Director Alex Gibney’s explosive HBO documentary about Scientology, “Going Clear” — based on Lawrence Wright’s best-selling book of the same name — premiered Sunday night at the Sundance Film Festival.
After HBO had 160 lawyers preparing for the doc about the litigious church, the film quickly became the festival’s most buzzed about premiere.
Crowd control at Going Clear, Gibney’s Scientology documentary, is out if control. Where’s Overlord Xenu when you need him?
— Ty Burr (@tyburr) January 25, 2015
After festival-goers and press viewed the film for the first time ever, a few notable tidbits about Scientology came to light thanks to the documentary.
1. The Church of Scientology allegedly split up Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
The Daily Beast‘s Marlow Stern, who was in attendance, explains:
According to the testimony of Marty Rathbun, formerly the second-highest ranking official in the Church of Scientology who left in 2004, Scientology head David Miscavige was suspicious of Cruise’s second wife [Nicole Kidman], whose father was a renowned psychologist in his native Australia. Scientology is vehemently opposed to psychiatry and psychology, and Rathbun claims that because of Kidman’s father, she was labelled a “Potential Trouble Source” (PTS)…
“I was to facilitate the breakup with Nicole Kidman,” Rathbun says in the film.
Rathbun alleges in the film that the Church of Scientology then waged an aggressive campaign to get Cruise to dump Kidman, including having a private investigator wiretap her phone… Furthermore, Rathbun says the Church of Scientology “re-educated” Cruise’s adopted children with Kidman, Connor and Isabella, into turning against their mother so that Cruise could retain custody.
Read the Daily Beast’s full review here.
2. John Travolta allegedly stays with the church because it has too much dirt on him and has threatened to make his private info public.
Vulture‘s Bilge Ebiri writes:
Travolta, it’s suggested, is kept in the group because they have mountains and mountains of dirt on him, the result of years of spiritual “auditing” (the process by which Scientologists basically reveal their deepest secrets, which are then cataloged and brought out whenever someone needs some, uh, encouragement, as the Mafia likes to say).
Read Vulture’s full review here.
3. The church allegedly mistreats its members, in some cases physically abusing them, and threatens and harasses those who leave the faith.
The Hollywood Reporter writes that in the doc, “well-known former members paint detailed portraits of how abusive and controlling the organisation could and still can be.”
4. Church of Scientology membership has apparently dwindled to approximately 50,000 at best worldwide.
Mashable‘s Josh Dickey, who also saw the film, writes, “It’s hard to believe Scientology still retains some 50,000 members in the social age (down from a peak of about 100,000 in the early ’90s).”
5. “Going Clear” estimates Scientology has amassed over $US1 billion in tax-free wealth.
“An organisation that’s managed to retain its tax-exempt status based on its classification as a religion according to the IRS with access to some $US3 billion in assets, is still a fearsome beast to contend with,” writes The Hollywood Reporter in its review of the film.
“The documentary is a broadside against the controversial religion,” adds Variety. “It argues that Scientology exploits its tax exempt status to amass millions of dollars in property and donations, behaving more like a business than a charity.”
6. A few more interesting celebrity tidbits from LA Times writer Amy Kaufman, who was at the screening:
Doc sez Scientology bought actress Nazanin Boniadi $US20K of clothing from Burberry etc& removed braces/dyed hair so she cld be poss Cruise gf
— Amy Kaufman (@AmyKinLA) January 25, 2015
Travolta apparently knew his friend Spanky was kept in prison camp at Scientology HQ, scrubbing toilets & w/o her kid. But didn’t intervene
— Amy Kaufman (@AmyKinLA) January 26, 2015
The film received a standing ovation after its Sundance premiere.
“Going Clear” will air on HBO beginning on March 16.
The Church of Scientology published a full page ad in The New York Times earlier this month accusing the film of reporting false claims about the controversial religion.
The Scientology ad calls out “Going Clear” director Alex Gibney for supposedly not allowing the organisation to respond to claims made in the film.
Specifically, the ad asks if the documentary is “a Rolling Stone/UVA Redux” — a reference to a now-notorious article in the magazine about rape at the University of Virginia.
In a statement, the Church of Scientology said: “Despite repeated requests over three months, Mr. Gibney and HBO refused to provide the Church with any of the allegations in the film so it could respond. Had Mr. Gibney given us any of these allegations, he would have been told the facts. But Gibney refused to speak with any of the 25 Church representatives, former spouses and children of their sources who flew to New York to meet and provide him and HBO with firsthand knowledge regarding assertions made in Mr. Wright’s book as that was all we had to guess from. Gibney’s sources are the usual collection of obsessive, disgruntled former Church members kicked out as long as 30 years ago for malf easance, who have a documented history of making up lies about the Church for money.”
Former Scientology members, though, hope that this new film will have the power to force major shifts within the church.
“I hope this movie increases public pressure for the church to change its abusive practices,” one former Scientology member told The Times.