Sundance: Director of Hollywood Cult Documentary Revealed

Holy Hell Sundance
Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

The Sundance Film Festival has unveiled Will Allen as director and producer of the religious cult documentary “Holy Hell,” Variety has learned exclusively.

The film was announced by the festival on Dec. 2 as part of the U.S. documentary competition lineup with the director remaining anonymous. It will premiere on Jan. 25.

Allen said Monday in an interview that his name was kept secret so that he could finish the film while minimizing the possibility of interference by the some of the subjects of the film, which centers on a California spiritual community that went by the name the Buddha Field. Allen served as the de facto  documentarian of the group.

“Just out of college, a young filmmaker joins a loving, secretive, and spiritual community led by a charismatic teacher in 1980s West Hollywood,” the synopsis says. “Twenty years later, the group is shockingly torn apart. Told through two decades of the filmmaker’s archival materials, this is their story.”

The 100-minute film includes interviews with fellow ex-cult members. It’s Allen’s first feature.

Allen produced “Holy Hell” along with Tracey Harnish and Alexandra Johnes. Executive producers are Cheryl Sanders, Michael C. Donaldson and Julian Goldstein. Allen and Sean Jarrett are the editors; Polly Morgan and Allen are the cinematographers.

Andrew Herwitz of the Film Sales Company is representing domestic sales.

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  1. Free says:

    What goes around.. come around..Another ‘being with the Guru’ WOKE ME UP to my self!!! And this is the true gift. So I say thank you Gurus for your insanity, as it brought me to the true home.. the home of my own heart.. Now, fix your own damn breakfast!!
    Amma, universally known as “The Hugging Saint,” went through a two-decade transformation from a simple fisherman’s daughter to an international wonder worshiped by millions. Gail “Gayatri” Tredwell was there every step of the way—from early devotee to head female disciple, ever-present personal attendant, handmaiden, whipping post, and unwilling keeper of some devastating secrets. At age nineteen, when she was a happy-go-lucky, adventurous lass from Australia, Tredwell never imagined that she would soon be trading her free spirit and skimpy clothing for a life of submission in an ankle-length sari. Her eager decision to serve the young “saint” began with innocence and a pure desire to please her new guru. In time, the relationship transformed into virtual enslavement in which Tredwell was on call 24/7 and worked herself nearly to death in the hope of finding God. Because she became fluent in the Malayalam language and had continual intimate proximity to Amma for twenty years, Tredwell is uniquely capable of portraying this famous woman. She tells her tale with straightforward honesty, fairness, and a dash of Aussie snap and wit. Although the guru’s flaws are a necessary part of her story and awakening, she strives to be factual throughout, digging deep to eschew victim frameworks and take responsibility for her own role in accepting the abuse and perpetuating the lies. The book evokes the joys of early devotional life and vibrant images of rural India. Through Tredwell’s eyes, we watch a modest and traditional ashram metastasize into a business-oriented, bustling, mega-international organization. We also see how such a dizzying rise created vast opportunity for abuse, deceit, and hypocrisy. Tredwell takes us vividly through her varying stages, starting with naïveté and innocent devotion, then on to dawning awareness and confusion, finally to emotional breakdown and her shocking “enlightenment”—her realization that the liberation she urgently required was is in fact liberation from her own guru. In a gradual yet determined struggle, she managed to untangle herself from the web of myth and indoctrination. Only then was she able to muster her battered but not quite broken spirit and plot her escape. Gail’s flight to freedom—her victorious recovery from a life of abuse and disillusionment—displays extraordinary strength and inspiring courage.

    • heart says:

      I love how you’re thanking the guru for the insanity, inclusive of everything, no matter what showed up. And you made it out the other side to strength, freedom and heart within yourself. This says a lot of where you’re at and the depth of your evolution. Very beautiful.

  2. Ricky says:

    Hey Sky! My last message was pulled off with the slew of negative comments. I am an ex-member of the BF and feel that a private forum would be appropriate. Please contact me via email and we can continue this conversation privately. Mahalo.

  3. Jonathan says:

    As an ex member this movie seems to have been made in the same style that the cult operated on, in secrecy and elitism.. I’m so blessed that I am finally able to live in the moment, and truly embrace the mystery and joy of this life. I hope the movie at least conveys the sincerity and love that was shared despite the paranoia of our teacher.

  4. You're it 101 says:

    I’m not denying that painful, confusing and highly emotional instances and situations showed up. Along with a lot of love, beauty, growth, and positive insights. But a piece missing here in the evolutionary process that is important to note is that whatever is happening on the inside of each individual from the seeds that were already planted from your formative years (growing up with major trauma from our parents, society, government, fear, religion which is passed down from generation to generation and imprinted into our brain, emotional body, and internal chemistry), then gets recreated on the outside.

    It’s the individual or group of individuals together with this pre-programming that creates the savior, master, guru, teacher on the outside to experience the love, safety, discipline, comfort, joy we didn’t always have as children along with the control, confusion, being told what to do how to live, etc. that everyone is already programmed with feeling and experiencing. Then all that gets recreated on the outside. As well as other positive and beautiful experiences one can have with being around a teacher and group energy that can take you into deep realms of existence and ecstatic bliss. Which is experienced because all of that also lives inside of us and is brought out.

    We carry the cult attributes inside of us (The good, bad, ugly, pretty, high, low, fear, love) And just recreate it on the outside. But it’s where the individual is at in their process that creates the corresponding reflection and mirror outside.

    I’m not being insensitive to the traumatic and painful things that show up in these, at times, tumulturous situations, but I’ve learned from my own healing, self discovery, and taking full responsibility for all facets of myself, life, external creations and evolution…Ultimately it’s not the guru, master, teacher, boss, dysfunctional boyfriend/girlfriend, crazy life situations that are created and show up on the outside. It’s our own reflection from within.

    Everything and everyone is a reflection and extension of some part of ourself. And one can get stuck in their own reflection for years and years.

    But when you evolve beyond this then life will mirror that and those characters will disappear because they’re no longer needed to work out whatever was being created. You change, the world around you changes. If one gets stuck on just blaming any outside figure and disregards their own imprints that created it in the first place, then you’re still allowing the outside person or situation to control you because you still thinks it’s them. And you’ll probably recreate it some where else, maybe not as extreme. Like at work, your next relationship, business venture, etc…until you get that you’re it. You’re the one. It’s all you. And if an extreme situation(s) is what it takes to get you here, which can actually speed up your evolution, Then bow down to life and come back to surrender and humility for the whole of it all. No one is a victim unless you make yourself one and stay stuck in it.

    • Ricky says:

      Hi 101. You hit the nail on the head when you pointed out that it takes two to tango. The exploited and exploiter both create the relationship and reproduce dysfunction from their own individual schemas. And yes, the road to healing and “moving on” means taking responsibility for our own part in the dysfunction. However, unconscious social-psych mechanisms do not excuse deliberate behaviors.

      When a person lies about their past in order to portray themselves as an authority it’s unethical, period. If I want a job as a teacher, then I should not lie about having a credential and diploma, I should have them. In the same way, if I declare that I am a guru because I was the disciple of another guru and he told me to become a guru, and that never happened, that is lying. A person that would do that is both; a) not qualified to be a guru (for lack of training) and b) is actively committing a lie every moment that they maintain the pretense of guru.

      We are all humans with challenges to overcome and character flaws that affect our relationships. But that does not excuse a religious leader from behaving ethically, being honest about their pasts and credentials. It certainly does not excuse sexual abuse.

  5. Ricky says:

    Hey BK, If by “paradise” you mean being coerced into an unwanted sexual relationship with a person that he was looking to for therapy and spiritual guidance, then yes.

  6. Pandora says:

    And so it begins…BK Strauss who is the “master” spin doctor here? How do you know of Will’s experience? Were you there by chance? The spin doctor is not Will Allen or his “cronies” or in this film. This film is an honest account using actual footage and honest heartfelt accounts of our experiences. We realize this is exposing and confronting to you. We have nothing to hide. Do you?

    For all other readers please be aware that it is highly likely that this comment came from a current member under direct orders from the teacher to protect “his work.” Yes- we did crazy shit like that. I was there and I am in this film and it is highly accurate and honest portrayal of our experiences- good and bad. It is worth seeing.

  7. BK Strauss says:

    It’s doubtful that Will Allen’s film will document the true paradise the cult was for him and his cronies: Allen, aka “Francesco” is much more a spin doctor than a documentarian.

    • BK Strauss says:

      Oh yes, I was there, for close to 2 decades, nothing to hide, and much to recount about the said “documentarian”s…they are the ones who have much to hide about their own machinations and distortions…had their world not imploded they would still be cavorting among the field of ” Buddahs” spinning tales of enlightenment to protect and hide the hideous reality they fostered…and now this film…puh leeze…what a travesty…I will keep posting and you can keep deleting…you have no truth Will , Tracee, and Julian, you are all filled with falsity and self pandering…

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