Jeffrey Peixoto decided to make a documentary about Scientology because “it’s the newest religion,” he said in the director Q&A following the screening of his film "Over the Rainbow.”
This film was screened for an audience for the first time on Thursday, Feb. 28, the first day of Columbia’s annual True/False Film Fest.
“Over the Rainbow” is not the first film about Scientology. The relatively new religion was founded by L. Ron Hubbard in 1954, making it 35 years old — a fraction of the age of other major religions, such as the several thousand years of Christianity, Hinduism and Islam or even the 170 years of Mormonism. Peixoto said this allowed for the ability to view the mechanics of the formation of the religion — something much more difficult to do when a religion is so intrinsically built into a society.
“The Church of Scientology is in its infancy as a religion, and while it has aptly been the source of intense public scrutiny, few outsiders have approached its believers with a modicum of respect,” according to the True/False website’s description of “Over the Rainbow.” This lack of respect is what tends to characterize portrayals of the Church of Scientology. Documentaries like “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” aim to expose the inner workings of the church, while shows like “South Park,” in its episode “Trapped in the Closet,” poke fun at the religion.
Peixoto’s film strayed from this negative norm.
In the filming of his documentary, Peixoto spent “half a decade earning the trust of his subjects,” according to the True/False website. This trust came through the camera in the openness of his interviews as members of the Church of Scientology gave candid responses about what drew and continues to draw them to the church. Peixoto portrayed these people just like that: as people.
Their reasoning, even when I didn’t necessarily agree, sounded sensible, especially after an opening in which a psychologist explained the nature of searching for religion, putting the rest of the film into a certain perspective.
This wasn’t a pro-Scientology movie, however; the subject who Peixoto described as a sort of “main character” was raised in the Church of Scientology but ended up defecting from it and was thus able to explain the darker side of the religion. This balance made it clear that, while Scientology is something some people are passionate about and strongly believe in, it is not without its faults.
The humanization of the subjects was what really set this film apart. Alongside vibrant colors and engaging visuals, Peixoto showed members of this church that is so often the subject of ridicule as real, rational people. Even if their beliefs don’t always necessarily seem correct, this feat in itself was impressive in how much work it took in the creation of this movie.
However, the film could certainly have benefitted from more explanation of the actual church. The subjects, as members of this church, had a tendency to throw around lingo and names with little or no explanation outside of context clues, leaving any audience with little knowledge of Scientology in the dark on some aspects of the religion. This can almost be justified since Peixoto primarily uses human experience, as opposed to technicalities, when depicting the religion, but a little bit more elaboration about the church and its goings-on as a whole could have brought the already-great film to a new level of fascinating.
Outside of this, though, "Over the Rainbow" presented a fresh look at a blossoming religion — possibly a look that will, based on historical establishments of religion, become a significant landmark for the Church of Scientology. But for now, it gives an interesting look at an underexplored angle of an interesting topic in an intriguing and beautiful way.
Edited by Janae McKenzie | firstname.lastname@example.org