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Controversial Scientology doc to premiere Jan. 25 at Sundance

Based on Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright’s rigorously researched tome “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief,” documentarian Alex Gibney’s film of the same name is set to premiere Sunday, Jan. 25 at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. HBO has U.S. broadcast rights and will air it starting March 16.

Alex Gibney, via pbs.org

Alex Gibney, via pbs.org

Gibney’s most recent project, “The Armstrong Lie,” took on Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal, which exploded as Gibney was in the process of shooting a much more heroic portrait of the champion cyclist and cancer survivor. He has also tackled the Enron mess, pedophilia in the Catholic Church, and he won an Oscar for 2007’s “Taxi to the Dark Side,” about torture and the war on terror. Wright, a longtime staff writer at the New Yorker magazine, won his Pulitzer for the 2006 book “The Looming Tower,” and has been lauded most recently for his intimate account of the 1978 Camp David Peace Accords “Thirteen Days in September.”

In a newly published and lengthy Hollywood Reporter story about Gibney’s doc, by Kim Masters, Wright and Gibney talk about the challenges and potential perils of going up against the historically litigious Church of Scientology, which counts many celebrities (including, most famously, John Travolta and Tom Cruise) as members.

Lawrence Wright, via lawrencewright.com

Lawrence Wright, via lawrencewright.com

“Those involved with the film are wondering what, if anything, Scientology might do in response, whether via lawyers or protestors at the Park City premiere,” writes Masters, who also appears in the film as a talking head. “In years past, the church was known for extreme litigiousness and hardball tactics. ‘Their reputation precedes them,’ Gibney says. ‘They scare everybody.'”

Earlier this month the church ran a pricey full-page ad in the New York Times questioning Gibney’s film’s accuracy and casting aspersions on his and Wright’s sources.

As Masters describes it, “Going Clear” includes interviews with “several fallen-away high-level church officials.” In addition, it “paints a damning portrait of the involvement of Scientology’s highest-profile members, Cruise and John Travolta, which continues despite numerous allegations against the church that claim forced labor and other abuse under [church head David] Miscavige’s leadership. At one point, Wright ponders what might curb Miscavige’s power. The IRS could strip Scientology of its nonprofit status, he muses, or “some of these celebrity megaphones could turn against the church. And Tom Cruise should be leading that chorus.”

The whole story is at hollywoodreporter.com.