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5/19-28: Docaviv International Documentary Film Festival to show My Scientology Movie


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Tel Aviv, May 19-28: Docaviv International Documentary Film Festival to show My Scientology Movie.

Indiewire: The 2016 Docaviv International Documentary Film Festival: New World Disorder


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The 2016 Docaviv International Documentary Film Festival: New World Disorder

By Sydney Levine | Sydneys Buzz

May 11, 2016 at 6:00PM

The festival will take place May 19-28 in Tel Aviv. Over the course of the festival, 110 films will be screened.

As the main topic of this year’s festival, Docaviv will feature a select group of thought-provoking films about a world that is changing with the collapse of physical and social boundaries, growing economic disparities, the waves of refugees and immigrants, civil wars, international terrorism, and the ultimate undoing of social solidarity.


The Panorama selection of films will include amongst others the moving Strike a Pose, by Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan about the dancers who accompanied Madonna on her “Blond Ambition” tour, Roger Ross Williams ‘Life, Animated depicting the remarkable story of an autistic boy, who learned how to communicate with his surroundings through Disney films, Those Who Jump about an African refugee who films attempts by other refugees to jump the barbed wire border fence in North Africa and Louis Theroux: My Scientology Film.

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A camera standoff with Scientology

A camera standoff with Scientology.

The article was previously behind a pay-wall. It is now accessible to all, at least for now.

Haaretz: A camera standoff with Scientology


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In an interview held in New York to mark the Israeli premiere of “My Scientology Movie” on Friday at the annual Docaviv Festival, which opened on Thursday night in Tel Aviv and is on through May 28, Theroux makes frequent use of a technique that he has raised to the level of an art form. Gazing at me empathetically and inquisitively, he starts to answer a question and then pauses and asks, “But what do you think about that?” It’s a highly effective tactic, so much so that it’s easy to forget that I’m here to interview him and not to tell him about childhood traumas or analyze political developments in the Middle East.

On the “Louis Theroux spectrum” between Israeli settlers and white supremacists, where would you position Scientology?

“On my weirdometer?” Theroux laughs. “There is no formalized scientific scale for measuring outlandishness or weirdness. I need to develop one. I don’t even think it’s a spectrum, or even from naught to a hundred – more like a color map. What’s fascinating about Scientology is not so much that many of the beliefs are so outlandish, although they are. It’s the way that it is contextualized in Hollywood with Tom Cruise and branded in a sort of corporate setting and corporate style. I remember someone saying to me, ‘What’s the big fascination with Scientology?’ Members of other cults, like Heaven’s Gate, for example, all killed themselves; there was a UFO cult in the 1990s; Zen monks beat one another as part of their discipline. So in many ways other religions or cults are far more extreme. But what you don’t understand is that this is an American religion that is styled almost like a navy, that uses a McDonald’s-type business model to sell a science fiction writer’s works. In other words, it’s touching about 10 contradictory cultural nodes at the same time: capitalism, fame, the Hollywood star system, to give but a few examples.”

You are famous for gaining access to some of the world’s most notorious communities, but in this case all your interview requests were denied. As a result, “My Scientology Movie” is a documentary about the inability to make a documentary. Why did you decide to go ahead, knowing you would never be able to interview Scientology leader David Miscavige and his people?

“I definitely did not want it to feel like an ‘in search of’ documentary. It was a leap of faith, but I thought there was a good chance that the church would come and start investigating us. I did have encounters with Scientologists. They weren’t formal interviews, they were more like bizarre roadside encounters. I felt like that’s different, it feels real and fresh.”

The brilliant idea by Theroux and director John Dower – to let the Scientologists pursue them instead of the other way around – proved a highly successful gamble. No sooner did Theroux tweet that he wanted to interview Scientologists, than threats of lawsuits were launched at him. But that was only the beginning.

One of the most powerful and disturbing scenes in “My Scientology Movie” shows unplanned meetings between Theroux and Scientology devotees who were sent to keep him under surveillance and make their own documentary about him. The project quickly becomes a nutty and funny cat-and-mouse game between Theroux and intimidating men equipped with cameras, or an anonymous woman who screams at him in the middle of the night that he is trespassing by driving on a private road, even though it’s obviously a California freeway that is not owned by Scientology. Theroux goes on to film the nameless cameramen who are documenting him, and a bizarre dance develops between them: Theroux takes out his smartphone and sashays forward, as the cameraman (who refuses to identify himself or say whom he’s working for) takes a step back. “Swan Lake” meets “Big Brother” on an L.A. expressway.


According to “My Scientology Movie,” the secret of the religion’s attraction lies in the leader’s psychological and performative dimension. All the world’s a stage, and there is less difference between Miscavige and Tom Cruise than is generally thought. Accordingly, Theroux’s film focuses on Scientology’s manipulative training methods, which are actually not significantly different from the methods used in some acting schools. The new believers are asked to relate childhood memories and to talk about repressed anger and moments that frightened or shaped them.


In addition to the regime of psychological horrors, Scientology makes systematic use of famous actors to draw new believers to the church. The founder himself, L. Ron Hubbard, launched “Project Celebrity” in the 1950s, offering prizes for members who recruited famous people. Similar initiatives were successful in the decades that followed. Over the years, celebs such as Cruise, Juliette Lewis, Elizabeth Moss, Priscilla Presley and others have acknowledged that they are believers.

“Miscavige and Tom Cruise share some disturbing similarities,” Theroux says. “I think Miscavige is a charismatic speaker, and he’s also powerful. The way he projects himself in those speeches is as someone people can get behind – someone whom Tom Cruise himself has often emulated. I heard he based his role in ‘A Few Good Men’ on a Miscavige impersonation. If you look at Cruise’s interviews, you can very easily see those influences in the degree of confrontation with whoever he is speaking to. They both communicate very directly, with very forward energy, confident. I think those are the values that they valorize as a church.”

What will happen after he dies?

“David Miscavige? Well, first of all, he probably isn’t going to die.”

Okay, sorry, when the visceral vehicle in which his soul resides will no longer be of service to him?

“I don’t know. I would suspect the church will fall apart without him, what’s left of it. But it’s very hard to speculate, since they were able to build an impressive global infrastructure that could be sustained even without Miscavige.”

How do you think Scientologists who see the film will react?

“I think it depends on their degree of commitment. One of the things we try to be clear about is there are people in the Sea Org [referring to the church’s most dedicated members] who are absolutely, totally committed – they’re diehard Scientologists – and then there are people who are just public parishioners. People, I suppose, like [film director and screenwriter] Paul Haggis was in his time.”
And Cruise?

“Tom Cruise is a little different because he’s deeper in and is so close with Miscavige. He’s almost quasi-Sea Org. I think there are guys on the periphery who would think the film is pretty fair-handed and reasonable. But I think that Sea Org members – who won’t be allowed [by church leaders] to see the film – would regard it as not very nice.”

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Little David

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From the same article:

.......... For example, when you ask him (Marty Rathbun) whether he had an active part in the many instances of mental and physical abuse he now condemns, and he angrily snaps at you.


Louis Theroux:

“To be honest with you, I still do not know how I feel about that in terms of whether I was right to ask that question. I think you can see that right after I ask it, my reaction is that I sort of wish that I hadn’t asked it. He says, ‘You’re a fucking asshole, that’s a fact, go fuck yourself,’ and I say ‘Alright, I consider myself fucked, now what do we do? How do we move on?’ So it was a tricky moment, but that question has to be asked. In the other Scientology films, we have to take everything these guys say as gospel, but hang on – you were in there for 20, 25 years.”