Former Scientologists – including Academy Award-winner Paul Haggis – share their experiences during their times as members of the controversial church

By People Staff
Updated January 26, 2015 05:25 PM
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Credit: Courtesy Going Clear

Hearing chatter around the water cooler about “that Scientology documentary”?

That’s because HBO aired Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief Sunday night, reawakening the interest that the film garnered at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

Here are five things you should know about the controversial film:

1. It’s Based on a Book by Pulitzer Prize Winner Lawrence Wright.
Wright – who is also known for his other exposés including the award-winning The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 – interviewed roughly 200 current and former Scientologists for his 2013 book, which has the same title as the film and began as a 2011 New Yorker article. The Church of Scientology has called the book based on “the usual collection of obsessive, disgruntled former Church members” who “have a documented history of making up lies about the Church for money.”

2. The Film Features Interviews with Some Familiar Famous Faces.
Oscar-winning writer/director Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby), and actor Jason Beghe (Chicago, P.D., Californication) are just two of the eight former Scientologists interviewed on camera for the film.

“[I was told], ‘If you give them all your money, they’ll make anything possible,” Haggis says in the film of first hearing about the Church.

3. The Religion’s Current A-List Members Are Discussed.
The documentary delves into Tom Cruise and John Travolta‘s involvement in the Church of Scientology.

In the film, former members claim Church leader David Miscavige called for a plan to “facilitate the break-up” of Cruise and Nicole Kidman because she had caused him to “drift” from Miscavige and the Church.

In a file-footage interview used in the film, Travolta is shown stating he believes Scientology can help provide “a world without war, without insanity.”

4. Former Scientologists Want the FBI to Investigate

Those involved say they hope the movie will make an impact. “I would love it if the FBI, after seeing this film, goes, ‘You know what? We need to start doing something more energetic.’ And The Department of Justice in Washington D.C. says, ‘Yes, lets proceed,’ ” former Scientologist Mike Rinder said during a Q&A following the premiere of the film Sunday. “[But] will we figure out how to put an end to this? Do I think that’s going to happen? Not very likely.”

5. The Church of Scientology Has Already Issued a Statement Blasting the Film.
The film included a disclaimer stating that Cruise, Kidman, Travolta and the Church declined to be interviewed. But in response to the film’s debut at the Sundance Film Festival, the Church released this statement to PEOPLE:

“As we stated in our New York Times ad on Jan. 16, Alex Gibney’s film is Rolling Stone/University of Virginia redux. Despite repeated requests over three months, Mr. Gibney and HBO refused to provide the Church with any of the allegations in the film so it could respond. They also refused to speak with any of the 25 Church representatives, former spouses and children of their sources who flew to New York to meet and provide them with firsthand knowledge regarding assertions made in Mr. Wright s book and presumably in Mr. Gibney’s film. Their sources are the usual collection of obsessive, disgruntled former Church members kicked out as long as 30 years ago for malfeasance, who have a documented history of making up lies about the Church for money. The Church is committed to free speech. However, free speech is not a free pass to broadcast or publish false information. We invite you to view our complete statement, correspondence and documented facts at freedommag.org/hbo.