Second honor in two days for Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Awards season is shaping up as a nightmare for the Church of Scientology.
Alex Gibney's Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief -- a devastating portrait of church founder L. Ron Hubbard and the practices of the religion -- earned an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award today, one of the most prestigious honors in the world of mass media.
Spellbinding... Sure to change the image of Scientology forever.
The duPont announcement came a day after Gibney's film was nominated for a Critics Choice Movie Award, presented by the Broadcast Film Critics Association.
The duPont committee hailed the film for "punctur[ing] the secrecy of the church of Scientology. The trip from the deluded fantasies of founder L. Ron Hubbard, detailed in film footage of his interviews and the recollections of his ex-wife, to an interview with a woman whose daughter was forced to 'disconnect' with her because she'd left the church, is spellbinding."
The praise didn't end there. The committee wrote, "The feature length documentary grounds the story in interviews with formerly high-placed members of the church and includes disturbing footage of antagonistic church representatives intimidating those who left. The filmmakers themselves were under duress from the church, during and after the film was made. The production is outstanding, beautifully shot and edited. A groundbreaking film that was widely seen, it is sure to change the image of Scientology forever."
As the duPont citation suggests, Gibney has come under attack from the church for his exposé. Scientology has taken out ads in the New York Times and on social media accusing him of peddling false information and for being anti-religion.
The church publication Freedom magazine slammed Gibney for "glorifying admitted liars expelled as long as three decades ago from the Church... the one-sided result is as dishonest as Gibney’s sources."
It continued, "The Church has documented evidence that those featured in Gibney’s 'Going Clear' film regurgitating their stale, discredited allegations are admitted perjurers, admitted liars and professional anti-Scientologists whose living depends on making false claims and statements."
[Editor's note: it's interesting the Freedom magazine piece chose to omit the subtitle of Gibney's film: 'Scientology and the Prison of Belief']
The church has also created a website devoted to attacking the Oscar-winning director, www.alexgibneypropaganda.com, which includes a more than 11-minute long video excoriating him and his film.
Similarly, the church has conduced a media campaign against Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright, whose book "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief," is the foundation for Gibney's film. Wright's works include "The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11" and Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David."
[Full disclosure: Gibney's movie contains an interview I booked for CNN in 2008 with Tommy Davis, former spokesman for the Church of Scientology (and son of actress and Scientologist Anne Archer) wherein he addressed. among other things, whether the church forces members to "disconnect" from anyone not in the good graces of Scientology (be it a spouse, parent, friend, etc). Wright's book and Gibney's film say "disconnection" is indeed church policy. To see what Tommy Davis had to say, watch the YouTube video below].
The Church of Scientology's displeasure notwithstanding, Gibney's film has earned wide praise, winning an Emmy Award in September. It recently made the Oscar shortlist of 15 films still in the running for the Academy Award for Best Documentary.
The Motion Picture Academy seal of approval is notable, given that Going Clear paints a deeply unflattering picture of two Oscar-nominated actors: Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
It strongly suggests Travolta is guilty of moral failings for not speaking out against the church, of which he has been a member for decades. And the film details Cruise's close relationship with church leader David Miscavige, and suggests he has accepted lavish gifts from the church -- like tricked out cars and motorcycles -- that were customized through the use of what amounts to slave labor performed by church "Sea Org" members.
Going Clear delves deeply into Cruise's relationship with former wife Nicole Kidman, accusing church leaders of deliberating sabotaging their marriage because they didn't like the Australian actress, who never fully signed on to Scientology.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief will next air on HBO Thursday night. It is also available on HBO on Demand.
The duPont-Columbia University Awards will be presented in New York on Tuesday, January 19. The ceremony will be co-hosted by former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.