According to a report on The Hollywood Reporter yesterday, Academy Award-winning documentarian Alex Gibney is on the verge of completing a Scientology documentary for HBO based on Lawrence Wright’s book “Going Clear.”
Gibney brought the book to HBO last year, not long after its publication in January 2013. Wright’s “Going Clear” is a continuation of his investigation into the Church of Scientology, which began with a profile he wrote and published in The New Yorker back in 2011 on Academy Award-winning director and former Scientologist Paul Haggis.
Per the THR report, HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins says that the network has consulted with approximately 160 lawyers on the project, as it anticipates fierce pushback from the church upon the film’s release, which is slated for sometime next year.
On the surface, Nevins’ comment is reassuring — an investment in a vast pool of legal resources demonstrates the network’s unwavering commitment to the film, even in the face of inevitable opposition. At the same time, however, the steep financial requirement of such an investment illustrates a troubling precedent: that institutional debates are frequently, if not always, tied up with financial privilege.
But privilege is hardly a new topic for Gibney, who has addressed the topic in nearly every film to date — including such notable titles as “Casino Jack and the United States of Money,” “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” “Park Avenue: Money, Power & the American Dream” and “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,” in which he examines the various ways Wall Street and Washington intersect.
Gibney even takes privilege to task in his sports and culture films like “The Armstrong Lie” and “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks,” in which he interrogates the cult of personality built around Lance Armstrong and Julian Assange, respectively.
Of course, as a filmmaker whose work is being supported by HBO, Gibney benefits from the same power dynamics. But perhaps that puts him in an ideal state to critique them.