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The Bridge

tinyurl.com/37wtyu – watch the film on Google Video

Update, October 13, 2006: About one month ago, a low-budget movie about Scientology was made available on the Web entitled The Bridge, directed by Brett Hanover. There was a flurry of interest in the movie, and it was quickly downloaded over 2,000 times from the Internet Archive. At the time of the film's release, Net users wondered whether Scientology would do the same thing they did when a movie called The Profit was released on video – namely, attack it and get it removed from the public view.

Today, it was revealed that the answer to this question is "yes."

On Brett Hanover's personal Web site, there is a very brief announcement from the filmmaker saying: "I have requested that a recent film of mine be withdrawn from circulation, online or otherwise. Please grant me this request, and do not contact me concerning this film. I am no longer supporting it."

Well-known Scientology critic Mark Bunker (the founder and maintainer of the Xenu TV archives) offers a bit more information at his own blog. He suggests that Scientology used a tried-and-true tactic that has been seen in many other critics of the organization, known among the organization's opponents as "shuddering into silence."

The movie is no longer available on Google Video, though it has been re-uploaded there two or three times by different persons. On Monday, October 16, it was removed from the Internet Archive. The film is still alive and well on the BitTorrent networks, however.


The Bridge (2006) by Brett Hanover

In 2001, anti-Scientology crusader Bob Minton funded a $3 million movie called The Profit. Intended as an exposure of the secrets behind Scientology, The Profit was plagued with problems from the start. The Church of Scientology unleashed its dreaded attack machine in the form of litigation and dirty tricks, and while the movie was completed, no one wanted to touch it. The film did have one single screening in Clearwater, Florida (the home of Scientology's largest facility, the Fort Harrison Hotel or "Flag Land Base""); but after that it disappeared. Minton did an about-face and began working for Scientology about a year after the film's release, and since then the movie has been suppressed and has not seen the light of day.

This story was certainly in the mind of director Brett Hanover when he set out to make a film about Scientology: he certainly knew that they would be putting himself under the glare of the Church of Scientology by doing so. So, rather than go through the troubles and delays that plagued The Profit, Hanover took the guerilla-filmmaker approach. Working on a shoestring budget, he made his Scientology movie in only five days, filmed largely on location at a hotel in Norway, well out of sight of Scientology's spies. And now that the movie is finished and available, he decided to avoid a theatrical release completely and make the film available for download on the Internet. Word of the movie spread like wildfire, and the film has been downloaded over 1,500 times from one mirror site at the Internet Archive (www.archive.org/details/BrettHanoverTheBridge) alone.

Scientology has been the subject of parodies, spoofs, and accusations of being a mind-control cult, especially in the past few years since John Travolta and Tom Cruise have worked hard to make the organization a laughing-stock and the butt of jokes and insults worldwide. Scientology's own actions to keep its deepest, darkest secrets locked away and hidden from public view (especially the infamous tale of Xenu the Galactic Overlord) have earned it a reputation of being an evil, dangerous organization that will sue you if you sneeze in a direction it doesn't like. Comedy Central's banning of the South Park episode about Scientology led to more popularity than the actual episode itself; while potshots have been taken at Scientology in movies (Bowfinger, Schizopolis), on TV (Millennium and especially South Park), and especially in lurid true-crime books with such titles as Bare-Faced Messiah and L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman? If you have the guts or savvy to speak about Scientology without getting attacked, it's easy to do a "courageous exposé" of the organization as a dangerous cult.

But it's much harder to do what Brett Hanover did. Rather than go for a tabloid-style, glitzy, all-out attack on L. Ron Hubbard and his Frankenstein-like monster that outlived him, Hanover decided to take a more modest approach. He chose to focus on the life of a simple, naive Scientologist working her first steps up "the Bridge to Total Freedom" (the name given by Scientology to the path it offers to spiritual salvation). This young person, Dianne Wheat, is a staff member at a low-level Scientology org (Hubbard's name for an official Scientology church). She's pressured by money problems, and she might have to work two jobs in order to pay for her Scientology coursework. Her goal is to save up enough money to buy a silver Scientology bracelet, but it's not easy because of her money problems…and what is it with those protesters hanging around outside the org, shouting "Zeenu?"

This more modest, low-key approach is the only way a movie about Scientology could be made on a low budget – but more importantly, it means we get to look at the actual people in the organization, rather than the outrageous events that grab headlines. It's the lower-level, day-to-day staff members at the Scientology orgs who are the heart and soul of the organization, and The Bridge does its best to show us what it's really like to work in Scientology. If real life as a Scientologist is as depressing and uneventful as the movie portrays, then this may scare more people away from Scientology than Xenu ever could. (Critics and former members of Scientology have already attested to the film's accuracy of portraying everyday work at a Scientology org.)

As a Scientologist, Dianne is under constant pressure (as is the rest of the staff at the org) to sell, sell, sell. The movie begins with a flashy Scientology video (the marketing videos shown in this movie are genuine Scientology materials; they weren't made up for the movie) in which a smiling, earnest Scientology officer is giving a presentation that sounds more like a sales and recruitment video rather than a religious guide: the video demands that the org staff members get as many people in the door as possible and get them onto the Bridge – in other words, turn them into Scientologists. (This information is "not for the public," it's only meant for viewing by Scientology staff members.) However, recruits are few and far between: when two girls show up to see what Scientology is like, they bail out and disappear before the org's recruitment film is finished. Dianne has little to do besides sit at the front desk, greet visitors, clean the org (with a giant portrait of L. Ron Hubbard watching over her at all times), and study her training materials. As for actual church services, she notes that there really aren't any in Scientology.

One of the movie's strong points lies in the fact that it doesn't overwhelm the audience with information. It would have been easy for Dianne to click on the Operation Clambake Web site and be bombarded with repeated, shouting epithets – "Scientology is evil! It's a cult! It's the devil! It's dangerous!" Instead, the movie teases you and makes you curious to learn more. As a TV report notes, mysterious deaths have plagued the Fort Harrison Hotel, "Especially the 1995 death of…" at which point Dianne hurls her remote at the TV and turns it off. This is actually an accurate portrayal of how Scientologists are trained to treat information seen as entheta, or damaging to their advancement in Scientology: they block it out and refuse to listen to it. (It's a point lost on many of the group's critics, and indeed on many people opposed to religious fanatics in general: by beating them over the head with your message "you're in a cult," you're just going to drive them away and further into the arms of the group.) But the real in-joke here is the way the blocking of critical information comes – a Scientology software message pops up when Dianne clicks on the xenu.net Web site, saying "This site contains racist/hate-oriented material." This is actually true: Scientology really does require its members to install blocking and censoring software of this sort on their own computers.

This may be why Hanover chose to film the movie in simple black and white. While cost concerns are one reason why "underground" movies of this sort are often filmed in black and white, there's an aesthetic concern that suggests we're seeing the world in the same way Dianne is seeing hers – in true black and white, thanks to her Scientology indoctrination. One of the attractions of groups like Scientology is their simple black-and-white, "Us versus Them" view of the world. Scientology dictates to its members that Hubbard's tech is the only thing that can save the world from destruction – and if it wasn't for a massive worldwide conspiracy, they would have already done so. This take on society leads Dianne to see her world as lifeless, drained of color and energy…except for the videos she sees on her computer and in the org screening room, which appear in bright, vibrant colors. (The other item in this movie displayed in color is the letter from Sea Org member Amy Grey to her father, which we never see…though we can guess what is written there.)

The movie succeeds in creating an atmosphere of depression, and even oppression – these poor people are struggling to "clear the planet," but they're wasting their lives attempting to follow Scientology’s vision. We can see from Diane's supervisor, a white-haired senior Scientologist (played by Bill Baker), that the constant indoctrination of Scientology can even cut him off from the real world…as he is practicing a focusing drill, he doesn't even blink when Dianne enters the room to interrupt him. The only time he looses his calm demeanor is when he is forced to confront those hateful protestors outside the org – and his violent reaction catches everyone off guard. This in turn leads to his giving Dianne a sec check (a security check), which is full of such bizarre, loaded questions that we're left as confused as Dianne.

We also see hints of an Orwellian, completely controlled society within Scientology. This is suggested by the multiple shots we see of the items for sale at the org: books by Hubbard, tapes by Hubbard, videos of Hubbard, photos of Hubbard smiling or staring at you from every wall, and strict directions for every aspect of life in the org, right down to instructions on which closet the vaccuum is to be placed. A sign proclaiming "Freedom from addiction!" placed right next to the org's outdoor ashtray as Diane takes a smoke break is the movie's way of showing us the contradictions and falsehoods within Scientology – contradictions that Diane is willing to overlook at first, but which become too obvious to ignore by the time of the film's climax.

Cult-bashing aside, Carole Smith puts in a decent performance as Dianne. This is her debut performance, and her acting may be perceived as lacking in emotion, but she actually gives an accurate portrayal of the cult stare often ascribed to Scientologists. As Dianne she is quiet and soft-spoken, unquestioning, and frequently staring blankly into space; however, her personal life is in a shambles as she worries about money problems and eats ramen noodles, because that's all she can afford. Despite Scientology's portrayal of its members as always smiling and outgoing (as seen in the marketing videos), the org staff rarely smile at all during the movie. An extended scene where the org staff ritually chant "hip hip hooray!" to the giant portrait of L. Ron Hubbard with blank expressions on their faces, over and over, is one of the more disturbing moments of the film. Moments like this can make you wonder if life in Scientology really is this bizarre – are these people really this lifeless, or is it just poor acting? After all, this is a low-budget movie here, and we often forgive faults in the acting and direction in "underground" films of this sort.

However, immediately after Hubbard's birthday party, a moment in which the org director casually takes the silver "Clear bracelet" away from Dianne is just as disturbing. It's this act of Scrooge-like cheapness and greed that inspires Dianne to make her break away from Scientology – not the rude, hostile protesters outside the org, and not even the appearance of another Scientologist's father, who shows up to dump all of his daughter's Scientology books, tapes, and paraphernalia on the doorstep of the org for Dianne to clean up. This is another point in the movie's favor: Dianne makes the final decision to leave on her own – she isn't forced or "deprogrammed"" into doing so. The protesters may have told her about Xenu, but she doesn't leave Scientology until she sees for herself that there's nothing there – that Ron's personal office doesn't even exist. After all, Hubbard himself dictated "if it's true for you, then it's true" – and for Dianne, the realization comes that dedicating her life to an empty promise isn't where she wants to be.

The Bridge (no relation to the other movie released this year called The Bridge, which played the Tribeca Film Festival) runs a quick 69 minutes in length. It's simply filmed and simply acted, but this lack of complexity adds to its appeal. Brett Hanover uses a lot of camera angles, and he has a fondness for filming at an angle facing up, with the camera tilted (presumably to show how out of "balance" life is in the Scientology org). The musical score has moments of cheap, home-made and produced tones (especially during the opening credits), along with inclusions of actual Scientology music (the jazz music playing during Hubbard's birthday party is by the Jive Aces, a genuine Scientology jazz band), and even a piece by "El Queso All-Stars," a long-time opponent of Scientology who has made several anti-Scientology songs available online.

Hanover worked closely with several notable Scientology opponents and critics in the making of this film, especially controversial figure Tom Padgett (who plays the distraught father). While a few of Scientology's most virulent and hardcore enemies have criticized this movie for the lenient attitude it takes towards life in the Sea Org, and a few incorrect portrayals in the auditing sessions shown here, most former members of Scientology who have seen this movie have already praised it as an accurate portrayal of life at an everyday Scientology org. It's a sad, depressing thought to picture oneself leading a life like this, day after day, until the time comes when you are called to travel to Clearwater, Florida, and live at the Fort Harrison Hotel while you attest to the level of "OT" (which stands for "Operating Thetan"). Yet, thousands of Scientologists worldwide are dedicated to this ideal, and they honestly believe they are Mankind's last hope in a world doomed to destruction and control by "the psychs." At the movie's conclusion, my overriding emotion wasn't one of anger or hatred – rather, it was pity. This is what Brett Hanover deserves praise for, more than anything else: for showing us that these are people, like you and me, who have been lied to and who deserve our pity and our help.

Hanover's tactic of releasing the movie online for free has ensured his film will see a more pleasant fate than The Profit: it's already been seen by more people, and it is certain to be distrubted online forever, whether or not the Church of Scientology takes any steps to suppress this film. The fact that Hanover has given permission to download it for free and copy it for distribution also means that Scientology can't claim that he is attempting to profit from the movie…although it is certainly a worthy accomplishment, one that is likely to brighten his resumé and hopefully bring him to the attention of Hollywood.

The only reasonably unbiased review of The Profit to appear in public during that film's brief lifetime suggests it was overlong, overly sensationalist, and badly in need of editing [1]. The Bridge doesn't suffer from those weaknesses: while it doesn't move at a breakneck pace, it doesn't come to a halt at any point, and the modest acting isn't over the top or laughably bad. It may not win any awards for ground-breaking cinematography or writing, but its subject matter certainly guarantees it to be a film that will be remembered…at least among people who've had experience with Scientology, or want to know more about it.


The closest to a review of the movie by an actual Scientologist that I've been able to find is this commentary on Wikipedia: Comment on ''The Bridge'' by Wikipedia user "JustAnother". It's interesting to note the way he places the entire blame for Dianne's failure in Scientology on the apparently "corrupt" org officer in charge of her auditing sessions. This reflects a standard policy of Scientology: if there is a failure or something goes wrong, it is always the fault of the person. The "Tech" is never wrong.

True, but probably not as the maker imagined (spoiler alert)

I was disappointed in this film because, while it had the trappings of Scientology included in somewhat altered fashion, it failed to show the sense of Scientology and why the girl would even want to continue in it; she never has one win, one cognition; and she looks so down all the time. But this morning (while in the shower but that is probably way more than you wanted to know) I realize that the film maker had actually crafted a true representation of something, something that can be a part of Scientology, though it is not supposed to happen. The film shows what happens when the tech is bent to someone's personal agenda. That is considered suppressive in Scientology and the head of her org is a good candidate for an SP declare. He is squirrelling Scn tech to steer the girl where he wants her to go. In an actual session there is none of that "psych-style" evaluation you see going on, especially in the clay table part. You can see that she gets no gains from those actions and that is how it would be in a squirrel session. He invalidates her state of Clear by cutting her off in that unrealistic "graduation" (Scientologists give three hip hip hoorays as a sign of respect on occasion but not always and never as robots over and over again). I think he embezzled the funds for LRH's office and that is why it is missing. Of course, in any actual org the door is always open but roped off to prevent entry. I just thought it interesting that, in this light, it is quite a true film; it just is not really about Scientology but some alteration of it. – Justanother 17:04, 2 November 2006 (UTC)

Referrers: http://www.modemac.com/