Next up in my doc-by-doc rundown of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival: HOLY HELL, a filmmaker’s reckoning with a long-time membership in an enigmatic cult. [Note: This profile has been updated now that the festival has disclosed the filmmaker’s identity.]
US Documentary Competition
Sundance Program Description:
Just out of college, Will Allen, a young idealist filmmaker, joined a secretive spiritualist community led by a charismatic guru. With his camera in hand, he documented 20 years of living inside a cult that changed how he would see the world forever. Allen recorded everything, offering us a juicy and unparalleled look into the extreme ideals and expectations that make up this community, born out of Los Angeles, the city of cults. From total devotion turned to paranoia, the cracks began to unfold as unexpected truths were revealed about the enlightened leader they built every fiber of their lives around.
For the first time, Allen turns the camera on himself and asks fellow ex-cult members to come to terms with their past and the unbelievable deceit they experienced. HOLY HELL leaves us with many burning questions, but ultimately this one: What are we willing to believe to sustain our greatest happiness?
Director/Producer/Editor: Will Allen
This marks Southern Methodist University film graduate Allen’s feature debut after two decades with the Buddha Field.
Producer: Tracey Harnish and Alexandra Johnes
The Emmy-winning Johnes is a Sundance alumna, with producing credits on the fiction feature THE WITCH (2015) and on docs THE SQUARE (2013), MAGIC TRIP (2011), and CASINO JACK AND THE UNITED STATES OF MONEY (2010). Harnish has previously written about film and art for Huffington Post.
Executive Producer: Cheryl Sanders, Michael C Donaldson, and Julian Goldstein
Donaldson is a noted entertainment attorney and founding partner of Donaldson & Callif, a law firm specializing in copyright and entertainment law. He has provided legal services to scores of past Sundance titles, from THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED and ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED to GASLAND and ROOM 237.
Editor: Sean Jarrett
Jarrett’s background has primarily been in the short form, including cutting films that have debuted at SXSW.
Why You Should Watch:
Allen draws on a remarkable cache of footage, allowing viewers a firsthand experience of life within a unique, closed-off community of seekers, many who were unable to see the difficult truths right in front of their eyes. Interviews with other former members frame this unusual background, bringing retrospective insight that builds to a complex, affecting catharsis.
For Sundance screening dates and times, click the link in the first paragraph.
Presently, the film does not have a website, Facebook page, or trailer. Should this change before the festival kicks off, I’ll update that information here.
To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance filmmaker class of 2016 Twitter list.