Two Pinellas County multiplexes have dropped plans to show an Emmy-winning documentary critical of the Church of Scientology.
Those decisions effectively distance Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief from Clearwater where the church's spiritual headquarters is located.
Cobb Countryside 12 in Clearwater and AMC Woodlands 20 in Oldsmar had each agreed to schedule Alex Gibney's examination of alleged abuses within Scientology.
Their change of plans led to AMC Veterans 24 in Tampa picking up the Oct. 2 engagement. Later on Monday, a likewise opening at Muvico Palm Harbor 10 was announced.
What led to the original bookings being dropped is disputed. Going Clear director Alex Gibney believes the church pressured theater chains to back off. Scientology calls that charge ridiculous. A Cobb Theaters executive calls it business as usual.
"I find it shocking," said Gibney in a telephone interview with the Tampa Bay Times. "Yet, it seems to be consistent with what we know about how far the church will go to keep members from hearing anything negative about the church."
Gibney said it would be "very important" for his movie to be shown in Clearwater. He was told the movie was possibly removed due to threats from the church. Similar threats have been reported by anonymous sources in the Hollywood Reporter.
A statement from Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw called accusations of church interference "just another of Gibney's publicity stunts to go along with all of the other phony 'threats' he has manufactured to get attention. It is pure fiction just like his film."
A recent advertisement on Countryside 12's website announced Going Clear opening Oct. 2. The ad has since been removed, but the Times obtained a screen grab with the ad included.
Cobb Theaters COO Jeremy Welman said Monday that was a "coming soon" ad for any number of Cobb theaters. Going Clear, he said, was never officially booked at Countryside 12.
"(The booking) was something we were considering doing as a rental, but we chose not to do it," Welman said, citing obligations to studios and Cobb's policy of not exhibiting movies that debuted on other entertainment platforms.
"In the case of (Going Clear), it had played on HBO and was also available online through streaming or video on demand," Welman said.
While not singling out Scientology, Welman said hot-button films like Going Clear often invite complaints.
"Like many films, especially ones that could potentially be controversial, we get a lot of email from both sides," he said.
"We have people tell us we must play this film, and we have people tell us how dare you play this film? We play films based on what we think is the right thing to do."
Going Clear won three Creative Arts Emmy Awards on Sept. 12 and is front-runner for a best documentary Academy Award. A limited theatrical release begins Friday in 10 major cities. Gibney won an Oscar in 2008 for the torture practices expose Taxi to the Dark Side.
Gibney called it "highly ironic" that theaters turning down Going Clear are showing Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, starring Tom Cruise, Scientology's prized celebrity member.
"When it comes to a choice between money and human rights," he said, "money always wins."
Contact Steve Persall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.