Bad news for Louis Theroux fans.
It's looking increasingly like his highly anticipated feature film, My Scientology Movie won't be getting a release in Ireland due to blasphemy laws.
The film has a UK distributor, Altitude and is set to be released over there on October 14th. However as we reported earlier this year, an Irish distributor has yet to be confirmed and it's looking likely that none will be.
The main stumbling block seems to be Ireland's blasphemy laws and in particular the The Defamation Act of 2009. According to that piece of legislation, any "publication or utterance of blasphemous matter" against any religion is an offence and carries a fine of €25,000.
The Act does allow for a defence of work that has "genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value", which this documentary most likely will have. However it looks like there aren't any distributors willing to take a chance on the film for fear that they could be found to be in breach of the legislation. As far as we're able to ascertain, Scientology is not registered as a religion or charitable organisation here in Ireland, so whether or not the Defamation Act of 2009 can be used isn't clear. Distributors in Ireland are not involved with the release and Altitude Film Entertainment have yet to make an official statement.
Alex Gibney's 2015 Scientology documentary, Going Clear had similar problems and did not secure an Irish theatrical release.
Graham Spurling, the owner of [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] and SGC Dungarvan has confirmed on Twitter that the film will not get an Irish release and has suggested that the blasphemy law may be to blame though he cannot speak for the distributors.
— GRAHAM (@grahams_graham) September 25, 2016
UPDATE (September 26th, 2.18PM)
We've been trying to contact Altitude Film Entertainment all day, but so far nobody has answered our calls or e-mails. All we've been told is that they're aware of our inquiries. We've contacted IFCO who have confirmed that the film can be classified here in Ireland or can be shown under Club rules and that the Defamation Act of 2009 doesn't apply to it being classified.
We've contacted the Department of Justice, Department of Communications and the Attorney General's Office and nobody has been able to give us a straight answer on the issue as to whether or not the Church of Scientology can bring a case using the Defamation Act of 2009 as the religion isn't officially recognised as such here in Ireland.
We're still on it and we're still trying to get an answer. Stay tuned.
UPDATE (September 26th, 4.18PM)
We've contacted the Department of Justice on the subject and here's what they've had to say. We asked the following: - Can the Church of Scientology bring a case against a film exhibitor or distribution company for showing the film, My Scientology Movie, even though they are not officially recognised as a religion here in Ireland? In other words, is there anything on the statute books that would prevent this film from being released? Can the Church sue distributors using the Defamation Act?
They replied with...
The Department is not in a position to give legal advice or interpret the law on the questions asked but section 36 of the Defamation Act 2009 (below) may be of some assistance. The Director of Film Classification has received no request to view the film for exhibition in the Republic of Ireland.
"Publication or utterance of blasphemous matter.
36.— (1) A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €25,000.
(2) For the purposes of this section, a person publishes or utters blasphemous matter if—
(a) he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and
(b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.
(3) It shall be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section for the defendant to prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates.
(4) In this section “ religion ” does not include an organisation or cult—
(a) the principal object of which is the making of profit, or
(b) that employs oppressive psychological manipulation—
(i) of its followers, or
(ii) for the purpose of gaining new followers."
We've received a statement from a representative of Altitude Films who said the following:
"Altitude Film Distribution currently has no plans for a theatrical release of My Scientology Movie in Ireland, and has no further comment to make at this time."