Plane Crash Complicates HBO Max Documentary On The Diet-Inspired Church


A single-pilot jet plane on May 29 fell into a lake Near Nashville, he killed all seven people on board. Among them were Gwen Shamblin Lara, a weight-loss guru and founder of the Remnant Fellowship Church in Brentwood, Tenn., and her husband, William Lara, known as Joe, who had once portrayed Tarzan in both a television series and a television series. The movie “Tarzan in Manhattan”.

The leader of a medium-sized congregation, Ms. Lara, 66, has been the subject of a documentary project for the past few years that aims to go beyond the gilded veneer of the Relic Brotherhood and explore its inner workings. The multi-episode project “The Way Down,” which will debut on HBO Max this fall, details the church’s origins in Miss Lara’s religiously-based weight loss program. Weight Workshop.

The diet program brought Miss Lara fame through her appearances on popular shows such as “Larry King Live” and a fortune thanks to bestselling books describing her weight loss strategies. But it has also made him a controversial figure, with critics who say Weigh Down focuses more on unconventional theology than on healthy eating habits. The documentary examines these issues, along with allegations that the church excludes and even harass members who want to leave, and that it functions more as a cult than a traditional religious institution.

The finishing touches were being put on the show at the time of the accident. The filmmakers were suddenly faced with a new set of questions. What was Mr Lara’s flight experience (she was operating the plane) and was her medical record up to date? What would happen to the church now that its founder and leader had died? (The day after the accident, the church issued a statement stating that Ms. Lara’s daughter and son “intend to pursue Gwen Shamblin Lara’s dream of helping people find a relationship with God.”)

And what would happen in the painful custody case where Mr. Lara’s daughter got involved with his ex-wife and was a pivotal plot in the documentary?

The filmmakers also said that since the accident, they’ve discovered that more people are willing to talk to them – former congregation members who previously said they didn’t want to go against the church because they still had attached family members and relatives. those who died in the accident, who were skeptical of the church and now feel compelled to share their stories.

“Within 24 hours, I heard from every source, and the first thing everyone said was, ‘I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but please tell me this doesn’t change anything,'” producer Nile said. Cappello, an investigative journalist who began researching the Remnant Fellowship in 2018.

For those who have spoken out against the church, some of whom have made great personal sacrifices, Ms Cappello added that what she heard most often was the concern that the documentary would somehow be shortened, “we’ve opened these wounds in vain.”

Although the documentary showed archival footage of Ms. Lara preaching and appearing in the media, neither she nor any representative from the Residue Fellowship appeared in front of the camera.

“I never thought he would give us an interview,” said show director Marina Zenovich of Ms. Lara. “Never.”

Remnant Fellowship did not turn down calls for series commentary for this article.

As the filmmakers struggled to incorporate news of the accident and its aftermath into the documentary, HBO Max changed its plans. Now, instead of airing a four-episode series at the end of September, the first three episodes of “The Way Down” will air on September 30, ending with the message “To Be Continued”. The final two episodes will premiere in early 2022, giving filmmakers time to deal with the new footage. The documentary now begins with local news about the accident.

“There’s a fuller story to tell,” said Lizzie Fox, senior vice president of nonfiction at HBO Max. “We just want to make sure we can allow enough time for the story to progress and the investigation to follow up on some answers and give us time to interview all of the subjects. With a limited documentary series, if there is a chance for a second episode, I think that’s something people tend to get excited about. ”

Ms. Zenovich is a documentarian who has spent most of her career focusing on men like Roman Polanski, Lance Armstrong and Robin Williams. But the evangelical world of religion was a new area he decided to start because of the compelling character at the center of the story.

“This is very sad,” he said. “But I decided to do this because I was fascinated by Gwen.”

Trained as a dietitian, Lara started Weigh Down Workshop in 1986. It was a diet plan that set aside general health guidelines and instead focused on trusting God and encouraging members to eat to understand true hunger. only when their stomachs growl. By the mid-2000s, her advice had become very popular with religious communities, and Ms. Lara’s books sold millions of copies. She transferred this success to the Remnant Fellowship, a church she founded after she left the Church of Christ with her then-husband David Shamblin in 1999. Weight Reduction philosophies remained the guiding principle of his new congregation.

More than a place of worship, the church was an all-encompassing force that took over every aspect of their lives, from where they worked to how they dressed to the person they married. Body image and appearances were key ingredients, and the documentary chronicles describe Ms. Lara’s transformation from a bubbly young dietician with a girl-next-door look to a very thin, heavily made-up avatar whose hair looks like she’s growing out. its strength.

Ms. Lara’s wider popularity eventually began to wane, in part due to her rejection of the Holy Trinity, which led a Christian publisher to cancel her forthcoming book and others to stop promoting the weight loss program.

“Gwen’s entire control is to use misogyny towards other women,” Ms. Cappello said, adding that Ms. Lara is one of the few female religious leaders in the Evangelical Christian movement, but has an all-male leadership team. Ms. Lara also demanded that her congregations adhere to traditional familial gender roles in order to maintain their position in the church.

Among the allegations made in “The Way Down” are accusations that individuals who are unable to lose weight are marginalized by the church community and that members are encouraged by Remnant leadership to stop taking prescription drugs, including birth control and psychiatric drugs.

Now the filmmakers are scrambling to tell a broader story of the church, its founding, and its impact on Brentwood.

“It was never about not going on,” said Ms. Zenovich, who was particularly impressed by the stories of the church leavers. “This is about changing how we tell the story.”


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