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 Documentary at Sundance: Holy Hell - about a personality guru cult

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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Documentary at Sundance: Holy Hell - about a personality guru cult   Fri Jan 22, 2016 9:57 am

How the Sundance Film Festival helped 'Holy Hell' filmmaker find his way back from a cult



Will Allen is the producer-director of "Holy Hell," a documentary debuting at Sundance about a cult in West Hollywood in the 1970s. Allen is a former member of the cult.
 (Michael Baker / For The Times)


Kenneth Turan [email=kenneth.turan@latimes.com?subject=Regarding:%20%22How%20the%20Sundance%20Film%20Festival%20helped%20%27Holy%20Hell%27%20filmmaker%20find%20his%20way%20back%20from%20a%20cult%22]Contact Reporter[/email]

The interview is over, the goodbyes have been said, but then Will Allen realizes he has one more thing he wants to say.
"Do you know what Joseph Campbell wrote about the hero's journey?" he asks. "It's the return that's the hardest part, reintegrating into the world, but it's so important. The hero adds value by telling what he found, and that's the value I have right now, with this story, this film."


Don't misunderstand. It's not that filmmaker Allen, an innately modest man further conditioned by years of doing service to others, necessarily thinks of himself in the heroic mold. It's just that the sense of mission that has sustained him through the four years it's taken to make "Holy Hell" is strong. And no wonder.


Because "Holy Hell" is told largely via extensive footage Allen shot at the time, the film has the uncanny effect of showing us what a cult looks like from the inside, how appealing it can be to those seeking enlightenment, and with after-the-fact interviews how bitter the aftermath can feel if things fall apart.Debuting Monday as part of Sundance's U.S. Documentary Competition, "Holy Hell" is Allen's first-person story of the 22 years he spent in a West Hollywood cult led by a charismatic "teacher" and promising enlightenment, an experience that started out euphoric and ended up divisive and sexually exploitative.


"I was with my teacher from 1985 to 2007, half my life, from age 22 to 44," says Allen, now 53. "I had to unlearn things when I entered it; we were told we had to reprogram bad ideas, and when I left, I had to unlearn everything I'd learned there."


Alone among the more than 100 features described in the Sundance catalog, "Holy Hell" does not have a director or screenwriter listed. With Allen's teacher still active but in another state and with the film's producers feeling what Allen calls "concern about some people in the group," secrecy was deemed the wisest policy.



A scene from "Holy Hell."  (Sundance Institute)

Allen describes himself as "confused and burnt out" when he got out of film school in 1985. "I came back home to Newport Beach, I thought maybe I didn't want to make movies, I wanted to find myself, figure out who I was. I've always been fascinated by the philosophical, by spiritual concepts and questions like 'Who are we? Why are we here?'


"Then my mother found out I was gay and kicked me out of the house. At that point, my sister invited to me to join a meditation group she'd been going to for nine months and was excited to introduce me to."


That group, which eventually grew to more than 100 members and took the name Buddhafield, was led by a man named Michel whose palpable charisma, even in the Speedo swimsuits he favored, is visible in the footage Allen shot at the time. The film does not accuse the cult leader of any crime, and he is never confronted by members during the movie.


"The teacher talked so elegantly, he was smart, funny, irreverent," the director recalls. "He made us feel we were OK as we were, and he offered the promise of enlightenment."


Very visible on film, and a lure for Allen as well, was the warm community the devotees formed. But once Allen, at the teacher's command, was made part of the group's inner circle, things began to look different.


"It was an emotionally tumultuous situation. The more I got around him, there was no pleasing this person," the filmmaker remembers. "There were no boundaries. He acted as our therapist as well as our guru. We were supposed to tell him everything." Eventually, Allen says, the teacher manipulated him into a sexual relationship as well, "a confusing thing which came with a lot of angst."

The group left West Hollywood for Austin, Texas, in 1992, and things started to fall apart. "Gradually, everyone was finding out things, sexual manipulations, controlling relationships, saying he was healing people when he wasn't. It was like an office where everyone starts to talk about what the boss has been doing; all these details started coming out."


People began leaving, and Allen did as well.


After all those years in the group, Allen was faced with the question of "what to do I do with my life?"


"It wasn't like I was going to be a manicurist," he said. "I was very unresolved, I wasn't at peace. It was like I had PTSD."


A trip to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where he saw movies like Ira Sachs' "Keep the Lights On," provided the answer. "It energized me. I saw a community of people who are artists, whose films were so honest, and I felt, 'These are my people.' I was so thankful to see someone take their own life and put it up on-screen."


Allen had periodically edited down what he had shot, but when he decided to leave the group, he said he didn't get out with all of his footage. "But at the time, I didn't care," he added. "I never thought I'd look at this again. I felt I had to move on."


Once Allen sat down to begin making "Holy Hell," he had some 35 hours of edited footage to work with as well as interviews with more than a dozen other disaffected ex-cult members.


"I never wanted to make a negative film where you wanted to take a shower. I felt I was the closest person to him, and I could tell a fair story," Allen says of his motivation.


"People ask me, 'Do you regret it?' and I think that's such an unfair question. Would you regret a marriage that failed though you have children? The experience was not all about him, it was about the community. I didn't recognize that until I made the film."


Twitter: @KennethTuran
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PostSubject: Re: Documentary at Sundance: Holy Hell - about a personality guru cult   Tue Jan 26, 2016 9:59 am

Holy Hell: chilling Sundance doc reveals the truth about life in a cult
Will Allen's 20-years-in-the-making exposé of a Californian cult and its mysterious leader has left Sundance audiences - including former cult members - in tears

Gregory Ellwood
26 January 2016 - from Sundance

Imagine spending over 20 years of your life following a seemingly benevolent spiritual leader and then discovering that almost everything you knew about this person was a lie. That’s the premise of the fascinating and chilling new documentary Holy Hell, which premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival on Monday afternoon - a screening where you could hear the movie’s subjects shedding tears as the happiest and saddest moments of their lives flashed before them.

In 1985, Will Allen became a member of The Buddha Field, a Los Angeles area spiritual group that most would have considered a cult even then. In fact, the members openly joked about it. A recent film school graduate, Allen began to chronicle the group’s activities that centered on their leader, a mysterious individual they called The Teacher, or Michel. This incredible archive of video footage became the basis for Allen’s film.

The guru, a charismatic and flamboyant South American native who spent most of his time in a Speedos and Ray-Bans, promised to show his followers the enlightenment his master had shown him. He created an environment of love and acceptance and would perform a euphoric physical act on them that he referred to as Shakti; members said it would shake them like an intense LSD trip. Of course, this man - who eventually changed his name to Andreas - wasn't quite what he seemed.

Rhadia Gleiss was one former Buddha Tribe member who took part in the post-screening Q&A. Even after the shocking revelations in the film, her remarks stunned those in attendance.

"There were three people, including my best friend, who was asked to have me killed,” Gleiss says. “And when I came out I lost everything. I lost my house. I went bankrupt. I lost 150 of my closest friends and family. They demonised me and left me alone and deserted.”

She didn’t abandon them, however: “I can forgive every single person who was involved,” she said. “Including the people who are still there because I get it."

In 2007, members of the cult finally learned the secrets that many of their brothers and sisters had kept quiet for decades. There were revelations about Andreas’s personal life – that he was at one time a gay porn star and failed movie actor – but that paled in comparison to his real misdeeds. A registered hypnotherapist, Andreas had forced younger male members – including straight ones – to have sex with him for years on end. He insisted that female members have abortions. He had members spend thousands of dollars on plastic surgery on themselves. (The film doesn't accuse Michel of any crimes, and nor does it confront him.)

When it all began to fall apart Michel's attempt to defend himself failed spectacularly. Or did it? That’s Holy Hell’s most astonishing revelation and is arguably better served within the context of the film itself.

Allen, who spent most of his life assisting Andreas day and night, let his former Buddha Tribe family members take a majority of the questions from the audience. Frankly, nothing could have been more appropriate. What was most apparent about these survivors was that years after their utopia came crashing down many of them still relished and miss the love the community provided them before its darkest days.

After watching Holy Hell you’ll either find this thought disturbing, or strangely comforting.
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PostSubject: Re: Documentary at Sundance: Holy Hell - about a personality guru cult   Sat Jan 30, 2016 11:58 am

a podcast with the filmmakers of Holy Hell, the issues around living in a personality cult, abuse of power, and what happens when people leave, etc.  


http://radiowest.kuer.org/post/sundance-2016-holy-hell
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PostSubject: Re: Documentary at Sundance: Holy Hell - about a personality guru cult   Fri Mar 18, 2016 10:59 am

Holy Hell will premiere in some theaters around the U.S. beginning late May.  Not clear how wide the distribution will be, but often indie films like this are only booked in a handful of bigger cities.  I will post a link to their website and release schedule. when it's up.

CNN has bought the film and will broadcast it later in the year... likely Fall... so that's free - and they usually air it a bunch of times over a few months....and sometimes they have a panel discussion program afterwards with the filmmakers, experts on cults, etc.

I haven't seen it and have no idea how insightful it is.
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PostSubject: Holy Hell opened in a few theaters and will be on CNN later this year   Mon Jun 06, 2016 10:49 am

HOW TO ESCAPE FROM A CULT IN THE 21ST CENTURY


The new documentary Holy Hell offers an unprecedented view of 20 years inside the Buddhafield religious group. We talked with apostates from Buddhafield to find out why they’re still grateful for a “cult” experience.

By Michael Agresta


Andreas — now Reyji — the charismatic leader of the Buddhafield group (Photo: WRA Productions)


Toward the end of Will Allen’s new autobiographical documentary Holy Hell, Danielle Lefemine, his friend and longtime associate in the controversial Buddhafield religious group, reflects on the 20-odd years of history related by the film and characterizes her experience in stark terms. “I was brainwashed,” Lefemine tells the camera. “I was in a cult.”


Over the course of its first hour, Holy Hell — released last Friday in New York and Los Angeles — has pointedly avoided these charged words. Rather than an exercise in casting judgment, Allen has built his film around unprecedented access to the inner workings of a secretive religious community: As the Buddhafield’s unofficial videographer for more than two decades, Allen documented the group’s evolution from an idyllic experiment in communal living and meditation practice in 1980s Santa Monica to a paranoid gang of guru-worshipping disciples in 1990s Austin. When the group’s charismatic leader, then known as Andreas, was caught in a sexual abuse scandal in the mid-2000s, many longtime members, including Allen and Lefemine, exited the group. Only in the film’s final chapter, describing their decision to leave the Buddhafield, do they use words like “cult” and “brainwash.”


Quote :
From the beginning, Holy Hell presents the Buddhafield as spiritually ambitious, tolerant, and sexually open; one apostate refers to it wistfully as “the booty field.” Everyone in the group, it’s also worth noting, is extremely attractive.


It’s common for apostates to toss around such terms when discussing their past affiliations, but most sociologists now agree that “cult” represents a potentially dangerous designation. Contemporary debate over the term dates at least to the 1970s, with the rise of Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. On one side were self-appointed experts from the so-called anti-cult movement, who warned parents and young people about the dangers of spiritual leaders who bewitched impressionable followers into brainwashed servitude. On the other side were more careful academics who viewed the cult panic as dangerous both to the lives of adherents and to the constitutional tradition of free exercise of religion.


These tensions reached their zenith after the Federal Bureau of Investigation siege and massacre at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993. Many scholarly observers blamed the tragedy on anti-cult activists, who had propagated the widespread vilification and dehumanization of Branch Davidians, and some of whom were advising the FBI. “After the Branch Davidian fiasco, people realized that the ‘cult’ label objectified groups in a way that made violence more possible,” says Diane Winston, the Knight Center Chair in Media & Religion at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, who studies the way religions are discussed in the public sphere.


To a large extent, the religious freedom-oriented academics won the late-20th-century battle of ideas over the “cult” label. Today, the preferred term is NRM, or new religious movement. Anti-NRM vigilante groups like Cult Awareness Network no longer threaten to kidnap adherents and forcibly “deprogram” them in hotel rooms and other extrajudicial locales, as they did from the late ’70s to the mid-’90s. For a while, even some journalists got the memo. “Groups that are controversial still get referred to as cults, but good journalists shy away from it now,” says David Bromley, a professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University and perhaps the country’s foremost expert on how people exit NRMs.


Journalists haven’t exactly been shying away from the term in their coverage of Holy Hell, however. The film has been called an “exposé of a Californian cult” and “a textbook case of how a cult operates.” Perhaps the first widely disseminated apostate documentary to include extensive, behind-closed-doors footage from within a secretive religious group, Allen’s film is reviving a long-dormant public conversation about NRMs and manipulative psychological techniques. Along with that conversation comes a new interrogation of words like “cult” and “brainwash,” words ready to be re-discovered and re-litigated by a new generation.


Allen and the other Buddhafield apostates who appear in Holy Hell take a varied approach, appropriating “cult” while eschewing the demonization and objectification of NRM members that typically go along with it. “I like the term ‘cult’ simply because it’s so irreverent,” Allen said by phone from Los Angeles. “We never would have used it. It makes us laugh at ourselves. But I think the word has to be re-defined.” He and his friends have little charitable to say about the anti-cult movement, which threatened their lives and liberty in the early ’90s, but they’re serious about wanting to broaden popular understanding and empathy for what goes on inside an NRM, even a fringy, dishonestly led, abusive one like the Buddhafield. As a result, Holy Hell is a document of fascinating contradictions. It’s an old-school anti-cult exposé crossed with an open-minded, 21st-century effort to destigmatize individual NRM members; it’s also a thoughtful re-invention of the cult-apostate narrative in the exhibitionist tradition of reality television. In the end, Holy Hell is perhaps the fullest, most human view we’ve ever had of life inside an NRM — and the ever-complicated business of getting out of one.




According to sociological consensus, people who leave NRMs typically join a group that opposes their former group — called an “oppositional coalition” — and develop a narrative that suits both their new ties and individual needs. In the first essay of a 1998 collection of sociological studies about NRMs calledThe Politics of Religious Apostasy, Bromley calls this storytelling the “captivity narrative.” In Bromley’s foundational account, NRM leave-takers emphasize that they “were innocently or naively operating in what they had every reason to believe was a normal, secure social site.” Apostates will often claim they were “subjected to overpowering subversive techniques,” e.g. brainwashing, and endured subjugation and humiliation until they ultimately escaped or were rescued. Leave-takers will vigorously resist any “ambivalence” or “residual attraction” toward their NRM once they’ve departed the group — those expressions could be seen as evidence of untrustworthiness, according to Bromley — and conclude by issuing a public warning about the dangers of membership. It’s a straightforward script.


This after-school-special version of NRM membership will be familiar to anyone who came of age before the turn of the millennium. The 1981 fiction film Ticket to Heaven, about a young schoolteacher who attends a training camp for an NRM and becomes brainwashed, is a classic of this genre: The happy ending comes only when he is kidnapped by anti-cult types and deprogrammed. But research doesn’t support the Pied Piper-like captivity narrative popularized in the 1980s and ’90s. “At that point in time, many people believed that, if someone entered into a cult-like group, if they were deprived of sleep and the food they received was monotonous and bland, if they were sexually tempted and argued and bullied into obedience, that their minds would snap and they’d become brainwashed cult members, glassy-eyed, easily led,” Winston says. “Since then, people who study human behavior have come to the conclusion that brainwashing is not that simple.”


Holy Hell doesn’t begin like a typical captivity narrative. In Allen’s rendering, Buddhafield members join the group without coercion, of their own free will. Later in the film, each apostate interviewed offers extenuating reasons for why they stayed in the group too long, several laying the blame on Andreas’ psychological manipulation or groupthink inertia; nevertheless, all agree that they entered the group of because they found it socially and spiritually fulfilling.


“Any group or organization that tries to control your process of thinking, through any kind of guilt, coercion, or shame, may be a cult. If you think in those terms, the Catholic Church may be our biggest. But what about the NFL?”


“The hardest part of the film to make was the first part, to acknowledge that we were in this and we loved this, and to make him look good,” Allen says. From the beginning, Holy Hell presents the Buddhafield as spiritually ambitious, tolerant, and sexually open; one apostate refers to it wistfully as “the booty field.” Everyone in the group, it’s also worth noting, is extremely attractive — a recruitment philosophy that Allen attributes to Andreas’ genius for cultivating “social proof” — the notion that appearing happy, popular, and sexy confers legitimacy to an otherwise-controversial leader or group. “If he has a lot of beautiful people around him who support him, that keeps him safe,” Allen says. Another way Andreas protected himself was by frequently changing his name. In the group’s early days in Los Angeles, he went by Michel; recently, re-settled in Honolulu, he has adopted the name Reyji, or “god-king.”


Allen doesn’t like the term “brainwash,” in part because he believes it delegitimizes the hard work of daily meditation and ego suppression that he and other Buddhafield apostates still look back on with pride. “We thought of it as a cleansing of our brain,” Allen says. “We thought we were seeing things in a different way, that it was healthy. And it is healthy — for a semester, in a controlled environment, with a qualified teacher, with checks and balances. We weren’t doing that.”


The group followed an ad hoc program of spiritual exercises designed by Andreas to help adherents experience direct communion with the divine. Initially, much of it was borrowed from the teachings of Maharaji, an Indian guru who developed a large American following, known as “premies,” in the 1970s, while other Buddhafield ego-shedding exercises came from theater training. Holy Hell holds onto a sense of group spiritual achievement even through the film’s darker passages. Ex-Buddhafield members seem more likely to look back on their spiritual work as an impressive achievement that nonetheless left them vulnerable to Andreas’ predations than to recall it as a scam and a fraud.


“We were like the Navy SEALs of spiritual discipline,” Radhia Gleis, a Buddhafield member who was with the group for over two decades, says over green curry when we meet one evening in May in a suburban Austin shopping mall.


In its second half, the film conforms better with Bromley’s archetypal captivity narrative. For instance, Holy Hell directly confronts the various ways in which members were humiliated. Apostates recall sexual dimensions to “karma cleansing” sessions, weekly one-on-one meetings between Andreas and his adherents, during which they were encouraged to drop all defenses and confess their deepest secrets. Recorded audio from these sessions suggests Andreas groomed straight men for sexual encounters, and multiple apostates testify on camera that Andreas manipulated them into unwanted sex. Those and other accusations recall Bromley’s description of “overpowering subversive techniques.” “The dude was a hypnotherapist,” Gleis says. “He had his talons in our psyche every week.”



A scene from Holy Hell, which documents life in a cult. (Photo: Sundance Institute)

But Holy Hell doesn’t dwell on members’ powerlessness, and when I speak with ex-Buddhafield members about the film’s more ominous moments, they tell me their aim wasn’t to disown their actions, but rather to call out Andreas’ bad-faith mentoring. Gleis feels deeply betrayed by Andreas, even though he never asked her for sexual favors. “The real abuse is in the cleansing. That’s the real intimacy,” she says. “That’s where you shared every dark deep secret. He didn’t use it against me much, but sometimes he would.” Though Gleis admits that Andreas’ spiritual counseling helped her through difficult periods in her life, she has come to the conclusion that he was delving into his adherents’ inner lives more to enrich, titillate, and protect himself than to serve others.


For her part, Gleis flatly refuses to say she was “brainwashed.” “I made decisions based on lies,” she says. “But everyone was different. People came in at different levels of maturity.”


The subjects of Holy Hell bring nuance to their “cult” stories. It’s worth noting, though, that some held official roles so high up in the organization that their “captivity” narratives deserve special scrutiny. Both Gleis and Allen occupied exalted positions in the Buddhafield hierarchy. Gleis describes herself as the group’s “consiglieri” — she was the one who managed the early-’90s legal threat from CAN that chased the Buddhafield out of California, and she purchased Andreas’ Austin home, which became the group’s headquarters for a decade. Allen was a key member of Andreas’ “entourage,” a mostly male coterie of self-described “beautiful ones” who were financially supported by the group and spent their days massaging the leader and accompanying him on Speedo-clad excursions to Austin-area beaches and swimming holes. Both Gleis and Allen admit to lying constantly — to their family members, to lower-ranking Buddhafield members, and to each other.


Gleis says that at least one other longtime Buddhafield member thinks Holy Hell goes too easy on the entourage, insulating high-ranking apostates from the sorts of criticisms levied at Andreas. Bromley’s scholarship would critique this as the tension between “apostate” and “traitor” roles: Leave-takers, of course, don’t want to be seen as turncoats or losers of power struggles; they want to be seen as victims. “You can’t have a leader without followers,” Gleis says. “I think we are all guilty of a lot of lies.”




Toward the end of the film, Allen tracks down his former guru in Hawaii, where elements of the Buddhafield community have re-settled post-scandal. When he asks Andreas, on hidden camera, whether he’s “being a good boy” to current members of the group, it becomes clear that the chance to expose the group, and to break it up, is a central reason why so many ex-Buddhafield members have risked public humiliation to put their faces and stories onscreen. Nevertheless, Allen says his primary artistic aim was not to raise alarm about Buddhafield.


“I would like to see a dismantling of the group and everyone waking up and being in their own power,” he says. “But I did not make this movie for 100 people. I spent 20 years living for 100 people. I couldn’t spend four more years for 100 people. I made this movie for everyone else.”


This is where Holy Hell departs definitively from the ’90s-era captivity narrative formula and creates a new model for the genre, one that can reach the mainstream. By “everyone else,” Allen means the widest possible film-viewing audience: people of all ages, races, sexualities, religions, etc., most of whom will likely encounter Holy Hell not as a polemic of anti-cult advocacy but as a character-driven story of hope and disillusionment, tragedy and triumph — and a bit of an amusing freak show.


Quote :
“What I often tell people is, I joined a cult to escape a cult. The cult I left was my family. I left my not-so-good programming for a programming I thought was better.”


While Allen did belong to an explicitly anti-Buddhafield coalition when he first took leave of the group several years ago — Gleis refers to a period of “innies” and “outies” arguing against each other — by the time he began editing footage, that alliance had faded as apostates began to move on with their lives. By then, Allen’s key organizational ties were to film-business players like the Sundance Institute, where he worked on Holy Hell as a fellow, and later Jared Leto, who became executive producer on the film.


It’s no dig at Allen to note that the resulting story includes a narrative arc that follows confessional 
conventions established by Oprah and reality television, and that the cathartic result is a people-pleaser. (Indeed, two ex-members mentioned rumors that Leto is pursuing plans to serialize the Buddhafield story.) Over the course of the film, apostates cast their stories as journeys of seeking and overcoming, stories that unfailingly culminate in personal growth. There are moments when viewers might envy the experience described by these apostates — by the end, membership in a controversial NRM begins to sound like a vital opportunity. The so-called “cult” experience, however abusive, comes off as a liberating net benefit.




I met former Buddhafield member David Christopher on a plane from Austin to Salt Lake City in January. He wore a Holy Hell baseball cap and passed out business cards to fellow passengers traveling to the Sundance Film Festival. Later, watching the Holy Hell premiere, I’d learn that he had given up a fledgling acting career to join the Buddhafield in the mid-’90s and was now hustling to break back into the business. (All the Buddhafield apostates I spoke to were to some extent involved in the entertainment industry.)

Months later, in a quiet South Austin café, I asked Christopher whether he would call the Buddhafield a cult. “I had to re-define what that word means for me,” he said. “I re-defined it in terms of: Any group or organization that tries to control your process of thinking, through any kind of guilt, coercion, or shame, may be a cult. If you think in those terms, the Catholic Church may be our biggest. But what about the NFL? What about your own family?”

“Your own family has a way of being, and you grow up in that programming, and there’s a language that you use, and a lot of times your parents have an idea of what you should be, and if you want to have an independent thought that goes against that, you might be guilted or shamed because you’re trying to go against the grain,” Christopher continued. “That is a cult. What I often tell people is, I joined a cult to escape a cult. The cult I left was my family. I left my not-so-good programming for a programming I thought was better. And it was better, much higher. But then I had to leave that programming only to find my own authenticity and my own voice, without anybody else’s conditioning. For me, that’s empowerment.”


Quote :
Most sociologists now agree that “cult” represents a potentially dangerous designation.

Allen, on the verge of his first big film release, and Gleis, who is trying to launch a naturopathic television network, echo similar sentiments. “The first five years, I learned love and selflessness and humility,” Allen says. “The next 15 years, I learned a lot of other things — the hard way. They were hard lessons to come by, but very valuable to me.”


Sociologists and veterans of the Waco tragedy may wince to see Holy Hellrehabilitating the word “cult” and returning it to the headlines. But, in Allen’s rendering, the term assumes a different and less dehumanizing meaning. When Lefemine says, at the end of Holy Hell, that she was in a “cult,” the emphasis is not on belittling the group or re-opening the possibility of ’90s-style anti-cult violence. Instead, she’s spinning a tale of self-discovery, relatable to anyone who’s had to make a break with an abusive family, a bad marriage, or a soul-crushing job. “I was in a cult,” in her phrasing, is not substantively different from, for example, “I married a [banned term].” The moral of the story is a warning, but a broad one, about just how bad any group can get if you stay too long and ignore the warning signs: The Buddhafield apostates went there so you don’t have to.


Gleis suggests that even Andreas/Reyji may be excited to see Holy Hell, even though the film treats him as a villain. His narcissism reflects one reason whyHoly Hell’s version of the cult apostate narrative feels so much a product of our media-saturated age. “Andreas always wanted to be a star in a movie,” Gleis says. “Well, you got your wish, dude. He’s up there on that cross where he always wanted to be.”
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PostSubject: Re: Documentary at Sundance: Holy Hell - about a personality guru cult   Mon Jun 06, 2016 11:00 am

[size=40]How to Survive a Cult and Release a Documentary[/size]

Rich Juzwiak - 5/26/16 12:25pm








From 1985 to 2007, Will Allen was part of the Buddhafield—an initially Los Angeles-based “spiritual community” led by one Jaime Gomez aka James Gomez aka Michel Rostand aka Andreas aka Reyji (aka Dirk, the name he used in the porn he shot for Falcon in the ‘70s). Mostly, though, he was referred to as “the Teacher.” The Teacher preached abstinence and transcendence through meditation and other spiritual exercises. His 100+ followers lived together and spent years blissed out on communal joy and engaged by the promise of a state of enlightenment the Teacher referred to as “the knowing.” One former Buddhafield member says that they used to joke that if this was a cult, “at least it was a good cult.”


It was, of course, until it wasn’t. Allen, who served as the group’s documentarian, has assembled vintage footage of the Buddhafield’s rituals with modern-day interviews in the new documentary Holy Hell. The film explains not just the devastating effects it had on many of its members’ lives, but also what was so attractive about it in the first place. Like any responsible drug movie, Holy Hell illustrates why said drug is worth doing—in this case, the cult members in question were high on meditation and each other.


Earlier this week, Allen told me that making Holy Hell via the footage he had shot over the course of two decades in the Buddhafield “brought purpose to it and it brought purpose to me.” Additionally, we discussed the concept of brainwashing, his personal relationship with the Teacher (the exact nature of it is not revealed until late in the movie—so spoiler alert), his continued contact with members of the Buddhafield, and what he’s heard from the Teacher (who’s currently leading another group in Hawaii, according to Allen) regarding his movie. Below is an edited and condensed transcript of our conversation.


Gawker: What do you think about someone who watches this and laughs?

Will Allen: I love them to laugh. I think we should laugh. Truth is funny, right? We had a great crowd in L.A., at the Cinefamily, and they laughed through the first half hour. They even laughed through some of the nervous parts, the sexual parts. And it’s OK. You need to be able to absorb this without being abused yourself. Some people can laugh at it. That’s OK. I can’t control that.

What has the process of reliving this (by making it), and then reliving it at Sundance, and now reliving it again upon its official release been like for you?

The films I made during that time period were just the good stuff—the beauty. When I watched the footage again after all this time, I can remember what I was thinking at the time. Then you go and edit it and you remember what you were thinking when you edit it, and then you remember what you were thinking when you show it. You have all these different triggers to help you recall what you were really feeling even if you weren’t talking about it. Even if you were compartmentalizing it or rationalizing it away, it’s all still there. So that was hard. Hearing my friends go through stuff, I had to listen to it every day, that’s hard.

Was it therapeutic?

Yeah... honestly, let’s hope it was. I don’t think I’m out of it yet completely. It’s still happening. There’s stuff happening in Hawaii, there’s stuff happening in Austin. It was 20 years of my life. But then I went back and exposed myself to Teacher again, all of it. That’s re-traumatizing, I think. Hopefully, now I’ll get some distance from it and it won’t be traumatic and I won’t have to relieve it.


“I don’t think I’m out of it yet completely.”

Your story is told mostly through other people. In the section of the movie about sexual abuse, your subjects describe it at length, whereas you only contribute a few sentences in voice over.


Originally I didn’t want to be in the movie. I always made movies of other people to reflect my experience. I’m not comfortable being on camera. Plus it’s a conflict of interest and [becomes] a “vanity project.” I didn’t want any of that, but as we worked through it, we knew my story was a tying story. I lived with him for 18 years, these other people didn’t. The way I looked at it was like we all have the same kind of arc—the Teacher, the group—and my arc happened earlier in the film. The first five years I considered my arc and then everything changed.


When it got to the sexual part, we got some feedback, like, “You need to be on camera for that. We need to see you.” I didn’t think I was that important in that realm. I think I captured my feelings through other people better. I’m more comfortable using images and sound to express myself.


I also interpreted that decision as a reflection of your participation in the group, since you were the official videographer.


I was a witness.


Were you actually partaking in the revelry?


Oh yeah. I would just pick my camera up every once in a while. Interestingly enough, all of the exercises you see us doing, I’d be like, “I don’t want to do this, I’ll get the camera.” I would just get the camera and hide behind it and film everyone. It was like, I’m living it through you, I’m doing it, I’m with you, but I’m also catching it and documenting it. Truth be told, we did not speak to each other about any of these things because they’re all so private between you and the Teacher. He had all of us under that spell and commitment because we all took vows.


I was reading the IMDb reviews...


Which are written by people who are [still following the Teacher]. They have like one username. And they know more about the subject matter than anyone who saw the movie.


...I did read this one that reflected a mindset that’s maybe indicative of the skepticism you may face when you talk about being an adult in a relationship with another adult against your will. I think you responding to it might be a good way of literalizing this issue: “As far as the guy that claims he was sexually forced, I have a hard time believing that story. For all those years? And don’t give me the ‘brainwashed’ excuse. That’s what people say when they don’t want to be held accountable for their actions.”


We want to be held accountable. We want to talk about it and tell you what we were thinking and why and try to get the bottom of how. Chris, who uses the word “coerced,” he has people come up all the time like, “How did this happen to you?” We don’t want to throw it all on brainwashing. There’s all these other elements that were involved in our community that made it possible. I almost didn’t want to use the word “brainwashing” [in the movie] because I think that’s a copout, too. One [subject] said it and I liked how she delivered it. It was hard for us to use the word “cult,” too. That seemed like a copout. She was like, “I was in a c-c-cult and I was br-br-brainwashed.” She says it like it’s hard for her even to admit it. I let her say it. But that’s not my easy out. Much more complicated.


If I were to tell my story, you’d see that I was in love with him. We all were. I was not attracted to him sexually, though. I got so deep into it. He was giving me so much. He was taking care of me. The group was taking care of me. My job was: “Of course.” My persona was yes. He just tricked me in so many different ways, and I hate to say “trick.” They make you feel special: “This is just between you and me.” He’s say, “My teacher did this with us.” You trust this person. It didn’t happen ‘till three and a half years into it and I already trusted him. He hadn’t done anything to hurt me yet, and I didn’t think he would. But I was also of the mentality at the time that he had given me so much and I wanted to give back.


When he told me, “This is gonna happen,” I remember going, “Why is he asking me to do this?” At least I was gay. Plus, he was having me be abstinent so it was like, “Wow, at least I get to have an orgasm once a week.” He told me not to have sex and then he was like, “Well, now I can help you. We can do it.” I didn’t say no. I couldn’t say no. I didn’t voice my own needs. The paradigm of the group was that you’re surrendering your preferences and going beyond yourself. Those who had stronger personalities and stronger boundaries, maybe these things didn’t happen to them. He knew he couldn’t get in there. I had no boundaries. I didn’t know boundaries until I got out of the group.

“We want to be held accountable.”

All of this is notable given that you were rejected by your mother for being gay, and then you found yourself in a situation where your sexuality was exploited.


When I got to the group, because there was such unconditional love energy amongst everybody and they didn’t care if you were gay or straight or anything, it was the first time that I felt like, “I’m not just a gay man. I’m not just defining myself by this confusing sexuality that I’m trying to own.” I was 22. I felt really accepted and loved. That wasn’t the Teacher, though. The Teacher was in charge of us all feeling that, he kind of taught us that, but it was each other. We just loved each other. No one cared. We were talking about bigger things and higher concepts. Sex was just a body function. It wasn’t so big.


Was there drug use involved at all?


No.


The exercises in the documentary are described as having a drug-like effect. Was it actually like taking LSD—I don’t know if you’ve ever done it?


Yeah, I’ve done LSD. I had done ecstasy because it had just come out [in the mid-‘80s].


And the feeling was like that?


Yes! One of the subjects in the film says, “It was addictive.” It was! Love is a drug. When I had done ecstasy before I came into the group, I tapped into this unconditional love. You love everyone—very touchy, very no boundaries, everything’s all warm and loving. When I got into the group, I think the first or second time I came to a meeting, the Teacher said, “Everything we’re looking for in drugs is within you. The drug is just a synthetic thing that’s opening a door that’s already there. That has no value because you become dependent on a drug. What has value is to find that, tap into that organically, and to have that access to it.” I was like, “Yes.”


So, he was right.


He was right. We would all start experiencing love—what I call “love,” I’m being general—my connection to it was ecstasy. You become intoxicated from a lot of meditation. There’s also power in groups meditating. The Teacher used to say it was like being near a tuning fork—you know when you put a vibrating tuning fork next to another one that one vibrates too? Because of the energy? We’d get together, we’d have these high experiences. And that was very satisfying.


Do you have any legal standing to sue the Teacher?


If I were to go after him legally now, which would be hard because you’d have to have people with him now to tell us this because of the statute of limitations—he’s calling [his services] “healings” now, “spontaneous healings,” which is [banned term]. We all know it. I’ve seen him lie about this. He believes that your love for him and your trust in him will suspend your disbelief enough to heal yourself. When I mentioned these spontaneous healings to [Prophet’s Prey author] Sam Brower, he told me they were illegal. Our government takes that very seriously because they try to protect everybody from snake oil-type people promising healing. People go to healers all the time and they don’t get healed. The government likes to think they can step in and protect people from that. That would be something we could get him for if we wanted to. But we’d have to prove it. I’ve been busy making a movie about it. I’m not against it. I’m actually getting angrier as I move forward. This has been a process for me to even get angry [chokes up]. Just because, you know, you don’t want to be a victim.

“I’m actually getting angrier as I move forward.”

What have you heard from him regarding the movie?


“This is all lies,” of course. I know that he’s stuck on Hawaii because he doesn’t have a passport. He can go anywhere in America but he can’t leave the country without renewing his passport. His passport’s running out, because we got it at the same time and mine is running out in two months. And then I heard from someone that’s with him that he can’t find his passport. That’s a good thing. I know that he’s biding his time, hoping this all goes away. He’s hiding. Everyone’s kind of dispersed. He hasn’t changed any of his routines. He’s still living the life with everyone taking care of him. I thought he would leave right away, but he’s a creature of habit.


You’re still in touch with the people you were in Buddafield with. You haven’t quite...


Broken away? We’re still together. It’s like Vietnam. People go to war and they have this bonding experience. You just had to be there. We can’t explain it. I had a partner for two years, and we talked about it for two hours a day. I still couldn’t get it all out. We’re not all connected, though. I might have 60 friends on Facebook from that period. I don’t talk to them. I think they’re all my family. If someone was sick, if something happened to one of them, I would go right away just because I have such a deep connection to them and I want to be there. But I don’t need to spend time with them. There’s maybe three or four or ten that are really close. Not all personalities got along or needed to get along.


There’s that phrase you guys used to say: “You need to drop your mind.” Do you feel like you’ve picked yours back up?


Yeah. I still drop it, of course, we all have to. I think making this film has helped me do that. It’s been a process. It wasn’t until the end of it, the last year when I started having support from people, because I was fumbling through the story. I was being honest, but I was editing myself—not wanting to say that or not knowing if I was right. I dropped those opinions so hard I wasn’t sure what I thought anymore. I had to reformulate that. I grew back into owning my thoughts and opinions.


Holy Hell is in select theaters Friday.
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Stan Giko

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PostSubject: Re: Documentary at Sundance: Holy Hell - about a personality guru cult   Mon Jun 06, 2016 11:38 am

Quote :
“You need to drop your mind.”

Jeez,  No wonder they lost it !
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PostSubject: Re: Documentary at Sundance: Holy Hell - about a personality guru cult   Fri Jun 17, 2016 8:22 pm

Yeah, the age old problem. Few have really talked about how to discern the true man from the false guru. One of my favourites is this written nearly 700 years ago by a Flemish Catholic mystic:
Jan Van Ruysbroek, The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, circa 1340 wrote:
CHAPTER XLIV
SHOWING HOW WE MAY RECOGNISE THOSE MEN WHO FAIL IN CHARITY TO ALL

THERE are some men who are very subtle in words, and skilful in showing forth high things, and yet do not enjoy this enlightened condition, neither this common and generous charity. In order that these men may learn to know themselves, and also may be known of others, I will distinguish them by three signs. By the first sign they may be known of them selves, and by the two others they may be recognised of all men of understanding.

The first sign : Whereas the enlightened man, by virtue of the Divine light, is simple and stable and free from curious considerations, these others are manifold and restless and full of subtle reasonings and reflections ; and they do not taste inward unity, nor the satisfaction which is without images. And by this they may know themselves.

The second sign : Whereas the enlightened man possesses a wisdom inpoured by God, wherein he knows and distinguishes the truth without effort, these men have shrewd and sudden notions, with which they work in their imagination, and which they display and develop with much cunning. But their ground is barren and they cannot bring forth fruitful doctrine. Their doctrines are manifold, they are concerned with outward things and addressed to the understanding. And thereby inward men are troubled, hindered, and led astray. They neither lead nor point to unity ; but they teach subtle observations in multiplicity. Such people hold obstinately to their own doctrine and opinion, even though another opinion be as good as their own. And they are idle and careless as regards all virtues. Spiritual pride is in all their being. This is the second sign.

The third sign : Whereas the enlightened and loving man flows forth in love towards all in heaven and on earth, as you have heard, this other man sets himself apart in all things. He thinks himself to be the wisest and the best of all ; and desires that others should think highly of him and his teaching. All those whom he does not teach and advise, all those who do not follow his way of life and do not cling to him as their master, these seem to him to be sunk in error. He is large and spacious in satisfying his bodily needs, and little faults do not count heavily with him. This man is neither just, nor humble, nor generous, nor a servant of the poor, nor inward, nor fervent, nor does he feel the love of God. He knows neither God, nor his own being, in the way of true virtue. This is the third sign.

Mark these, and study them, and cast them out of yourselves, and out of all men in whom you remark them ; but condemn no one for such things unless it be that they have proved it by their deeds, for this would soil your heart and would hinder it in the knowledge of Divine truth.
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PostSubject: Re: Documentary at Sundance: Holy Hell - about a personality guru cult   Sat Jun 18, 2016 11:40 am

@mstrathern
Good questions for anyone to periodically ask of themselves.
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Stan Giko

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PostSubject: Re: Documentary at Sundance: Holy Hell - about a personality guru cult   Sun Jun 19, 2016 7:57 am

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PostSubject: Re: Documentary at Sundance: Holy Hell - about a personality guru cult   Mon Jun 20, 2016 7:50 pm

@ Howard, Yes, yes how often we wander along and stopping find we have strayed far off the pathless path again. I'm glad you liked the Ruysbroek. He is a favourite of mine among the Christian mystics.

I've attached a longer excerpt from Ruysbroek. I love it but some may find it difficult to dig out the nuggets from the 14th century Christian clothing.

Ah, Stan! If only I had known earlier I would have saved myself a world of trouble!
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PostSubject: Re: Documentary at Sundance: Holy Hell - about a personality guru cult   Tue Jun 21, 2016 2:40 am

@ Mark,

Ha ha ...  I wish somebody had told me what on earth it actually was ! I havn`t heard of a definitive Buddhist description to this day.....

I hope  you`re of good health  these days Mark.   we`re clocking those miles up a bit now arn`t we ?

@ Howard,

Hey Howard, good to see you again !   How did that miniature cat get on the end of your finger ?
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PostSubject: Re: Documentary at Sundance: Holy Hell - about a personality guru cult   Tue Jun 21, 2016 3:56 pm

@mstrathern

I didn't find your longer attached excerpt from Ruysbroek?  unless it was formally shorter and I only came across it after it was lengthened. 

Hope your health is better these days.

@Stan
Hi!, right back atcha

 I wish somebody had told me what on earth it actually was ! I haven`t heard of a definitive Buddhist description to this day.....


If this was about enlightenment again..
wasn't there some story of a fish lamenting over the lack of a definitive definition about water?


or perhaps somebody's just wiggling their line to see what nibbles may be about.

Oh & that is no mere cat upon an index!
Finally you can see my Egyptian Bastet God scepter, like she said you would.    
That's right, why keep fooling around with Buddhist cults that only go back 2600 years when you can go back twice that far by just channeling my cat. Special deal for new followers with valid credit cards all of this week.
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Stan Giko

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PostSubject: Re: Documentary at Sundance: Holy Hell - about a personality guru cult   Wed Jun 22, 2016 5:52 pm

Hey Harold,

Quote :
If this was about enlightenment again..
wasn't there some story of a fish lamenting over the lack of a definitive definition about water?

Very good but.....that only works for fish and,...they don`t go to fishy zen monasteries  ;-)

Yeah line wiggling .  sussed me out  Ha ha ....
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PostSubject: Re: Documentary at Sundance: Holy Hell - about a personality guru cult   Fri Jun 24, 2016 7:05 pm

@Howard
Sorry about that here is the link to the [url=https://www.dropbox.com/s/y1md2h70wtn00h0/Ruysbroeck excerpt.docx?dl=0]Ruysbroek excerpt[/url].
Again, I love it but some may find it difficult to dig out the nuggets from the 14th century Christian clothing.


@Stan
I'm in rude health at the moment, but like us all rapidly approaching The Age of Decrepitude.
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