An Alex Gibney project is perhaps the closest thing documentary has to a sure thing. Having previously tackled Wikileaks, the Enron scandal, clerical sex abuse and American army torture policy, the Oscar-winning filmmaker turned his attention to the Church of Scientology in his latest effort.
Content Television, which owns a 50% stake in Gibney’s Jigsaw Productions, has international sales rights to Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, a doc based on a book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright. “Whatever Alex does is always high-profile and critically well-received,” says Content Television and Digital’s executive VP, acquisitions, development and sales Jonathan Ford.
The doc looks into the controversial Church of Scientology, which counts various Hollywood figures as followers but is subject to widespread criticism over its attitude towards critics and former members.
Gibney interviews eight former high-ranking members, including director Paul Haggis, to deliver the doc’s most devastating charges, while also charting the rise in the Church’s popularity in recent decades.
“The fact that this profiles eight former members with those unique experiences shines a light on how the church cultivates its believers, and asks what they are willing to do in the name of religion,” says Ford.
HBO in the US financed the project, which interestingly also has Sky Atlantic in the UK attached as a production partner.
“HBO has long been into creating high-end documentaries for the US in the same way PBS and Showtime does, but it’s great to see Sky entering into this space in the UK,” says Ford. “It means there is more access for high-end attention-grabbing documentaries.”
Demand has been strong, with Content receiving several offers for the doc following a premiere screening at the Sundance Film Festival and subsequent shows in Berlin.
“We’re seeing interest from pay and public broadcasters around the world,” says Ford. “We have received proposals, and this means we have the opportunity to look at different options and how we can window it to give it the most exposure and to increase revenue.”
The show: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
The producers: Jigsaw Productions, HBO Documentary Films
The distributor: Content Television
The broadcasters: HBO (US), Sky Atlantic (UK)
The concept: Prolific filmmaker Alex Gibney’s explosive take on the Church of Scientology