Dziga Vertov’s groundbreaking portrayal of Soviet Russia didn’t just define a historical period. It created an entire theory of film.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
...because in Hollywood, you don’t mess with the Church of Scientology. Well, unless you’re documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney. Based on a book by journalist Lawrence Wright, "Going Clear" shines a spotlight on abuses committed by the Church of Scientology throughout its history. As with any film that speaks truth to power, "Going Clear" has received considerable backlash from Scientology and its followers. While he was originally reluctant to make such a controversial film, Gibney’s interest in how belief for a cause can lead to corruption spurred him to action.
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"Going Clear" is a film about power on different levels. On the surface, it examines the ways in which the Church of Scientology abuses its power by taking advantage of true believers. Yet the film never claims that the leaders of the Church of Scientology are cynics or con men necessarily; their own belief and self-deception are essential to their actions. At the same time, Gibney uses the power of documentary film to counter the Church of Scientology’s influence. The litany of claims against the Church along with on-camera testimonies from former members is enough to push anyone towards activism.
Given the Church of Scientology’s reputation for harassing its critics both in and out of court rooms, Gibney initially turned down the idea of this film. However, once journalist Lawrence Wright published his book on the history of Scientology, Gibney believed he had the necessary background research to tackle such a controversial subject. While making the film, Gibney took precautions to protect the people interviewed, as most of the former members feared the repercussions from the Church of Scientology. Of course, even after the film’s completion, the Church of Scientology published articles, advertisements and videos attacking everyone involved with the film.
An unexpected obstacle Gibney encountered was media outlets’ fear of the Church of Scientology. Documentary films rely on archival footage, yet news organizations declined to license anything related to the Church of Scientology for legal reasons. The filmmakers discovered a workaround to this dilemma by citing fair-use for documentaries. In fact, media companies often encouraged Gibney to take this approach. Still, Gibney, whose other films covered subjects like CIA torture in Afghanistan and the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal, had never dealt with this type of media anxiety on any other film.
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