By Zona Marie Tan
Merely driven by innocent curiosity to film what goes on behind a cult group, director-writer Luke Walker and co-director Melissa Maclean could never have anticipated the shocking incident that would happen just days before their documentary’s premiere.
Beyond Our Ken is an account of the cult group known as Kenja Communications, which was founded in 1982 by the late Ken Dyers and his wife Jan Hamilton. Walker found this group an interesting subject when he first saw a newspaper article about Dyers facing sexual abuse allegations and being taken to court, and decided to make the documentary for his studies at the Victorian College of Arts (VCA).
“I wanted to do this film as my Masters at the VCA,” Walker tells INSIDEFILM. “I wrote up my idea that I was going to join the group and make a film about them, and pitched it. But I didn’t get in. So I made it by myself.”
Walker’s reason to work on this documentary was driven because his curiosity was piqued on why people were still involved with Kenja despite its negative publicity in the last 15 years.
“I wanted to know what went on behind those walls,” Walker explains. “What are they doing there? What do they believe in?”
So Walker secretly joined Kenja in Melbourne for six months, investigating how the group worked and participated in its activities without telling the group that he intended to film them.
“At first, we really couldn’t see what the problem was,” concedes Walker. “In fact, we worried that there wasn’t even a film in it, because although they certainly believe a lot of nonsense, they had a right to what they believe.
“So we struggled to see what the problem was with the group. It was only when we stepped outside and started talking to people who were affected negatively by the group that we started to understand what the problem was.”
The documentary production began when Walker left the group, and co-director Melissa Maclean joined, openly informing Dyers and his wife that they will film the group, which gave them the opportunity to represent their side of the story. In the meantime, Walker would direct passively by writing questions for Maclean to pose to Dyers.
The result was an insider view of how Dyers conducts Kenja’s motivational training sessions through what they call the application of Energy Conversion meditation, and an outsider view that explores the disappearance of former members such as Cornelia Rau (later imprisoned at Baxter detention centre) and also Richard Leape, who is still missing after 13 years.
When Dyers and Hamilton discovered that the documentary eventually wasn’t going to be the promotional material they thought it was, conflict set in.
“From the questions that were being asked, he realised we’ve been speaking to people whom he never expected us to find,” says Walker. “There’s a moment towards the end of the film where Ken realises it’s not going to be the advertisement for Kenja that he thought it was, then for 20 minutes he just screams. It was edited down to seven minutes in the doco, but it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen in a film before. It’s remarkable footage.”
Another interesting footage which Walker caught was of Dyers trying to justify the sexual encounters for which he was being taken to court. Dyers went into detail on how he would cleanse 12-year-old girls from sexual energy.
“Ken decided that when a girl reaches 12, 13 or 14, they have to be taught about male sexual energy and we asked him about it,” Walker explains. “So with all the court cases he’s faced over the last 10 years – he hasn’t forgotten that the cameras are rolling – he starts to demonstrate what actually happens when he’s clearing a girl of this sexual energy.
“He gets this young girl and starts describing her body. He’s describing a pubescent girl’s body in a lustful way. This is his attempt to explain why he thinks this is necessary, and he doesn’t realise how completely screwed up it is! It is a truly remarkable scene and it shows you how completely different their mindset is to ours. It shows you how this whole complete fuck up happened because they just think so completely different.”
Despite the clash at the end of production, Walker and Maclean completed the documentary and had it set to premiere it at the Melbourne International Film Festival in August 2007. But 10 days before it screened, Dyers shot himself in the head.
Dyers killed himself 24 hours after hearing he would face a fresh charge of sexual abuse against a former member’s daughter. Incidentally, Walker has this member featured in the documentary whilst still a Kenja member, prior to this discovery.
“It was such a shock,” admits Walker. “I didn’t sleep well for a very long time simply because of the reality of the situation suddenly hitting me. When your lead character shoots himself, the reality of the fact that you’re dealing with real people and real life suddenly hits you like a ton of bricks.”
“Although I know we didn’t misrepresent Ken or Kenja in any way, I am 100 percent clear in my conscience as to what we’ve delivered. And I believe we’ve delivered the truth as effectively as possible.”
Beyond Our Ken is in competition for the Australian Film Institute’s inaugural Documentary Trailblazer award given to the winner of this year’s Best Documentary. It will be screening at Melbourne’s Kino Cinema at 6.45pm Wednesday, September 10.
For more information, view the website – www.beyondourken.com.au