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Synanon Documentary Set at HBO From Director Rory Kennedy (EXCLUSIVE)

Synanon women shave their head as
Courtesy of HBO; Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images

A documentary about the rehab center turned cult Synanon is in production at HBO Documentary Films, Variety has learned exclusively.

Spanning more than three decades until the early 1990s, Synanon originated as a Santa Monica-based storefront rehab and was celebrated both as a breakthrough treatment center and a culturally forward attempt at communal living. Led by the charismatic Chuck Dederich and his wife Betty, Synanon was a darling of the recovery community as well as the political and celebrity elite. But the organization began to transform over time, first becoming a church and later engaging in cult-like activity and extreme behavior that culminated in an attempted murder charge and the dissolution of the enterprise.

The untitled documentary will include first-person accounts from members and critics who experienced the events, and will feature never-before-seen archival material that chronicles the organization’s high-minded aspirations as well as its explosive end.

Rory Kennedy (“Ghosts of Abu Ghraib”) will direct and produce, with Mark Bailey and Jeffrey Swimmer writing. Bailey and Jessie Deeter will also produce with Swimmer co-producing. Moxie Films will produce.

“Synanon was wildly innovative and exciting, yet also a profoundly damaging cultural experiment,” Kennedy said. “Having captured headlines in its time, with the current rise today in charismatic leadership and the growth of alternative therapies, the subject holds surprising resonance. It is thrilling to be back with HBO Documentary Films for what will be our eighth collaboration. I have loved working with the whole documentary team who have always been terrifically supportive of filmmakers.”