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The entire creative team are ex-Jehovah's Witnesses, including the musicians
Check out the albums below!
Here’s everything you need to know about our team and Witness Underground to collaborate with us!
1-minute trailer: https://vimeo.com/513647831
2-minute trailer: https://vimeo.com/533839295
Witness Underground was inspired by my own experience of being shunned after leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses. As a musician and visual artist who grew up in this religion, I grappled with losing my entire family (17 members) once I finally realized I no longer believed any of what the religion teaches. This film is a work of activism against human rights violations as well as a true story for millions of former Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world. Everyone in this film has lost their family and friends to cult mind control and active coercion to ostracize anyone who commits the thought crime of openly disagreeing with even one of their ideas. It’s very Orwellian!
It was also important for us to dive deep into the female experience in this religion. We follow an indigenous woman, Cindy, who grew up in the Spirit Lake Nation. She is the songwriter and vocalist of the featured bands Kloey and HighTV. Her songwriting and vocals, with the backing of her husband and guitarist, Eric, and bassist, Chad, are as powerful as they come. I eventually realized I could properly tell this nuanced and misunderstood experience through the lives of this well-documented and vibrant group of artists in Minneapolis who I knew while associated with this faith.
The archival films and all 43 songs in the soundtrack, were written and produced by these featured artists. It’s a curated celebration of undiscovered art that, if nothing else, is a life-changing body of work. If you don’t experience the soundtrack, I feel that you’re missing out, and it barely scratches the surface of this music scene. This film was made in the DIY spirit and style that the insular indie record label and community known as Nuclear Gopher, represented inside of this cult. I also snuck one of my songs in there from my secular JW band called, ADD Chronicles.
Meet the artists:
Scott Homan - Writer, Producer, DP, Director
Concept - Cameras - Cut
I have been actively working on serious documentaries since 2014, and have had a life long passion working with cameras starting with a Canon AE-1 as a teen. Our photo and film departments in high school were on par with university. I've had incredible access to great equipment and creative freedom since I was 16. I had my own band then, called ADD Chronicles. At 18 I worked in our local news station running live cameras and sound. I later attended university for film photography and digital media in Minneapolis, where I was introduced to the artists featured in Witness Underground.
I was raised on the fringes of the Jehovah's Witness culture, as my father joined the religion when he was about thirty and I was six. I was coerced into baptism as a teenager like most in the religion. I realized I didn't believe what the religion taught and left at 19, but got dragged back into it by my father for family and cultural reasons. I gave this faith a proper go, on my own terms, for a few more years in my early twenties, unofficially volunteering as a part-time minister (50 hours per month), before and during university, well beyond any dedication my immediate family had ever made up to that point (grandparents, father and four siblings). As a last ditch effort to try to find a way to make this religion work, after photography school, I moved to Ecuador to see first hand how the religion operated internationally. That was truly a life changing experience and where I began to deeply question their methods of preaching abroad. It's a gross form of cultrural colonialism and vastly different from how they operate in USA.
Abroad they have a serious quasi-racist superiority complex and do not treat locals with much respect, for example: opting for a white 18 year old from England as elder over a local in his 30s or 40s who'd been knocking on doors in his childhood town, for many years, risking his life long reputation for this cult. Experiencing that repeatedly, first hand, was ultimately the catalyst to question and do more research. Then the real information cascade began flowing. I was becoming aware of an insane list of nonsense that they teach and use to manipulate and coerce members into compliance through social control, which I believe should one day be illegal, especially their extremist form of shunning. Witness Underground focuses on this. I learned about the crimes they are becoming known for globally: protecting pedophiles, rampant child abuse that results, and the many deaths from their ban on certain basic medical treatments, a practice which functions as a way to create martyrs and get away with covert human sacrifice, which sadly, keeps people under their control, as they offer the only path to see their dead family. It's really dark! If that's not enough, they are also extremely homophobic.
After Ecuador I exited the religion permanently. I had made some close friends in the religion, most of whom have since come out as well. Together these artists and I are working on this project to demonstrate a positive path to healing through self expression.
We'd love to experience your art!
A Minneapolis ExJW band, they are an essential part of the creative editing process and a huge support for our" XJW | Coming Out" documentary series as well as a highlight in our feature documentary, Witness Underground.
Cindy Elvendahl - vocalist, song writer
Cindy is a creative success story. and her story is the core emotional arc of the film. As a songwriter and lead vocalist for the bands Kloey and HighTV, she got an early start with other Nuclear Gopher artists. She has been deeply embedded in the Minneapolis music scene since she was a teenager. Cindy’s perspective and traumatic experiences as an indigenous woman in this religion are outrageous and, unfortunately, all too common for Jehovah’s Witness women everywhere. She currently does UX research and design.
Eric Elvendahl - guitarist, backing vocals
Eric is Cindy’s husband and a remarkably talented music composer. He’s also a phenomenal musician and is proficient with many instruments. Eric has been in numerous bands in and outside of the religion and has produced many others as well. Visually and sonically, he’s always been at the heart of the music scene and ahead of the curve. Today, he works as a full-stack engineer.
Chad Rhiger - bassist
(Ghost Army, next for bio)
Buy their music here:
Album: Rick Brown Saved My Life
Ghost Army - Band
Minneapolis band with one ExJW member, Chad Rhiger.
Some songs really hit close to home including, "Stay Away, Stand Firm, Grow Mighty (in the soundtrack)
Chad Rhiger - Vocalist, Songwriter, Bassist
Chad is a powerful social foundation: a natural skeptic, philosopher, comedian, and father to a wonderful child. He joined Eric and Cindy to create HighTV, a featured band, as the bassist and built out their sound. Together, they found a healthy way to bridge the gap between their lives as Witnesses and their new life in the real world through music. He later fronted his own band, Ghost Army, and continues to write music. He now does UX design.
Buy the Album here:
Album: Sleepywood Dojo
Ryan Sutter - Founder, Technologist, Artist
Ryan Sutter is a Minneapolis based artist. He's the key subject of Witness Underground and has been a huge ally in the creation of our film.
Ryan is the world builder. He co-founded his first band, The Lavone, and his own recording studio and label, Nuclear Gopher, as a teenager along with his brother Rhett Sutter. Ryan is the resident Nuclear Gopher technologist, he established the label on the internet in 1994 and at nucleargopher.com in 1996, where it remained until 2004. Later, Ryan independently recorded and released multiple solo albums. He continues to work on and record in his personal studio, Nuclear Gopher Too. He also plays in numerous live bands and works as a director of software engineering.
Ryan has been contributing to humanity since the early internet through music, software, and open-source philosophy. His vast archive of creative commons media was so compelling that this film simply needed to be made.
Listen to and buy his music:
James D. Zimmerman - Author & Filmmaker
James is the author of Deliverance At Hand and a skilled filmmaker. During production, he offered up his entire archive of short films and collaborative video projects spanning over 15 years that made this a historical documentary. It was a precious gift to get access to all of his past work and also have him tell such a detailed intertwined exit story with Ryan Sutter. Today, he does technical writing and is raising three kids.
Sian Walmsley - Story Editor
Siân is an exceptional story editor! She took the film from an exhaustively long set of interviews all the way to the final color and titles. Although she’s based in Atlanta, Georgia, Siân’s originally from England. She graduated with a BA (Hons) degree in Film from Falmouth University (Class of 2010). She put her heart an expertise into this film. Our work together was deeply collaborative.
Cassie Spicher - Content Editor
Crowdfund support, Video edit, Writing
I was born into the religion and baptized young. In the decade + since my exit, I’ve traveled extensively, learned eagerly and forged new relationships. I was inspired by the concept of the project and am excited to be part of the team!
More creative contributors:
Eric Elvendahl, Cynthia Ivy Ann Elvendahl, Chad Stanley, Mitchel Vandenheuvel, Suzi Clark, Cassie Spicher, Ross Wilkins, Leah DeLaurentis, Soren Russell Carpenter, Ryan DuVal, Vincent Baumont, Nikolaj Svennivig, Linh Duong, Maria Myat Mo, Lourdes Andrea Villaverde, Matias Hidalgo, Jacques Wolf, Jon Dallas, Sian Walmsley, Kate O'Flaherty, Dung Nguyen, Thien Chip, Nicki Seminara, Chi Yen Le, DScott Clark, Drew Carlson
and many more.
Thanks for all the collaborations and support!
Listen to the Nuclear Gopher artists!
Ryan Sutter Discography
Listen to his "Leaving the Jehovah's Witnesses Experience" as discussed in the film, with these three albums:
1) The Context 2) Bo Redoubt 3) Louder Longer Lobster
Support The Artists:
Buy their music
XJW Coming Out Soundtrack (HighTV)
Alternative, Fuzz Rock, Pop Punk
Trumpet Marine: (Ryan Sutter - RPM Challenge)
Psychedelic Math Punk
Into The Vein:
Wesley David Music:
90s Pop Rock Band
Satori EP (six tracks)
easy for YOU (single)
I helped him with the music video for this track!
Never Late Than Better (full album) (available as vinyl)
The Bloody Tuesdays:
Hymns of A Millenials Dawn
Stranded On Saturn
Dork. Ryan Sutter, Collected (1991 - 2002)
The Coal Room EP
A Man Could Get Tired and Other Songs
Blood And Scotch Valentine
Lavone Love Letter
The Legendary Adventures of Prosciutto Pig
Songs of Bo Redoubt
Support The Artists:
Psychedelic Rock, Synth Rock
A Spectacle for Compassionate Minds (25th Anniversary Edition)
Son Of Electric Cheeseburger Poodleskirt: A Concept Album