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Sunday, January 14, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Friends of God: A Road Trip With Alexandra Pelosi

You are a young documentary filmmaker with a reputation for capturing politicians' antics. In a deliberate departure from politics, your latest film is a road trip into the world of evangelical Christians that includes a drive-through church, a Christian wrestling federation, a stand-up Christian comic, an evangelical Elvis and a biblical miniature golf course complete with the empty tomb of Jesus.

It just so happens, though, that your designated tour guide in that world is the Rev. Ted Haggard, then president of the National Association of Evangelicals who, after your film is finished, is accused of buying illegal drugs from a male prostitute and paying him for sex. And your mother, it turns out, makes history by becoming the first female speaker of the House just weeks before your film is broadcast.

Those two big events are the back story for Alexandra Pelosi, whose film "Friends of God: A Road Trip With Alexandra Pelosi,'' is to be shown on HBO on Thursday, Jan. 25. The youngest child of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat sworn in earlier this month as speaker of the House, Alexandra Pelosi said the other day she worried that her film would not be received in an "open-minded way.''

People might love it or hate because of her mother or because of its association with Haggard, she said. But what she really wanted, Pelosi said, was to further the conversation about religion and culture.

"I believe in the culture war,'' she said. "And you know what? If I have to take a side in the culture war I'll take their side,'' meaning the Christian conservatives. "Because if you give me the choice of Paris Hilton or Jesus, I'll take Jesus.''

Pelosi wrote, directed and produced "Friends of God,'' which took her through 16 states and the District of Columbia with a small, hand-held camera. It is offered as a series of snapshots, she said, with a focus on conservative evangelicals, including the ministers Jerry Falwell and Joel Osteen. In the film, Haggard explains the allure of evangelical Christianity and extols the primacy of sex among evangelicals.

"I unfortunately chose the wrong leading man,'' Pelosi said of Haggard, whom she picked for his credibility. She liked him, she said, and they spent a great deal of time together.

"Pastor Ted was my tour guide,'' she said. "When I met him he was so reasonable and open, and he took me camping at Pikes Peak. He taught me how to shoot a gun at the top of Pikes Peak. I thought he was the most reasonable man I had met on the road.''

After his fall, Pelosi scurried back to the editing room, saddened.

"We had to take some stuff out,'' she said. "But you can't do an entire movie without the failed guy.''

Pelosi, 36, is best known for her films "Journeys With George'' (about George W. Bush) and "Diary of a Political Tourist'' (about Democratic presidential candidates).

"I would like to think that evangelicals would love this movie,'' she said, adding that she tried hard to make them look their best. "But a lot of them won't even watch it because they don't want to watch my mom's daughter's movie.''

The Rev. Leith Anderson, who replaced Haggard as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said he expected that evangelical Christians would decide to watch "Friends of God'' for the same reasons as other viewers: buzz and reviews.

"I hope more and more Americans realize there is a broad diversity of evangelicals, a diversity in race, politics and denominations,'' said Anderson, the senior pastor of the Wooddale Church in

Eden Prairie, Minn. "If that comes across in the documentary that's really good.''

"Friends of God'' opens with an on-screen declaration that the documentary (which Pelosi began shooting on her honeymoon in June 2005) was completed before Haggard's scandal.

Pelosi said she thought many viewers might want to sneak a peek at Haggard, the founder and former senior pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"You know, all the surveys say that evangelicals have the best sex life of any other group,'' Haggard says slyly to the camera, to which the effusive Pelosi responds, "No way.'' Haggard then asks a parishioner at his 14,000-member church how often he has sex with his wife. The man says: "Every day. Twice a day.''

Days before the Democrats captured the House and Senate, Haggard was dismissed by his church's board of overseers for "sexually immoral conduct.'' A male prostitute in Denver had said in a radio interview that Haggard had been a monthly customer and buyer of methamphetamines. Haggard responded that not all the accusations were true. But he stated in a letter read in his church that "enough of them are true that I have been appropriately and lovingly removed from ministry.''

Did Pelosi have any inkling that Haggard was not as-advertised?

"I did,'' she said. "People flock to the church for a reason. Some people flock to the church for a reason. It seemed like there was some reason he was so drawn to me. There was something in him. I mean, if he was a true red-state evangelical, we wouldn't have sort of clicked.'' And he never gay-bashed, she said.

But Pelosi said the film's point was that the evangelical Christian movement was big -- bigger than any one pastor.

"Depending on whom you ask, there could be between 50 and 80 million evangelical Christians in America,'' Pelosi says in "Friends.''

On the road, she said, she was repeatedly asked about her own beliefs. "I got saved five times a day,'' she said, describing herself as a believer in God and a lapsed Roman Catholic who dislikes church. But she and her husband, Michiel Vos, a journalist for Dutch media, intend to make certain that their son, Paul Michael Vos (born Nov. 13), goes to church, she said, so he would have "more than himself and capitalism to believe in.''

As a first-time mother, a fairly new wife and the sister of four siblings, Pelosi clearly has her own take on so-called family values. But at least one Pelosi never sees any of her work in advance but is invited to screenings like everyone else, she said.

"The last thing I need is her editing my film,'' Pelosi said cheerfully, talking about her mother. "She'll be subtle, the same way she comes to my house and says I need to drop one of the baby's feedings. You don't get to be speaker of the House by being subtle.''