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HBO and BBC battling to get full-length films about Scientology out first

Alex Gibney and Louis Theroux -- who will be first?

Alex Gibney and Louis Theroux — who will be first?

The Hollywood Reporter spilled the beans this morning, so now we can say what we’ve known about for more than a year — that Alex Gibney, perhaps the best documentary filmmaker in the business, is finishing up a movie for HBO about Scientology, and he’s hoping to get it into the Sundance film festival in January.

Your proprietor sat down for a two-hour on-camera interview with Gibney earlier this year, and we’ll be interested to see if any of it makes the final cut.

Gibney’s project started out as a documentary based on Lawrence Wright’s 2013 book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief — Gibney had previously based an HBO film on another of Wright’s books, The Looming Tower, about al Qaeda.

But it was clear from our interview with Gibney and the many follow-up questions with his researchers that Gibney’s film will take in many of the more recent developments in Scientology which Wright’s book didn’t cover. We expect it to be a blockbuster film, and it should be a serious problem for the church.

HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins told the Hollywood Reporter she has about 160 lawyers working on the project, and she expects to be ready for a legal onslaught from the church’s legendarily pugnacious lawyers. We don’t see Scientology stopping this film, however.

But what HBO does have to pay attention to is some competition from the BBC. More than two years ago, we first heard from producer Simon Chinn, who told us he wanted to make a full-length feature film for theater release. He put the project on the shelf for a while (and won an Oscar in the meantime), but then got things going again this year by hiring a director — the excellent John Dower — and, to star in the film, BBC broadcaster Louis Theroux. In the months since, Karen de la Carriere has posted numerous photographs of Theroux as he has come over to interview her at her Los Feliz home (turns out he’s a neighbor).


We think both films will be going over some similar territory (the Marty Rathbun story, for example, which has already been given the documentary treatment in Scientologists at War) but using very different techniques.

Both are working quickly to get their projects wrapped up now, and it will be interesting to see which manages to reach the screen first.

Either way, 2015 is looking to be quite a disastrous year for the Church of Scientology.

Gibney’s portfolio of work is pretty staggering. A partial list of his films… Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005), Taxi to the Dark Side (2007), Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (2008), Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (2010), Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (2012) and The Armstrong Lie (2013).

John Dower was kind enough to take us to the Tribeca premiere of his film about Greg Lemond, “Slaying the Badger” (Lemond was there too). The storytelling in that film was top-notch, and we think Dower could put together a great story about Scientology.

We first became a fan of Louis Theroux’s work when he was a correspondent for Michael Moore’s mid-1990s television show TV Nation. He’s scored hits recently with films in which he spends time with extremist groups, including members of the Westboro Baptists. He has tweeted that he wants his film to be “non-judgmental” about Scientology, and has said he wants to interview church members on their terms.

And what about Mark Bunker? Wise Beard Man has been working on his own, independent documentary feature about Scientology, “Knowledge Report,” for several years. He announced earlier this year that he’s shooting for a May 2015 release.


Posted by Tony Ortega on November 24, 2014 at 12:00

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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS (We read Scientology’s founding text) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25

UP THE BRIDGE (Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48

GETTING OUR ETHICS IN (Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING (Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49

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