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Going Clear (HBO Scientology documentary)


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Amy Berg's sex abuse exposé An Open Secret isn't the only new documentary likely to ruffle feathers in Hollywood.


THR has learned that Oscar winner Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) is putting the finishing touches on a film that tackles the Church of Scientology and its Tinseltown tentacles. HBO, no stranger to controversy, having ushered such hot-button docs as The Case Against 8 and the Paradise Lost trilogy to the screen, is eyeing a 2015 airdate for Going Clear, which is based on Lawrence Wright's controversial book that was also exclusively excerpted in THR.


HBO long has championed documentary filmmaking. It commissioned the Scientology project nearly two years ago, right after the book's January 2013 publication, when frequent collaborator Gibney brought it to the network. The film, which is expected to feature new revelations about the controversial religion and its famous followers Tom Cruise and John Travolta, almost certainly will draw an aggressive response from the notoriously litigious church.


"We have probably 160 lawyers [looking at the film]," says HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins, who is bracing for protests as well. If the doc is finished in time, it likely will be submitted to the Sundance Film Festival in January.


This is not the first time HBO has tussled with the Church of Scientology. When the network aired the 1998 documentary Dead Blue: Surviving Depression, throngs of protesters converged in front of HBO's midtown Manhattan headquarters, lambasting Nevins and the company for presenting antidepressant drugs in a positive light (Scientologists are opposed to psychiatry).


"I didn't see what [antidepressants] had to do with Scientology until I worked on that film, until I saw these people outside the building," recalls Nevins in an interview. "I thought they must be a union protest. But it was our film they were protesting. They're so anti-psychiatry, anti-medicine and anti-Freud. It was really quite interesting."

See more Scientology's Historic Hollywood Holdings


But are a throng of HBO lawyers enough to combat the church's legal arsenal? Wright's Going Clear, which stemmed from his 2011 New Yorker profile of filmmaker and former Scientologist Paul Haggis, prompted an all-out offensive from the church. The book's U.K. publisher, Transworld, dropped Going Clear from its lineup on the advice of its lawyers. The title, which was a National Book Award finalist in the U.S., never was published in the U.K.


Nonetheless, HBO and Gibney (UTA, Cowan DeBaets) aren't inclined to back down, having taken on other powerful organizations in the past including the Catholic Church (Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God) and the U.S. military (Taxi to the Dark Side). And though Wright says he has received threatening letters from lawyers representing Hollywood Scientologists, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author is prevailing in the battle of wills. Thanks to HBO, his story of physical abuse and imprisonment within the church now will reach a much wider audience.

Says Nevins, "And this time, we'll be ready."





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  • 10 months later...

Scientology Ramps Up 'Going Clear' Smear Campaign, Targets Academy Members


The Church of Scientology really doesn’t want Alex Gibney to win an Oscar for his documentary Going Clear.


Since the film — a scathing critique of the controversial church and its celebrity adherents, including Tom Cruise and John Travolta, based on Lawrence Wright's best-selling book — won three Emmys in September, the filmmaker says he has been the subject of an increasingly hostile harassment campaign that has included a Scientology-backed "documentary" and outreach to members of the Academy’s doc branch, the group that selects the Oscar contenders.


"In the last few weeks, Scientology has dramatically ratcheted up its corporate campaign against me and those in the film," Gibney tells THR.


The church has begun making its own film about Gibney and has reached out to several of his peers in connection with a planned profile in a Scientology magazine. Oscar nominee Rory Kennedy (Last Days in Vietnam), who, like Gibney, is a member of the Academy’s documentary branch and sits on the organization’s board of governors, says she recently was approached by a man who requested an interview about Gibney in connection with the Emmy wins. Kennedy says the man, who identified himself as Joe Taglieri, also separately contacted her husband, documentary writer Mark Bailey, and requested he participate in an article. Taglieri did not disclose his Scientology connection, although he has written for the Scientology magazine Freedom. "In this context, to not say [that he wrote for Freedom] was disingenuous, and I thought something was suspect," says Kennedy. "He definitely had an agenda."


Other members of the Academy’s documentary branch who have been contacted by the church include producers John Battsek (Searching for Sugar Man) and Jon Else (The Day After Trinity). While Taglieri did not initially identify what outlet he was writing for, when asked, he said he was a freelance writer working on a piece for Freedom.


Karin Pouw, a spokesperson for the church, acknowledges that "Freedom has been reaching out for some time for a piece about Alex Gibney’s propaganda film." But, she says, "this has nothing to do with the Academy."


Indeed, Scientology has been battling Wright and then Gibney since before the Going Clear book was published in 2013. But as the film has won accolades and taken on a trajectory toward Oscar consideration, the animosity has ramped up, and there has been increased aggression at public events where Gibney and the subjects of Going Clear have spoken. (The film, which received an Oscar-qualifying theatrical run this winter before airing on HBO in March, was rereleased in theaters in September, though church pressure contributed to at least two Florida cinemas refusing to show it.)


On Sept. 28, Gibney was entering the Linwood Dunn Theater in Los Angeles for a talk about his career to the International Documentary Association when a man named Randall Stith approached and told him he was making a movie about him. (According to IMDb, Stith has directed two films: Dead Wrong: How Psychiatric Drugs Can Kill Your Child and Making a Killing: The Untold Story of Psychotropic Drugging. Scientologists adamantly oppose psychiatry and its associated medication.) Stith stayed for the screening of Going Clear, after which he, Taglieri and another Scientologist, Norman Taylor, spoke out during the Q&A session against Taylor’s ex-wife and former Travolta handler, Sylvia "Spanky" Taylor, who appears in the film.

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  • 1 year later...

Watching this right now and it is fascinating. These people are scary as hell and David Miscavige seems legitimately evil. I mean, it's easy to write them off as just a bunch of crazies, but the way these people get duped and the motivations for things the church does.... it's all sounds so surreal. They go into Travolta and how he was actually trying to leave and that the church is probably holding some private info over his head that he doesn't want out. Last bit is digging into Cruise now.

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Yeah they talk to some of the higher ranking members that quit, and fuck man. Like, not to bring him up out of the blue, but I could imagine if Trump... hell any president, was a Scientologist we would just be all kinds of fucked. Religion does weird things to people, but Scientology is on another spectrum.


It gets very Jonestowny.

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Isn't there an ongoing doc series right now about Scientology?


I know Leah Remini has a series about her experience with Scientology on A&E that's airing now. NZA and I watched Going Clear this weekend and were absolutely horrified. We immediately grabbed the first episode of Leah's doc and I'm looking forward to hearing her account!

Edited by Donatella
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