My first experience of Scientology was as a very young teenager at one of their seminars aimed at recruiting new members. I was impressed and remember trying to convince my parents during the break that we should go on all these other seminars. We didn’t go back after the break.
We had been invited by a family friend who I believe had recently joined Scientology and was trying to recruit us – in Louis’ documentary there’s a mention of a 10% cut for any member who recruits new members. Whether we left because my parents were concerned about me becoming indoctrinated, or because they had been conned into the event and thought it was just a gathering, or whatever other reason I don’t know. I do know that my mum later went to a meeting about the church where church members overly took down license plates of those in attendance and – when I asked about that family friend some months later – that he was no l longer allowed to see us.
We had a bunch of Scientology and anti-Scientology literature [predominantly books of people who managed to escape] in the house which I read over time. The former was confusing and didn’t appeal to me, whereas the latter horrified me. Former members talked of harassment and intimidation tactics denied by the sect – yet it is exactly the kind of stuff that’s shown time and time again in documentaries such as John Sweeney’s and Louis Theroux’s.
Growing up my family boycotted films starring known Scientology members, such as Tom Cruise or John Travolta, to not further the church through cinema tickets or increased viewing figures on TV. I didn’t see Mission Impossible or The Firm until many years later for example.
So all in all I’m not a complete newcomer to Scientology and as such this documentary, while sobering, wasn’t groundbreaking for me. I’d seen the intimidation tactics before and the documentary didn’t have much new information for me. However, thanks to Louis picking this up, it reaches a whole new audience of people who may have been unfamiliar with the subject matter before. By releasing the film in the cinema it may have again reached people who wouldn’t have otherwise. All of this is a distinct positive.
I never learned even a snippet about Scientology at school and only became exposed to it due to my parents’ interest in it. There needs to be more education around it and Louis’ documentary should be a part of that alongside more traditional documentaries.