Based on a True Story TV Movie Portrays Dark Side of Scientology
Part 2: Fighting for Custody
The 89-minute film tells the story of a man who stumbles into Scientology and ends up fighting for custody of his child. The plot also includes a trip to a sort of disciplinary camp which is part of the organization's European headquarters, as well as the man's wife's sudden disappearance to a center in Florida and his daughter being sent to a secret boarding school.
ARD has invested 2.5 million ($3.5 million) into the film. SWR's Carl Bergengruen invested that sum in fastidious research, good actors and precise reconstructions of the locations.
Although some details of the story have been changed, it is astonishing to see just how far Rönn is willing to go in dealing with his own story. But now he is worried that someone might poison his dog or break his windows.
Until now, this kind of material was considered nearly impossible to film for legal reasons. Filmmakers saw it as practically certain that Scientology would go to court to stop the broadcasting of any movies that dealt with the organization. Instead, the German media was full of debates about whether the organization was compatible with the German constitution and horror stories about brainwashing by the group. There was nothing in between.
Now Bergengruen has bridged the gap. The impetus for the project was none other than actor and celebrity Scientologist Tom Cruise. When Bergengruen saw Cruise being showered with respect as he won a prestigious German media award in November 2007, he decided he had had enough.
But there is another reason why this dramatic subject is now appearing on German TV screens as a piece of evening entertainment. Real-life controversies are generally only given the fictional treatment after a certain degree of distance to the subject has been reached. And it has already been several years since the most intense clashes between the German state and Scientology.
Nevertheless, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which monitors activities by the Church of Scientology in Germany, still considers the organization to be as danger as ever. In a 2004 ruling, an administrative court in Cologne ruled that there was good reason to "monitor" the organization "in particular using the methods of the intelligence services."
Heiner von Rönn was recently invited to watch a preview screening of the TV movie together with the film crew. Rönn sat in the front row of the projection room with his dog. When it came to a scene in the film where the protagonist sees his child for the last time, Rönn began to cry.
The movie ends with that scene. The Rönns' lives, however, go on. After the viewing, they drove home to their three-room apartment on the edge of Hamburg. Astrid von Rönn uses the children's former bedroom to store the laundry. That's the reality of their lives.
- Part 1: TV Movie Portrays Dark Side of Scientology
- Part 2: Fighting for Custody