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Scientology Documentary Premieres to Standing Ovation at Sundance, Church Fires Back

The HBO documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief debuted to a standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on Sunday.

The film, directed by Academy Award-winning documentarian Alex Gibney, depicts the Church of Scientology’s relationship with Hollywood celebrities and the methods by which the church uses Hollywood and its notable figures to further its agenda.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the premiere was attended by a number of celebrities and power players, including actors Tobey Maguire, Jason Sudeikis, Alec Baldwin, and New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. The film initially received a partial standing ovation, but the whole room reportedly stood up when the film’s subjects appeared at the front of the theater after the screening.

One of those who appeared after the screening was Spanky Taylor, John Travolta’s former contact at the church. According to THR, Taylor literally escaped the church in the late 1970’s, fleeing from a compound after she was forcibly kept apart from her newborn daughter. Taylor brought her now-adult daughter to the premiere, where they were received with loud applause.

“I had no idea what a charlatan he had been his entire life,” Taylor reportedly said of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. “We were taught to believe he had all the answers. You are wholly indoctrinated.”

The Daily Mail reports that the film makes a number of pointed allegations about the church, including that the church actively conspired to break up adherent Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s marriage. The couple split in 2001.

Marty Rathbun, the church’s former second-in-command after top official David Miscavige, reportedly said in the film that Miscavige believed Kidman was a “Potential Trouble Source” because Kidman’s father is a psychologist in Australia.

The church recently denounced HBO and Gibney, claiming information presented in the film is false and that the filmmakers never reached out to the church for sufficient comment. On January 16, Scientology ran a full-page advertisement in the New York Times, likening the documentary to the now-discredited Rolling Stone/University of Virginia rape story.

In a separate statement sent to the Hollywood Reporter, the church wrote:

As we stated in our New York Times ad on January 16, Alex Gibney’s film is Rolling Stone/University of Virginia redux. Despite repeated requests over three months, Mr. Gibney and HBO refused to provide the Church with any of the allegations in the film so it could respond. They also refused to speak with any of the 25 Church representatives, former spouses and children of their sources who flew to New York to meet and provide them with firsthand knowledge regarding assertions made in Mr. Wright’s book and presumably in Mr. Gibney’s film. Their sources are the usual collection of obsessive, disgruntled former Church members kicked out as long as 30 years ago for malfeasance, who have a documented history of making up lies about the Church for money. The Church is committed to free speech. However, free speech is not a free pass to broadcast or publish false information.

The church also reportedly created a Twitter account to respond to the film. Called Freedom Media Ethics, the account describes itself as “taking a resolute stand against the broadcasting and publishing of false information.” The account has posted two tweets thus far, both of which seem to be responses to the criticism of the church related to the film.

HBO anticipated strong pushback on the film long before it premiered; in November, the pay cabler reportedly hired more than 100 lawyers to preemptively ward off lawsuits from the notoriously litigious church.

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