TCFF 2016 Reviews: ‘First Girl I Loved’ + ‘My Scientology Movie’ doc



‘First Girl I Loved’ Review


First Girl I Loved is a coming-of-age story for the social media generation. Mix this with a narrative about teenage sexuality and you have the new feature film written and directed by Kerem Sanga. It stars Dylan Gelula as Anne, the nerdy high school yearbook photographer, Brianna Hildebrand as Sasha, star of the softball team and the object of Anne’s desire, and Mateo Arias as Clifton, Anne’s best friend who secretly loves her.

This is a movie that whether you like it may depend on what mood you are in. On one hand, the lead characters in this movie are teenagers that act like teenagers (no deep psychological speeches here). On the other hand, there is a lot of giggling and nonsensical teenager speak that can get annoying.

The narrative at times can be confusing as it’s told in flashback from each character’s perspective. If this was intentional to help the audience understand how conflicted these young people are, it succeeded. Dylan Gelula in particular is a standout in this movie, as she aptly portrays the angst of the high school years. I feel like this movie will really strike a chord with some viewers but unfortunately I am not one of them.


‘My Scientology Movie’ Review


I was intrigued by this documentary when I learned of the unconventional method that documentarian Louis Theroux (apparently cousin of actor Justin Theroux) in approaching the controversial subject matter. Directed by John Dower, Louis traveled around Los Angeles to investigate what goes on behind the scenes of the elusive church of scientology. But instead of featuring expert ‘talking heads’ as most documentaries typically do, Louis instead chooses to re-enact some of the practices and speeches, based on recruitment/marketing videos from the church that he got from whistleblowers.

The style immediately reminds me of The Act of Killing documentary where filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer exposed one of the most brutal genocide in history that took place in Indonesia with re-enactments of the murderous ‘act’ itself. The difference is, Joshua used the actual perpetrators of the event to re-enact them, whilst Louis hired unknown actors to play the roles of major figures of scientology, including the church leader David Miscavige and the movie star Tom Cruise, the most famous celebrity scientologist in the world.

The result isn’t quite as hauntingly profound as The Act Of Killing, but still it’s quite a revelatory as well as amusing documentary. There are moments that are downright hilarious, such as when people start showing up across the street from where Louis was filming with their own video camera. When they’re confronted, they refuse to say who they are, but there’s little doubt they’re likely sent by the church to investigate Louis’ crew. The church also blocked certain roads and claimed they owned the property, which at the end is proven that it was in fact a public road. These encounters are often hilarious, but that’s not to say there’s no serious nor intense moment in the film.


The exchange between Louis and Mark Rathbun, a former senior executive of the Church of Scientology who ‘blew’ from the church, is quite intense. There’s a certain unpredictability to Mark given that he was the inspector general of the church at one point. In fact, another whistleblower claimed that Mark had punched him during one of the most controversial practices. The scene where the actors re-enacted a brutal interrogation scene where Miscavige was berating some church members inside a room was quite intense, and I never know if at one point the actor playing Miscavige might snap and start hitting people.

Of course the church denies all the malpractices depicted in the film, including the infamous Hole that’s basically a prison for senior executives they deem as misbehaving. The whistleblowers were candid about the extreme abuse and human rights violation they suffered, to the point that they’d rather die than having to stay in the church. One of the most memorable moments was when Louis and his crew were watching a video of Tom Cruise talking passionately about scientology and they paused at a footage of him with a wild, fierce look on his eyes, as if he’s ready to strangle anyone to defend his religion. But I think its leader Miscavige is just as scary if not more as Cruise was, and he’s even more elusive.

As this is the first documentary on scientology I’ve seen so far, I don’t know if this is the definitive film on the subject. I’d think Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief might give more insights into scientology, just based on Gibney’s previous work. Still, this one is worth a look, an entertaining doc that’d make an intriguing discussion afterwards.


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18 thoughts on “TCFF 2016 Reviews: ‘First Girl I Loved’ + ‘My Scientology Movie’ doc

  1. Tom

    Nice reviews. Scientology is just so weird, I don’t know if I’d have the patience to sit through a documentary that delves into this stuff haha. My curiosity might be piqued enough one day, and I thinK Alex Gibney would be the man to do it.

    1. Hi ya Tom! Indeed it is weird and that’s what makes it fascinating. It’s unfathomable to think people are following this cult despite all its abuses and actually pay $$$ to belong to it. Yeah I’m still curious to see the Alex Gibney one, he’s a great documentarian.

    1. Hey thanks Keith, really appreciate you reading our coverage. Hopefully most of these indie films will get a decent release, whether in theaters or on VOD. For sure the scientology one would be available soon and it’s gotten tons of publicity already.

  2. Thanks for all your coverage of the festival as Always Ruth, I feel like I’m there reading the interviews and reviews. I’m finally feeling better so I hope to drop by the festival sometime this week.

    I might give My Scientology Movie’ doc a watch, being that I’m a non believer in any religion, it’s kind of fascinates me that this “religion” has quite a following from many successful and famous people.

    1. Glad to hear it Ted! Yeah, the scientology doc is fascinating and quite hilarious at times. It’s playing again on Friday October 28 – 12:45pm, not sure if you can make that time but if you do, it should be worth your time.

  3. I’ve heard another comparison of Act of Killing to that Scientology movie. That is the only one I’m familiar with, looking forward to seeing it as it sounds like something a bit different

    1. You’ve seen The Act Of Killing, that’s good! I actually haven’t seen the follow-up film but I bet it’s just as harrowing. My Scientology Movie doesn’t quite match the intensity or depth of that film, it was definitely lighter.

        1. Yeah it’s such a big, ultra exclusive, scary club! Interesting how they could get big names like Tom Cruise to be a member, it’s run almost like a military organization all the way down to their uniform.

                  1. Hehe yep, that is epilepsy for ya. Plays havoc with the hippocampus, which of course messes with memory. It caaaan come in handy though, I can watch films over and over and often will forget the ending and major key details, so the film feels fresher.

                    This makes it hard to blog though. I’m honestly amazed that I’ve kept this up for over two years, even if I’m averaging about one post per week these days. Its frustrating… I mean, if I wanna write about a movie, which I almost always want to do, I need to do it immediately after seeing it, or at least within a few hours. After that, there is just no point because most of it is gone from my memory. Makes it a big challenge, so it some weird way I’m proud of myself for sticking at it when it is so hard.

                    Sorry for the rant!

  4. Pingback: OCTOBER 2016 Viewing Recap + Movie(s) of the Month

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