"The Institute": San Francisco Loves Its Games, and Its Cults

The Institute A few years ago, feeling inspired by San Franciscans' particular receptiveness to street art, secret-world scavenger hunts, and New Agey self-actualization techniques, Oakland artist Jeff Hull developed the Jejune Institute, an elaborate and lovingly detailed Alternate Reality Game about a make-believe local cult. Somewhat coyly, Spencer McCall's The Institute documents Hull's reportedly thousands-strong phenomenon, by which, as one participant put it, "the Financial District had been magicalized." Actually it went far beyond that, with trippy corporate-office induction videos, radio broadcasts, coded pay-phone instructions, occasional dances with a sasquatch, and creepy underground-tunnel excursions, all ranging from Mission Dolores to Oakland's Chapel of the Chimes. There's a sense that any film, however appropriately attuned to the new meta-mediated documentary tricks (see also Catfish, Exit Through the Gift Shop), may at best complement such an experience but will never capture it. With the Jejune Institute, it seems, you really had to be there, and even then you might not get it. Still, McCall and Hull do make their case that play itself can be profound.

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