Alex Gibney Strikes Again

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief premieres

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, the new film by documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, the Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side, The Armstrong Lie) premieres tonight on HBO. By all reports, the Church of Scientology is not happy about this moment in the spotlight.

The ridiculously prolific Gibney was at SXSW a couple weeks ago for the world premiere of his latest documentary Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine. Only a matter of days before the festival started, Gibney was the guest of The Texas Tribune and the Austin Film Society at a Paramount Theatre screening of Going Clear. He was joined onstage by Pulitzer Prize-winner Lawrence Wright, author of the book on which the film is based. Tribune Editor Evan Smith conducted a Q&A with the men after the screening, which was introduced by the AFS Artistic Director Richard Linklater. A surprise special guest, Marty Rathbun, the highest-ranking Scientologist to have ever defected, joined Gibney and Wright onstage during the Q&A.

Although the film breaks very little new ground in terms of disclosures about Church practices (especially for readers of Wright’s book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief), Gibney’s film stuns with its footage of Scientology gatherings and its close examination of the Church’s leadership. Rathbun, who was the Church’s chief attack dog, left the Church in 2004, and his involvement in the film is crucial to its exposé. Similarly damning is the testimony of Paul Haggis, an apostate whose revealing commentary about Church activities is part of the spine of Wright’s book.

Rathbun was a key player in earning Scientology its tax-exempt religious status, as well as in keeping high-profile member Tom Cruise in line by videotaping the actor’s personal auditing sessions and attempting to engineer his romantic liaisons. Both Rathbun and Wright have been hounded mercilessly as a matter of church policy. Curiously, however, the notoriously litigious church, has only condemned the HBO movie with verbal attacks, which may be an indicator that the Church is not feeling as indomitable as it once did.

”The church likes to tout the advantages of the First Amendment in terms of its religious freedom, but documentary filmmakers have advantages thanks to the First Amendment also,” Gibney reminded the audience. That freedom of speech will be exercised tonight when HBO airs Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief at 7pm CST.

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Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Alex Gibney, Lawrence Wright, Marty Rathbun, HBO, Scientology, Paul Haggis, Evan Smith, Texas Tribune, Austin Film Society

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