My Scientology Movie – LFF Review

My Scientology Movie

Louis Theroux has a distinct style as a documentarian. He is the man who has access, who spends a great deal of time with his subjects and needles out insights and humour from their endless interactions. In making his first feature documentary Theroux has chosen a subject that forces him to change his strategy. You can say a lot of things about Scientology but nobody would ever call them accessible or open to being interviewed.

With no current member of the Church of Scientology to interview Theroux takes a large amount of inspiration from The Act of Killing and makes a different kind of documentary. Someone Theroux does have access to is Marty Rathbun; a defector from the Scientology who used to be one of the most powerful members of the Church. In between the types of conversations we have come to expect from a Louis Theroux documentary they settle into a Los Angeles studio, set up casting calls for the Church’s leader David Miscavige and celebrity Scientologist Tom Cruise and Theroux gets Rathbun to direct re-enactments of his history with the church. The focus is not on the arguably outlandish claims of Scientology but on the training techniques they use and on claims of violent abuse made against Miscavige. Before too long Theroux does not need to go to the Scientologists as the Scientologists come to him in retaliation.

My Scientology Movie

The switch in style helps demarcate this film from Theroux’s huge body of television work. There has been a deliberate choice to make something cinematic and as such the approach is that which could not be achieved on a television budget. The resulting film is funny and insightful but not as in-depth as other Scientology documentaries and not quite as personal or funny as traditional Theroux output. The lack of access to the Church means that we have to go without endless scenes of Theroux asking awkward questions of Scientologists and potentially getting a reaction no one else can get. We do get glimpses of what fun this might have been as he is confronted by a prominent Scientologist whilst filming on a public road near their studios but sadly this makes up the minority of the film when normally it would have been the film’s core.

It is these moments of confrontation and antagonisation that have brought Theroux a legion of loyal fans. We get to see him being perfectly reasonable and yet incredibly cheeky in the face of the unreasonable and the deluded. When Louis comes up against an immovable object he is precisely the right irresistible force than manages to goad them into dropping their facade and revealing any unpleasantness that might lie beneath.

I suppose my only complaint with My Scientology Movie is actually a big compliment. I just wanted more. I wanted more insight into the machinations of the church and I wanted more Louis Theroux. Granted Theroux was never going to make an in-depth historical documentary but I wish he had been able to gain access to more members to ask uncomfortable questions of. While the film was running I was laughing away and feeling deeply uncomfortable at the right moments but when it was finished I was disappointed. I didn’t want it to end as I hadn’t yet had my fill. I loved the film enough to resent it for having ended.

Louis Theroux remains a master of his craft and I cannot wait to see how his feature documentary career develops. Whatever gets me more Theroux makes me happy. This is not the definitive Scientology documentary but it is most definitely Louis Theroux’s and it is a fascinating and enjoyable ride.

BFI London Film Festival 2015 Line-up

BFI LFF 2015

Yesterday saw the reveal of not just the sexy new logo for the BFI London Film Festival 2015 but the full line-up of films. Which is more important I will leave up to you. The festival takes place in various London venues from 7th to 18th October 2015 with booking for members opening on 10th September and for the general public from the 17th. The full list of films can be found at the BFI website while below I have chosen one film from each strand of the festival. The films below constitute my gut reaction as to which films are the most exciting.

LOVE

In the Room
In the Room
Spread across many decades but set within one hotel room this film promises to explore love and lust through numerous encounters in just the one room. What better way to explore love than by examining what happens behind closed doors between couples?

Debate

My Scientology Movie
My Scientology Movie
Louis Theroux turns his sceptical gaze towards the church of Scientology in a film that has caused sufficient debate to cause the church to film their own opposing documentary about Theroux. Come for the film and stay for the likely protesting Scientologists.

Dare

The Lobster
The Lobster
Yorgos Lanthimos has impressed with his previous efforts Dogtooth and Alps so arrives at his third feature with great expectations. Set in a world in which singletons are given just less than two months to find love this romantic thriller caused a big stir at Cannes and is high on my watch list.

Laugh

Live from New York!
Live from New York!
Standing out for me in the comic strand of the festival is this documentary on the history of Saturday Night Live. As a fan of the show I relish the opportunity to get behind the scenes and see how the show that launched a thousand careers is made.

Thrill

The Ones Below
The Ones Below
The best thrillers can turn the mundane into the exhilarating and what is more mundane but intriguing than new neighbours moving in downstairs? So it is for a wealthy couple who invite their new neighbours around for dinner only to experience a tragic accident.

Cult

Elstree 1976
Elstree 1976
With Star Wars fever reaching a new peak there is no better time to enjoy a documentary featuring ten anonymous individuals who appeared as extras in those early George Lucas films. More a character study than behind the scenes exposé this looks to be a sweet documentary.

Sonic

Ruined Heart
Ruined Heart: Another Love Story Between a Criminal and a Whore
I can’t resist a lengthy title and a confusing synopsis so how can I not be drawn towards a film described as a “kaleidoscope of sex, violence and crime” with a “banging soundtrack at its core”. The idea of someone at the BFI using the term “banging” is charming enough on its own.

Journey

Youth
Youth
I’ve heard very mixed reactions towards this film coming out of other film festivals but any film giving older actors a chance to be centre stage again is OK in my book. With Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel in the lead roles Youth threatens to be a lot of fun.

Family

When Marnie Was There
When Marnie Was There
As part of their family friendly selection of films the BFI have included what may well be the final film from Studio Ghibli. How can you not watch it? This is history in the making.

Experimenta

The Stuff of Film
The Stuff of Film
I have had a mixed response to this challenging strand of the festival in the past. My previous coverage of the artistic shorts has previously resulted in angry emails and notes of thanks from artists; both from the same blog post. This collection of shorts which examine how we see the moving image promise to be as frustrating and fabulous as usual.