The film is based on the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Lawrence Wright's book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, which was published in January 2013 and was a National Book Award finalist. HBO announced in December 2014 that Alex Gibney, an Oscar-winning director who made Taxi to the Dark Side and The Armstrong Lie, was directing a film based on the book, to be released at the 2015 Sundance Festival. It was the first time that HBO had tackled Scientology directly, though not the first time it had clashed with the church, which had mounted demonstrations outside HBO's headquarters after a 1998 documentary presented anti-depressant drugs – fiercely opposed by Scientology – in a positive light.
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Gibney began working on the film in 2013 after becoming intrigued by Wright's book. He collaborated with Wright, who came on board as a producer, to explore the book's underlying theme of "how people become prisoners of faith in various ways". He saw Scientology as one of the toughest subjects he has had to tackle in his career as a documentarian, alongside government complicity in torture, corporate financial malfeasance, and clerical sexual abuse.
Fear of Scientology's litigiousness meant that no American network was willing to license any material to the film makers, which Gibney found "astounding". He commented that he "found it interesting that universally this subject — more than any other — provoked all the networks to decline to license. I think at the end of the day, that tells you more about Scientology than it does about the networks, which is how ruthless they've been in trying to silence any criticism." The church's reputation for harassing its critics made it necessary for Gibney to use burner phones to contact interviewees and film in secret: "Sometimes for the on-camera interviews we'd set up gear in somebody's house and I'd make sure I'd be there hours before. Then the person would show up there so it was like they were just going to somebody’s house."
Explaining why he chose to make a film about Scientology, he told Reuters that he considered it to be "an important topic. Not only about this church of Scientology, which everybody's fascinated with partially because of the celebrities, but partially because of the way that the church seems to turn people to do things that I think they would normally never do if had they not entered the church." Gibney, Wright and the former Scientologists who appeared in the film told a post-screening question-and-answer session that they hoped that it would raise public awareness about the alleged abuses committed by the Church of Scientology and would prompt the media and law enforcement agencies to investigate further.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief HD 2015 Documentary
Lawrence Wright - Going Clear: Scientology Book file size: 3.7 MB
(free pdf-file download)
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