Noted documentary maker Alex Gibney has a new film coming out on the Scientology movement. It is based on the book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (2013) by Lawrence Wright that I reviewed favorably here. The film is being produced by HBO and will be released early next year.
The Church of Scientology is noted for many things, none of them positive: the abuse and exploitation of its members, its secrecy, its bizarre beliefs, and its willingness to expend vast amounts of resources in litigation to fight its critics to keep its practices secret.
HBO knows that it will be slapped with one lawsuit after another by the organization and seems ready for it.
“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.
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.”
This is going to interesting. HBO is to be commended for taking on this litigious group.