Second Theater Near Scientology Headquarters Drops 'Going Clear' Film

Courtesy of Sundance International Film Festival
'Going Clear'

Residents of Clearwater, Fla., — home of the world spiritual headquarters of the Church of Scientology — will now have to drive to Tampa to see the documentary.

A second Florida theater near the world spiritual headquarters of the Church of Scientology has scrubbed plans to play Alex Gibney's controversial documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.

AMC Woodlands Square 20 in Oldsmar, Fla., has told HBO it will no longer be screening the film due to "space" reasons. Last week, the AMC multiplex agreed to rent HBO Films the use of an auditorium beginning on Oct. 2 after a nearby cinema in Clearwater, Cobb Theatres' Countryside 12, dropped the film. The Countryside 12's owner had told HBO it backed off screening the movie after receiving pressure from the church. Woodlands Square is a short 10 minute drive or so from the Cobb Countryside.

Now, AMC Veterans 24 in Tampa, Fla., will play the film instead. A spokesman for AMC said the Tampa location, a 45-minute drive from Clearwater, is a larger venue, allowing the chain more flexibility.

Going Clear, based on the Lawrence Wright book of the same name, offers a damning view of Scientology, including the role such celebrities as Tom Cruise and John Travolta play in furthering the church's efforts. Beginning in the 1970s, the church began establishing a stronghold in Clearwater, a beach city on the west coast of Florida not far from Tampa, referring to it as its "Flag Land Base."

The documentary debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January and was released in a few theaters before airing on HBO in March. The film won three Emmys and will be eligible for the best documentary Oscar, so HBO Films is re-releasing Going Clear in roughly 20 theaters in select markets, beginning with New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, Miami and other major cities on Sept. 25. On Oct. 2, it will book additional theaters in other markets, including AMC Veterans 24.

Former Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder, who spent 25 years with the church before becoming one of its most outspoken critics, still lives in the area and firmly believes the church is exerting pressure, first on the Cobb theater and now on AMC. He says church members likely are threatening a boycott. “The Scientologists are managing to dictate to the citizens of Clearwater what they are allowed to watch in their movie theaters,” he tells THR.

Working with HBO Documentary Films, Rinder says he still intends to hold a Q&A following the first screening of the film on Oct. 2. “If the church has a beef about how I’m a defrocked apostate working on the fringes of the Internet, I think the church should provide a representative to stand on the stage with me,” he continues.

Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw said, "like the movie, these stories are fiction and represent yet another shameless publicity stunt about Gibney’s movie. Naturally, the Church has a lot of friends in Clearwater. Theaters make their own business decisions based on what is best for their audiences. For the truth about Gibney’s TV film and the documented falsehoods in it see www.Freedommag.org/going-clear."

Major theater chains, such as AMC, usually do not screen movies that are available on other platforms, like HBO Go and HBO Now, but sometimes they make exceptions for specialty films. This is the case with Going Clear, sources say.

Sept. 21, 1:40 p.m. Updated with a Scientology statement.

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