Since the release of Alex Gibney’s Emmy-winning documentary “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” fascination over the Church of Scientology has been at an all-time high.
Now the church is being examined through the unique style of BBC filmmaker Louis Theroux. Known as the Michael Moore of Britain, Theroux often stars in his docuseries projects featuring a biting comedic take on unique topics. “My Scientology Movie,” Theroux’s first feature film (directed by John Dower), is less of a broad historic look at Scientology, like Gibney’s film, and more a spotlight on the alleged incidents church members have experienced under the thumb of current Scientology leader David Miscavige.
“I had tried to do something on Scientology in 2002, but I reengaged with the subject after our producer Simon Chinn read the Lawrence Wright New Yorker piece [in 2011],” Theroux told Business Insider hours before the film’s international premiere on Sunday at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The film follows Theroux as he travels to Los Angeles to investigate what goes on at the church’s headquarters. With the church unwilling to cooperate, Theroux enlists ex-Scientology executive Marty Rathbun (who also stars in “Going Clear”) to give insight into what goes on there.
This then leads to Theroux asking Rathburn to help him in casting reenactments of incidents that allegedly happened to church members, many of which involve the church’s leader, David Miscavige, bullying and physically abusing Scientologists.
As with “Going Clear,” making “My Scientology Movie” involved lawyers dissecting every piece of footage in the final cut to make sure BBC Films and others with stakes in the film weren’t making themselves legally vulnerable.
Due to differences in liable rules in the UK versus the States, Theroux believes “My Scientology Movie” was scrutinised more by legal than “Going Clear.”
“When you don’t have access to a subject and all you have is ex-members and critics, there is this gravitational pull toward telling a certain version of events,” Theroux said. “Scientology would say this, and they have a point, that it’s like doing a portrait of a marriage in which you’re only hearing from the ex-wife and not the ex-husband. So as a journalist it’s this nagging feeling that I’m not getting the full picture.”
In the movie, many title cards giving information about alleged incidents also include counter-statements from the church. But Theroux believes Scientology’s side comes through in its actions during filming.
In a few instances, Theroux finds camera crews, allegedly Scientologists, filming him making the movie. (Scientology informed Theroux that it’s making a film on him.) Rathburn also films alleged Scientology members harassing him.
“When they show up saying they are making their own film on me, or filming Marty, as a viewer you no longer have that thought, ‘I wonder how Scientology would characterise this?’ It strengthens the film,” Theroux said.
But Theroux admits he may have gone too far in a key moment in the film. Following an encounter Rathburn has with alleged church members, Theroux and Rathburn discuss the incident, with Theroux reminding Rathburn that when he was in Scientology these were the kind of tactics he instructed people to use on ex-members. This sets Rathburn off, and he curses out Theroux.
“I think I was probably over the line,” Theroux said. “Every screening I’ve been in when that moment plays, it’s tense and people think, ‘I don’t know what I feel about this.'”
But director John Dower believes it needed to be addressed.
“Louis needs to ask that question because Marty had consistently batted it away so many times before,” he said. “It so happens that’s the only time he could get an answer out of him.”
“My Scientology Movie” offers the impressions that even if you decide to leave the church, members will never leave you alone — especially if you go public with what goes on inside it.
Since filming wrapped, those involved with the movie have thought the church was behind bizarre moments in their lives.
Dower knows his Instagram account was hacked by the church because, according to Dower, Scientology officials admitted to doing it in one of their cease-and-desist letters to the BBC regarding the film.
Then there are the threats toward Theroux.
The morning of this interview, Theroux was locked out of his email account due to, as he called it, “suspicious activity.” He believes it might be Scientology-related. And a few months ago, the police came to his house telling him they’d been tipped that someone wanted to do bodily harm to him due to his Scientology movie.
“I asked the police where the threat came from and they said Scientology called them saying they had heard it,” Theroux said. “I was like hold on, that doesn’t sound right. They were the ones who made the call? Now I’m on a special list where if I call the police they are on the fast track to where I am. But my take is it sounded like Scientologists were just trying to wind me up by getting the police to come to my house.”
Numerous attempts to contact Scientology to comment for this story were not successful.
Here’s a clip from the movie: