“Armstrong Lie” director Alex Gibney dropped his latest bomb on Sundance in January with “Going Clear,” a documentary exposé of the Church of Scientology that dragged him through the gauntlet to get made.
HBO, no stranger to scandal-making with its ever-broadening documentary slate, commissioned Gibney’s adaptation of Lawrence Wright’s “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief” just after the nonfiction book was published in January 2013. The book analyzes the history of L. Ron Hubbard, and of Tom Cruise and John Travolta’s various, and wildly public, relationships, among others. Wright gained notoriety in 2011 when he profiled screenwriter/director Paul Haggis—who broke from the Church in 2009 in the wake of its startling pronouncements about Prop 8—in The New Yorker.
Anticipating legal and religious retaliation, HBO President Sheila Nevins has said that some 160 lawyers looked at the film, which premieres on HBO March 16. The Church of Scientology recently ran a full-page lampoon of Gibney in The New York Times after he and Nevins “refused” to meet with church executives.
Per a new THR interview with Gibney, here’s what you can expect to see.
1. A damning portrait of the Church’s highest-profile members Tom Cruise and John Travolta, who’ve stayed involved despite allegations of forced labor and power abuse under church head David Miscavige.
2. We’ll see vintage footage of Scientology’s elusive founder L. Ron Hubbard, including rarely-seen sequences from inside Scientology’s heretofore hush-hush meetings. Apparently, these include Cruise as well.
3. Extensive interviews with lapsed Scientologists and former church members including Paul Haggis, Miscavige’s lieutenant Marty Rathbun and a one-time-only in-person interview with Spanky Taylor, Travolta’s handler who fell out of the church’s good graces and was held captive by its officials. The book details how the church seized Taylor’s infant daughter and crammed her into a tiny apartment with wall-to-wall cribs alongside 30 children.
4. Insider scenes showing the rabble-rousing oratory of Miscavige, whose official title is “Chairman of the Board of Religious Technology Center.” He has been steering the church for over a decade and was a direct disciple of Hubbard.
5. And finally, according to THR, “there is also material that was not in the book and is being kept secret until the premiere.”
“Going Clear” will have an awards-qualifying run in NY and LA before premiering on HBO, and premiering on Vimeo later in the year.