One of Sundance Film Festival's most talked about films, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, is starting to cause even more of stir due to the creators' appearance at a TimesTalk Monday.
Director Alex Gibney and writer Lawrence Wright were joined by two well-known critics of the religion who appear in the film to discuss the religion's most controversial qualities, but moderator Logan Hill admitted he was surprised to find much of the work centered on Tom Cruise and John Travolta's involvement in the organization.
"I was struck by the film's focus on Travolta and Cruise," he said. "It seemed designed to and really put specific pressure on Travolta and Cruise to either reform or apostatize."
But Gibney explained why the documentary focused on the two high-profile members, saying that they have a special "power" because of their A-list status.
"The fact is they are the front of the church. They are the reason a lot of people join, particularly Tom Cruise now. They have a recruiting power that's enormous. To put in the film the fact that they are abusing the power they have by not talking out about the Church or not even exploring the abuses I thought was absolutely necessary. Otherwise, you have a lot of innocent people that are tumbling into the church on that account," he explained.
Scientology has slammed the documentary, calling it "dishonest" and claiming it is based on accounts by "admitted liars and professional anti-Scientologists." In a statement to People magazine, the Church said that to say Travolta and Cruise have "recruiting power" is "ridiculous."
"Certainly Mr. Cruise and Mr. Travolta are prominent Scientologists but that is due to their prominence as celebrities and their professional accomplishments," the Church spokesperson told the magazine. "They hold no position within the Church. They are parishioners who like other parishioners are busy with their careers and families. This is no different than other religions who have prominent members."
E! News has reached out to reps for Cruise and Travolta.
The documentary also takes a deep look at Cruise's marriage to Nicole Kidman and claims the Church feared that the Australian actress was slowly pulling him away, so it did everything it could to get him back.
"[Scientology leader] David Miscavige was terrified that he was losing control of Tom Cruise because Tom Cruise is the greatest rainmaker for Scientology," Gibney said.
But the Church spokesperson told People this assertion is "utterly ludicrous" and "insulting" to Miscavige.
Wright, who penned the novel on which the film is based, claimed the Mission: Impossible star and Face Off actor are the only people who have the power to "change" Scientology.
"The reason we are calling out Cruise and Travolta is they have the capacity, the power, to change it," he explained. "There are only two ways that you can address the abuses that are going on in Scientology. One is to re-examine the tax exemption. But some of those celebrity megaphones, if they were turned around in the other direction they could make a difference. They should make a difference. I'd like to see Tom Cruise stand up and say it's time for David Miscavige to answer his accusers."
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief airs at 8 p.m. March 29 on HBO.
To read the Church's statement in full, click here.