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‘Going Clear’ Director Alex Gibney on Tom Cruise and a Potential Sequel

Alex Gibney was one of the big winners at Saturday night’s Creative Arts Emmys, taking home three statues: for documentary or non-fiction special, directing and writing for non-fiction programming.

His documentary, “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” which was based on Lawrence Wright’s book, was one of the network’s most-watched in years — and drew the ire of the church, which launched a counter-attack against the filmmaker, as well as those he interviewed.

Yet Gibney says he’s ready for round two. “There’s a lot more material already that I’ve received and a lot more information to come out,” he told reporters backstage after his multiple wins. “And at least so far, the IRS has not revoked (the church’s) tax exemption. So there’s more to be done.”

But Gibney said he wanted to make the film not just to take on the church. “When I read Lawrence Wright’s book, it was very powerful both because it took on the human rights abuses of the Church of Scientology, and it looked more deeply into this idea of the prison of belief — that very smart, very capable people can fall into a system of belief,” he said. “If the curators of that belief take advantage of them, they can end up doing terrible things. That made it both about the Church of Scientology and also something more universal.”

The response to the film, he says, has been gratifying — and has affected him personally. “What changed me was something odd that I didn’t really expect,” he said. “I understood better how it is possible to fall into a kind of belief system even if you’re a really smart person … because that belief system becomes part of your identity. And that makes me look at some of the things that I do day to day.”

He reported that he did have to deal with a fair amount of pushback from the church, but dismissed as “attempts to get inside my head,” he said. “We were flooded with a Niagara Falls of legal letters and legal threats, none of which were made real. No lawsuits prevailed.” What was far worse, he said, was what faced the people who appeared in the film: “a good bit of harassment by private investigators, threats by members in the church, physical threats, economic threats,” he said. “They had a tougher time.”

Gibney also issued a challenge to Tom Cruise, who he said has been presented with “documented proof” of the church’s human rights abuses. “What’s up with Tom Cruise?…Why won’t he address these issues?…He’s done nothing,” said Gibney. “The Church of Scientology itself says that he is the one reason people keep coming to the church…. A billion people know about the church because of Tom Cruise. So that being the case, why isn’t he fulfilling the responsibility to at least address these issues?”

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