Man is a social creature, which means that nature itself draws him to his own kind. It’s good if you find yourself in the company of respectable individuals, but what if you are unlucky enough to find yourself among insidious, greedy and cruel, while charismatic people? The characters in these documentary projects were unlucky enough not because they didn’t hit a jackpot at 22Bet but because they found themselves caught up in cults that suck the power, money, and life out of their followers.
The Way Down: God, Greed and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin
Gwen Shamblin was once a girl from a strict Christian family in the conservative southern United States. As she grew older, she became more determined, adventurous, and concerned with her own beauty, and soon her high expectations for her appearance began to be projected onto those around her. Gwen decided to help “overweight” Americans: combining her boundless love for God and extensive knowledge of beauty standards, she developed a Christian diet. True, year by year the methodology became stricter and over time began to encompass all areas of life of those seeking help. Gwen gave advice not only on weight loss but also on studying, working, building relationships, and even raising children.
In the end, the self-proclaimed God’s chosen mentor founded her own church, whose parishioners began to live in a closed, conservative commune focused on losing pounds. Later, the religious movement became notorious for increasing violence among its members and, on one occasion, the church’s endorsement of cruel parenting methods even led to tragedy. The further the police and the public dug into the life of the commune, the more disturbing details emerged. The documentary series seeks to understand what the church was all about: helping the needy or siphoning money from naive citizens?
Stolen Daughters: Kidnapped by Boko Haram
Some cults are not very keen on hiding their activities. For example, the Islamist sect Boko Haram, which has been at war with the Nigerian government since 2009, kidnapped more than 270 Nigerian schoolgirls right out of school.
Some of the hostages were able to return home, but they cannot even speak openly about what they experienced, lest they put their girlfriends, still held by terrorists, at risk. This documentary tells the heartbreaking story of the shattered fates of these girls and thousands more women victims of Nigeria’s power struggle.
The desire to become more confident in yourself, more successful in business and relationships, richer and happier is quite natural for people. Natural, but dangerous, because it can lead you into the clutches of the cunning founder of the cult, hiding his sect under the guise of personal growth courses.
“The Vow” is a high-profile investigation into the activities of a networking company NXIVM, which promised its partners to get rid of fears, psychological blocks and anxieties. Instead, the head of the company and those close to him turned vulnerable people into their own slaves, willing to sexually and financially service their guru, as well as branding their bodies with his initials.
Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults
Fear of the end of the world is a fairly popular reason for impressionable people to join various sects. It was under the sauce of salvation from the inevitable death of civilization that the creators of the religious movement “Heaven’s Gate” served their teachings. Many Americans, inspired by the idea of liberation from earthly clutter and ascension to paradise on a spaceship, became followers of this cult, and in 1997 dozens of sect members committed mass suicide.
The series on Heaven’s Gate picks up the history of the movement piece by piece, interviewing surviving followers and relatives of the dead, examining archives and chronicles, and retrospectively analyzing the sermons of the cult’s founders, who foretold the imminent end of all life.