My Scientology Movie: Louis Theroux documentary unlikely to get Ireland release due to blasphemy laws
Ireland forbids 'publication or utterance of blasphemous matter' against any religion
The controversial film is directed by John Dower and sees Theroux “investigate and attempt to get under the skin of the holy grail of stories: America’s homegrown religion created by a science fiction writer and structured like a corporation… with Tom Cruise”.
It is being distributed in the UK by Altitude, the company behind Oscar-winning Amy Winehouse documentary Amy, but as of yet there is no Irish distributor and Graham Spurling, managing director of Irish independent cinema chain Spurling Group Cinemas, has shared his doubts that it will be getting one.
Mr Spurling was hoping to run a live Q&A event in October, but Ireland’s 2009 Defamation Act forbids “publication or utterance of blasphemous matter” against any religion, with a fine of €25,000 (£21,700) for those who breach it. He told Irish lifestyle website Joe that distributors are wary of screening it because they would not be protected from any potential legal action.
There is a chance that distributors might attempt to use a loophole that allows for the screening of works with “genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific or academic value”, but the financial risk could well be deemed too high.
Earlier this year, Hamish Moseley, head of distribution for Altitude, described My Scientology Movie as an “incredibly funny, fascinating and at times unnerving insight into the infamous and controversial religion” with Theroux “bringing his inimitable approachable style to the big screen where it feels at home with the subject matter”.
Speaking about the film, Theroux said: “More than 10 years ago, I approached the Church to see if they might let me in to make a documentary. I thought I might be able to bring a sense of nuance and perspective to people’s understanding of a faith that has been much ridiculed.
“Just as I have done with other non-mainstream stories, I hoped to see it from the inside and make a human connection with its clerics and congregants. But I was repeatedly turned down.”
Created by US author L Ron Hubbard in 1954, Scientology is described as “a religious system based on the seeking of self-knowledge and spiritual fulfilment through graded courses of study and training”. It is officially recognised as a religion in the UK, the US and Australia among other countries, but has been labelled a cult by various authorities and criticised for alleged brainwashing, preferential treatment of celebrities and financial exploitation. The Church of Scientology vehemently denies these accusations.
Scientology has proved a stumbling block in Ireland before, when Alex Gibney’s 2015 documentary about the controversial religion, Going Clear, failed to secure an Irish release over libel claims.
The Church of Scientology put Theroux and his crew under surveillance and threatened them with legal action throughout the making of My Scientology Movie. It sparked a huge reaction when it screened at the Edinburgh and Tribeca film festivals this year and is set for release on 14 October.