Cults hold a deep fascination for us here at The Thread. What is it that drives somebody to give his/her life over to one of these groups and follow their Guru blindly to whatever fate he assigns them?
The word “cult” once had a more benign meaning. It was given its modern American twist by sociologist Howard Becker in 1932. Paradoxically, cults proliferated in the 1960s and 1970s—in an era of rebellion and reform, some people reacted by seeking the solace of absolute submission to the will of a charismatic leader.
Brainwashing is a literal translation of a Chinese term – the cult indoctrinates members using techniques designed to eradicate their sense of identity, replacing their own personalities and characteristics with those dictated by the group’s guru.
This week’s Holy Hell is the latest in a long line of documentaries that explore what happens inside these groups.
Directed by Will Allen, a film school graduate who in 1985 became a member of The Buddhafield, a Los Angeles area spiritual group. Also acting as the group’s official videographer, he began to document their activities which centered on the mysterious leader they called Michel, or The Teacher.
Over time, the group’s dark side began to surface as total devotion edged to paranoia. Eventually unexpected truths about their enlightened leader were revealed—all in front of Allen’s camera.
The result is an incredible 22-year archive of video footage which became the basis for HOLY HELL. After finally leaving the group, Allen turns the camera on himself and asks fellow ex-cult members to come to terms with their past and the unbelievable deceit they experienced.
Stanley Nelson’s terrifying documentary about the enigmatic cult leader Jim Jones. The documentary tells the story of the people who followed Jim Jones from Indiana to California and finally to the remote jungles of Guyana, South America in a misbegotten quest to build an ideal society.
On Nov. 18, 1978, more than 900 members of Peoples Temple died in the largest mass suicide in history – spawning the ironic pop culture catchphrase “drinking the Kool-Aid”. The film attempts to unravel the mystery of why so many people would blindly follow Jones’ lead.
The doc features interviews with former members, Jonestown survivors, and people who knew Jones throughout his life. The film does a superlative job of telling the Peoples Temple’s fascinating story in an engaging, and incredibly frightening, way.
Ben Anthony directs this documentary about the cult Lord of Our Righteous Church, also known as Strong City, whose members operate in New Mexico. Their leader Wayne Bent (aka Michael Travesser) claims that God appeared in his living room in June 2000 and told him, “You are the Messiah.” OK, we get that – but what is surprising is that he found a group of people who actually believe him!
The film focuses on Bent’s announcement that the Day of Judgment would begin on October 31, 2007 and explores the origins of the cult and their specific beliefs. Needless to say the Day of Judgment passes without incident.
Bent has since been convicted of one count of criminal sexual contact of a minor and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, but his conviction was overturned in 2011. The NM attorney general is appealing the decision.
Directed by Alex Gibney, based on the book by Lawrence Wright, Going Clear profiles eight former members of the Church of Scientology–whose prominent adherents include A-list Hollywood celebrities–shining a light on how the church cultivates true believers, detailing their experiences and what they are willing to do in the name of religion.
One of the most talked about films at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, this powerful documentary highlights the Church’s origins, from its roots in the mind of founder L. Ron Hubbard to its rise in popularity in Hollywood and beyond. Going Clear is a provocative tale of ego, exploitation, and lust for power.
Directed by Jodi Wille and Maria Demopoulo. Set in 1972 Los Angeles—during a time of social upheaval, radical fervor, and the rise of new religions across the country.
The Source Family considered themselves an “Aquarian tribe,” a secretive but eccentric group of 140 beautiful people, devotees of Father Yod: a restaurateur-turned-spiritual leader who had 14 wives, drove a Rolls Royce and led his own rock band. The Family were local legends. By day, they operated the Source restaurant, which served organic cuisine to John Lennon, Warren Beatty and many prominent Hollywood figures.
Behind closed doors in their Hollywood Hills mansion, the Family would convene and meditate under the guidance of Father Yod. He initiated sons and daughters into a variety of extreme practices, which began to garner adverse attention from local authorities.
The Family fled to Hawaii in 1974. Then on August 25, 1975, despite having no previous hang-gliding experience, Father Yod lept off a 1,300-foot cliff on the eastern shore of Oahu and crash-landed on the beach. Even though he suffered no visible injuries, he was unable to move and died nine hours later.
Amy Berg directs this chilling documentary about Warren Jeffs, Prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints.
When he took control of the church it was already rife with polygamous and underage marriages. But Jeffs managed to expand those practices and the power of his position in unprecedented ways. He further muddied the murky distinction between sister wife and ecclesiastical rape, and ended up discarding the sect’s wobbly moral compass for a pure cult of personality.
The film examines Jeffs’ life and shows how he became the worshipped and adored Prophet.
Despite a trail of abuse and ruined lives, Warren has maintained his grip on power. Mr. Jeffs is said to be running the FLDS from his jail cell: as many as 10,000 members continue to follow his teachings. For a while he occupied a place on the FBI’s most-wanted list between Osama bin Laden and James “Whitey” Bulger. But capturing the criminal hasn’t put an end to the crime.