At the LA premiere of Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, HBO's new documentary about the Church of Scientology, filmmakers and former members had strong words about the organization -- and its most famous followers.
The film's producers claim that they reached out to Tom Cruise and John Travolta for interviews, but their requests were allegedly denied. Representatives from the Church said that 25 members were made available to refute every claim made in the documentary but that filmmakers allegedly shunned them. No active members of the religion appear in the documentary.
Director Alex Gibney told The Insider that Cruise and Travolta's influence made it important for him to try to include them.
"They bear a tremendous amount of responsibility because they are key figures for the church in terms of their recruiting," Gibney said. "They owe people an explanation as to why they would be the PR figures for an organization that seems to be committing to such abuses."
Author Lawrence Wright, who penned the book of the same name on which the film is based, claims that the Church of Scientology is responsible for using young children to work long hours performing manual labor.
"They sacrifice their education," said Wright,. "They are impoverished by their service because they only get paid $50 a week."
The Church of Scientology responded vociferously to the claims on its website, freedommag.org, and in full page ads in the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.
"The courts have debunked the ludicrous 'human trafficking' and 'involuntary servitude' allegation against the Church that Lawrence Wright promoted in his Going Clear book and that HBO is exploiting," the website asserts.
In a statement released to The Insider, they refer to the film and book as "bigoted propaganda built on falsehoods invented by admitted liars."
Gibney said that he thinks "people can judge for themselves."
Going Clear does feature former members of the church, including Spanky Taylor and Tom DeVocht.
"Please take the time to learn both sides," Taylor said to those who may be considering Scientology. "They offer a lot of good answers to things, but really take the time to get the other side of the story -- which you won't get once you're in, because you're prohibited from looking at the Internet or speaking to anybody who's critical of the organization."
DeVocht, a former construction manager for the Church, agreed. "Really reconsider it. Do your homework," DeVocht said. "Check the internet. Really reconsider it. It's dangerous."
DeVocht told The Insider that the thing that first attracted him to the church was "the idea of helping people -- making a better world." According to DeVocht, the scariest part for him was realizing "that the whole religion was false."
In a series of videos, the Church of Scientology has referred to Taylor and other former members as "bitter."
"I'm sorry they feel that way because I have been really honest about everything," Taylor said.
Gibney told The Insider that he hasn't been surprised by Scientology's criticism of the film.
"I was concerned and prudent but not afraid," Gibney said. "The Church of Scientology has something called 'fair game,' and the idea is that if they perceive any criticism of the church they think it's fair game to go after them in any way."
Gibney said HBO has been supportive of the film despite the high-profile controversy.
"HBO has been vigorously defending the film in ways that I consider extraordinarily admirable," Gibney said.
Going Clear premieres on HBO Sunday, March 29 at 8 p.m.