Independent movie makers often lead the way in producing movies that try to make sense of unusual human experience. Three such movies that delve into the cult experience, through art, expert analysis and the journey of shared understanding, are Searching for Katie, Cult Witness and Truth be Told.
From producers Taryn Southern and Aaron Feldman, Searching for Katie is a docu-style fictional thriller in which Taryn investigates the disappearance of a young girl and her connection to an underground cult based in Los Angeles.
It is interwoven with interviews from former cult members and undue influence experts, such as Steve Hassan from the Freedom of Mind Resource Centre.
Although fictional, Searching for Katie, does convey the fear, silence and confusion of cult involvement.
The movie Cult Witness is a powerful, intelligent exploration of how cults attract and manipulate their followers. This documentary shares the disturbing firsthand experiences of Cult Witness director Samuel Stefan and six others who have freed themselves from cults. These include, Jill Mytton (The Exclusive Brethren), Jim Bergin and Judy Garvey (The Gentle Wind Project), Lea Saskia Laasner (The Janus Project), and Celeste Jones and Amoreena Winkler (The Children of God).
An analysis of the cult experience is provided by leadership expert Betty Sue Flowers; Benjamin Zablocki, chair of the Department of Sociology at Rutgers University; UCLA Professor Emeritus Bertram Raven, an expert on interpersonal influence and social power relationships; psychotherapist Miguel Perlado, who specializes in cult-related problems; and Urs Eschmann, a specialist in legal issues involving cults.
The movie will resonate on many levels with those that have an understanding of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In particular, Jill Mytton explains “love bombing” and how it is used to flatter and draw in an often vulnerable person to cult beliefs and behaviours.
The language of being on the right path is linked to the necessity to be dependent upon the cult leader/beliefs.
Truth be Told is a movie about growing up as a Jehovah’s Witnesses. The contrast is drawn between the perception of “Truth” and the reality of a cult upbringing.
Former Jehovah’s Witnesses candidly discuss the spiritual, emotional and psychological damage, they say is inflicted by this set of beliefs. They explore the effects of preaching door-to-door, shunning non-JW family and friends, suspension of critical thinking, the sadness of not being able to pursue normal dreams such as, higher education, holidays and customs, such as christmas and birthdays.
Gregorio says, “This movie is timely for anyone who is curious about this peculiar group.”
The publicity for this movie says in part, “TRUTH BE TOLD lifts the veil on the seemingly benign Jehovah’s Witnesses…. to expose a profit-driven, isolationist culture characterized by fear, totalitarian corporate leadership, intellectual & spiritual intimidation, suspension of critical thinking, failed prophecies, doctrinal inconsistency and improper handling of physical and sexual abuse allegations.”
Some of the major themes in all three movies is the way cult members are treated as though they are children and kept in a suggestive state which ensures obedience and loyalty. The alternation of love and disdain is a technique used by these groups to maintain control. The reward and punishment scenarios and conditional love is shown as a way people are held in a state of confusion. The requirement to work collectively (for free) for a higher purpose is another way members are kept busy addressing the needs of the group or organisation.
All of these controlling practices and behaviours are found within Jehovah’s Witnesses. These movies are a way of understanding the experience, but not only that, the movies make the links so that people can see that they are not alone and it is possible to leave a high control group.
Photo Credit – Spirit Watch
Truth be Told – News Link
Cultwatch – Jehovah’s Witnesses Link
Taryn Southern Vlogger Youtube channel
Queen Maria – Karen Zerby – Family of God cult leader Link