The First Clip From Louis Theroux’s Scientology Film Is Tense As Hell

"Louis, you need to leave."

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Louis Theroux has been trying to make a documentary about the Church of Scientology for more than a decade. Following on from work he’s done with other maligned groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church, Theroux claims he’s always wanted to “bring a sense of nuance and perspective to people’s understanding [of the church]”. “I hoped to see it from the inside and make a human connection with its clerics and congregants,” he’s said. But, despite his determination and proven skill in doing just that, those requests have been consistently knocked back. 

This is what led him to make My Scientology Movie. Currently doing the rounds on the international festival circuit, the film follows his attempts at gaining a real understanding of the organisation from the outside. He speaks to former members of the group, recreates their bizarre accounts (inspired by Joshua Oppenheimer’s work in The Act of Killing), and slings relentless questions at any official representatives he can get close enough to annoy. Now he’s released the first clip from the film.

This exclusive scene given to Entertainment Weekly ahead of the film’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival features a very tense encounter with a couple of members of Scientology’s Sea Organisation. They seem none too happy to see him outside the group’s base in California. Also, they appear to be filming him in return.

Giving some context to this, Theroux told EW of the continued difficulty he had in making the film. “I came to believe I was being tailed by private investigators, someone in Clearwater, Florida [Scientology’s spiritual mecca] attempted to hack my emails, we were filmed covertly, I also had the police called on me more than once, not to mention a blizzard of legal letters from Scientology lawyers,” he said.

It’s a familiar story — Alex Gibney raised similar concerns around his investigations in last year’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. When Junkee published an interview with Gibney discussing those topics raised in that film, we received our own letters from the church as well. However, describing themselves as “an organisation that values dialogue”, their main request was that they receive fair response — essentially what Theroux is propositioning.

Louis maintains he was always interested in showing more than these mysterious defences. “At every step, I remained open to Scientology’s good points and tried to see it for what it is: a system of belief that is not so different from other religions, capable of enlarging the soul as well as crushing the spirit.”

Fingers crossed we get to see whether that comes across in the film sometime soon. Though it doesn’t yet have an Australian release date, the full program for the Sydney Film Festival is dropping on May 11. Just saying.

You can read more about Theroux’s experience making My Scientology Movie here, or buy tickets to his upcoming Australian talks here.