What you need to know about the Scientology doc shocking Sundance

Francesca Washtell
Thursday 29 January 2015 17:50

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, the latest documentary to dissect the Church of Scientology, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this week to a standing ovation.

It is the most recent attempt to shine a light on the secretive practices of the Church and is adapted from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright's 2013 book of the same name, which in turn originated from his 2011 article for the New Yorker.

HBO, which produced the documentary, reportedly hired 160 lawyers to look at the film before its release.

Here's what you need to know:

What is Going Clear about?

Directed by Alex Gibney, the Academy Award-winning director of 2007's Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron and We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, the film chronicles the history of Scientology, from its founding by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard (below) in 1954 to its stewardship under current leader David Miscavige, who took over in 1987.

Like the structure of the book, it focuses on eight people who broke away from the Scientology community.

The film contains interviews with a number of former members of the church, including former executives.

These include Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash), who publicly resigned from the church in an open letter, Mark Rathbun, previously the second-highest ranking official in the Church of Scientology who left in 2004, former executive Mark Rinder, the actor Jason Beghe and Sylvia Taylor, the former friend and Scientology liaison to John Travolta.

Tom Cruise does not feature, although previous footage of him, taken from the below video, is used:

What does it claim?

The film makes a number of controversial claims, including that the church routinely intimidates and even tortures its members and encourages followers to cut contact with 'suppressive persons', which can often lead to the break up of families.

Interviews with former executives apparently see them admit to allegations frequently levelled against Scientology such as stalking, harassment, abuse and intense manipulation tactics.

It also claims that the church split up Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, with Mark Rathbun claiming he was personally assigned to the task by David Miscavige, and that Cruise had a wiretap put on his then-wife's phone.

Although Brian Moylan claims that the film debuts little new material that hasn't been explored by other filmakers or Wright's book, the film is still making waves and draws together many of these first-hand accounts into one narrative for the first time.

What has the Church of Scientology said in response?

The Church of Scientology quickly set up a Twitter account, Freedom Media Ethics, to denounce the film.

They also wrote an article discrediting Gibney and Wright's sources, took out full-page adverts in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times claiming the documentary is filled with falsehoods and have sent a statement to media outlets claiming: "The accusations made in the film are entirely false and alleged without ever asking the church."

When is it showing here?

Apart from its screenings at Sundance it is expected to air in 2015 on HBO, but there are no plans as yet to screen it, or make it available to stream or download, in the UK.

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