fest

Brandon, who is openly gay, plays Joshua, the Jesus character in the Terrance McNally passion play “Corpus Christi.” The play portrays Jesus/Joshua as a gay man and places him and his disciples in modern-day Texas  to deal with such issues as sexual betrayal and gay marriage.

In 2006, Brandon took on the role of Joshua and his company 108 Productions soon began making a feature documentary, “Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption.” The film is part of the fest’s Pink Peach selections of LGBT films.

Brandon stars in the film but is also a co-writer, producer and director of the film with his friend Nic Arnzen. Both will be on hand at Atlanta screening to discuss the film after its played.

When the play first opened in 1998 in New York, McNally, who is gay, received numerous death threats. When the play opened at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 1998, the theater stopped its run after numerous protests and death threats.

While protesters continue to follow the play wherever it is produced, supporters of the play are the driving force behind the film, Brandon says.

Brandon and Arnzen are calling today’s Atlanta screening a “sneak peek” and will be asking for feedback from the audience. Because the supporters of the play have instrumental in its success, Brandon said viewers of the film are also asked to be part of the final product.

“With our play, for the past five years we’ve been doing it because the audience demanded it,” Brandon says. “We realized that’s an element we wanted with the film, too.”

Brandon and Arnzen are first-time filmmakers and bringing their film to Atlanta for its first screening is exciting, Brandon said.

“To bring it to the South, but to a city that is so progressive … it hints at the core of what our movie is about,” Brandon said. “The play has defeated all odds.”

Protests still take place when the play is produced. But today the play is even performed in churches, indicating a sea-change in attitude by society since “Corpus Christi” first opened some 13 years ago.

“With a film, it’s a whole different medium. It needed to be bigger, people needed to understand the characters more. Supporters and protesters are part of it and we make sure to let their voices be heard,” Brandon said.

For Brandon himself, a change came to him when he decided to play the role of Joshua.
“When I read the script for the first time, [my childhood] all came back to me. It seemed really religious,” Brandon said. He said he doubted he could play the role because he had a preconceived notion of religion, of Christianity, that was not necessarily positive.

But after exploring the play and the words within it, Brandon said he came to a point where it was more than just a production and a role.

“That was part of my healing journey, coming to realize what Jesus was all about. This play brought faith back into my life in a whole new way,” he said. “A piece of art can really transform.”

Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption
Today (Saturday, May 7) at 2:15 p.m.
931 Monroe Drive
Atlanta, GA 30308
Click here for more information and to buy tickets.