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Scientology movie 'Going Clear' creates buzz at Sundance Film Festival

Although Scientology’s spiritual headquarters are based in Clearwater, the film focused on the Los Angeles branch.
Although Scientology’s spiritual headquarters are based in Clearwater, the film focused on the Los Angeles branch.
Published Jan. 27, 2015

A hot ticket at the snowy Sundance Film Festival this week is a scathing documentary about Scientology from an Academy Award-winning director.

Alex Gibney's Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, based on Lawrence Wright's 2013 book, reportedly earned a standing ovation at its Sunday premiere. Gibney won an Oscar in 2008 for Taxi to the Dark Side, exposing torture tactics at Guantanamo Bay.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief is co-produced and will be telecast by HBO beginning in March, with no date confirmed.

Much of the material in Wright's book has been reported for decades by Tampa Bay Times journalists, earning a Pulitzer Prize in 1980. The Church of Scientology's spiritual headquarters are located in Clearwater although Gibney's movie focuses on the church's Los Angeles headquarters, and connection to Hollywood stars like John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Kirstie Alley.

According to news reports from Sundance in Park City, Utah, Going Clear traces Scientology's origins under the leadership of science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, and an abusive culture alleged by former members who broke away.

Hollywood Reporter reviewer Leslie Felferin wrote of Going Clear: "This impeccably assembled and argued film represents a brave, timely intervention into debates around the organization that have been simmering for some time."

Variety film critic Scott Foundas, a Plant High School graduate and former Times movie critic, called Going Clear "a great film about the dangers of blind faith."

As expected, the church isn't pleased with Gibney's documentary.

An unattributed statement published at Scientology's website FreedomMag.org said in part: "The Church has documented evidence that those featured in Gibney's film regurgitating their stale, discredited allegations are admitted perjurers, admitted liars and professional anti-Scientologists whose living depends on the filing of false claims."

Sunday's premiere at Sundance reportedly attracted numerous celebrities including actors Alec Baldwin and Tobey Maguire, comedian Jason Sudeikis and New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.

Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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