When director Penny Lane began filming “Hail Satan?,” she knew the title (and subject matter, frankly) would confuse some people. But the film is not about devil worshippers — it’s about the political origins of the nontheistic religious group The Satanic Temple, and the activists in its membership who are trying to point out hypocrisy in American politics.
The group staged its first rally in 2013 in support of a bill signed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott that allows students to read self-chosen inspirational messages at school events without input from school administration. The group made national news yet again when it petitioned for a Baphomet statue to be erected at the Arkansas State Capitol near a statue of the Ten Commandments — again highlighting the lack of separation of church and state.
“The Baphomet campaign crystallized the movement in a way that was really kind of like, ‘we’re on track, this is who we are, this is what we’re doing,'” Lane said following a New York screening of the film as part of the International Documentary Association’s annual screening series. “A lot of people heard about them through that, and a lot of new members came to be interested, and that was around the time that my producer Gabriel sent me an article about the Satanic Temple and said this might be an interesting film project. So that’s where we started.” Watch the video of Lane’s interview with Managing Editor Christian Blauvelt here:
The film’s structure came together easily thanks to the fact that those actions made for a compelling first act of the documentary, and the fact that the media-savvy group was already filming the events themselves.
“That’s a lot to have before you even pick up a camera. So I felt pretty confident that we’d find the rest of the story in shooting,” she said.
Satan is essentially a scapegoat for evil, and by dismantling that image, Lane said, the Satanic Temple members are showing how that image has been used for evil by some of the people who are purportedly against it.
“All terrible events in history can be blamed on this one figure. And there’s one population of people who supposedly worship that figure who are the worst people that have ever been, and for as long as we’ve allowed that figure to remain unchallenged as the ultimate symbol of evil, we’ve had a weapon that we can use to oppress people and engage in genocide against them if we want to. You know what I mean? We just have this really convenient weapon sitting around and I thought that the Satanic Temple and Satanists more broadly — of course, not all Satanists are in the Satanic Temple — were doing really important work to destroy that weapon and take it away from us. The politics and the trying to get America to be the country that it says it is is an obvious level at which they’re doing their work. But there’s this other layer that I think is actually more important.”
While the film has angered religious groups who aren’t fully aware of the Satanic Temple’s origins and goals, Lane welcomes that confusion — and in fact it’s one of the most unexpected outcomes of the film.
“Satan sells tickets. It’s okay if they think they’re walking into a film about devil worshippers. We’re going to give them something way more interesting,” she said. “I’m okay with that double-edged thing. This movie’s confused a lot of people in a really cool way, I think. And it’s really inspiring, isn’t it? … I wasn’t expecting to make this, like, inspiring, patriotic movie about Satanism. But that is the movie that I made. And I’m so proud of it. I just didn’t see that coming.”
The IDA Documentary Screening Series brings some of the year’s most acclaimed documentary films to the IDA community and members of industry guilds and organizations. Films selected for the Series receive exclusive access to an audience of tastemakers and doc lovers during the important Awards campaigning season from September through November. For more information about the series, and a complete schedule, visit IDA.