Hot Docs 2015: Deprogrammed Review

Canadian Spectrum

In Deprogrammed, Mia Donovan takes us into the strange, disturbing and yet completely intriguing world of deprogramming, the process by which one is removed from an alternative religion or cult and brought back into the wider world. Her documentary focuses on a central figure of this movement, Ted Patrick.

This is Donovan’s second documentary, after 2011’s Inside Lara Roxx, and in Deprogrammed, she continues her focus on seemingly ordinary people who find themselves in isolating and difficult situations, and who try to make their way back into the world. Deprogrammed comes at a time when there has been a resurgence of interest in cults and alternative religions, exemplified by the enormous viewership of Alex Gibney’s documentary Going Clear about Scientology.

Donovan’s subject Ted Patrick is hired by families to retrieve their loved ones from cults and alternative religions, and he uses any number of unorthodox methods to deprogram them and return them to society. She interviews former cult members who include a member of the Children of God, a member of the famed Unification Church under Sun Myung Moon, and her own stepbrother, who had dabbled in Satanism and was one of Patrick’s final causes.


The subject is endlessly fascinating, which in many ways makes it simple for a documentary to succeed. But Donovan doesn’t rest on her laurels, and her interviews and archival footage show a relentless interest in weaving together a fascinating tale about the progression of the 60s counterculture into new religious sects, the hostile reaction to these movements by wider society, and one particular man’s opportunity to cash in on the entire situation. At times it feels rough around the edges, and I get the feeling it might take a few more films to reach her stride. But it’s a great subject matter and one that makes for fascinating viewing. 


Thu, Apr 30 9:45 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

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