On Could 29, a single-pilot jet airplane crashed right into a lake close to Nashville, killing all seven individuals on board. Amongst them had been Gwen Shamblin Lara, a weight-loss guru and the founding father of the Remnant Fellowship Church of Brentwood, Tenn., and her husband, William Lara, who was referred to as Joe and had as soon as portrayed Tarzan in each a tv collection and the film “Tarzan in Manhattan.”
The chief of a midsize congregation, Ms. Lara, 66, had for the previous a number of years been the primary topic of a documentary undertaking that sought to get past the gilded veneer of the Remnant Fellowship and examine its internal workings. Set to debut on HBO Max within the fall, the multi-episode undertaking, “The Manner Down,” particulars the church’s origin in Ms. Lara’s religious-based weight-loss program, the Weigh Down Workshop.
The eating regimen program introduced Ms. Lara fame — by means of appearances on standard reveals like “Larry King Dwell” — and fortune, because of best-selling books touting her methods to drop some weight. However it additionally made her a controversial determine, with critics saying Weigh Down centered extra on unconventional theology than on wholesome consuming habits. The documentary examines these points, together with allegations that the church shunned and even harassed members who wished to depart and that it capabilities extra as a cult than a conventional non secular establishment.
On the time of the crash, the ending touches had been being placed on the collection. All of the sudden, the filmmakers had been confronted with a brand new set of questions. What was the extent of Mr. Lara’s flying expertise (he was working the plane), and had been his medical information updated? What would occur to the church now that its founder and chief was lifeless? (A day after the crash, the church launched an announcement saying Ms. Lara’s daughter and son “intend to proceed the dream that Gwen Shamblin Lara had of serving to individuals discover a relationship with God.”)
And what would occur within the bitter custody case, involving Mr. Lara’s daughter together with his ex-wife, which fashioned a vital story line within the documentary?
The filmmakers additionally mentioned that for the reason that crash, they’d discovered that extra individuals had been keen to talk to them — former congregants who mentioned they’d beforehand been unwilling to go towards the church publicly as a result of they nonetheless had members of the family who’re affiliated, and kin of these killed within the crash who had been skeptical of the church and now felt compelled to share their tales.
“Inside 24 hours I had heard from each single supply, and the very first thing everybody mentioned was ‘I don’t wish to be disrespectful, however please inform me this doesn’t change something,’” concerning the documentary, mentioned the producer Nile Cappello, an investigative journalist who began researching Remnant Fellowship in 2018.
Ms. Cappello added that for individuals who had already spoken out towards the church, some at nice private sacrifice, what she heard most ceaselessly was fear the documentary could be curtailed indirectly, “that we’ve got opened up these wounds for nothing.”
Although archival footage of Ms. Lara preaching and making media appearances is proven within the documentary, neither she nor any representatives from Remnant Fellowship had been interviewed on digital camera by the filmmakers.
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“I by no means thought she would give us an interview,” the collection director, Marina Zenovich, mentioned of Ms. Lara. “By no means.”
Remnant Fellowship didn’t return calls searching for remark in regards to the collection for this text.
Whereas the filmmakers scrambled to include information of the crash and its aftermath into the documentary, HBO Max altered its plans too. Now, relatively than launch a four-part collection on the finish of September, the primary three episodes of “The Manner Down,” will develop into accessible on Sept. 30, concluding with a “To Be Continued” message. The ultimate two episodes will debut in early 2022, giving the filmmakers time to cope with the brand new footage. The documentary now begins with native information protection of the crash.
“There’s a fuller story to be advised,” mentioned Lizzie Fox, senior vice chairman of nonfiction at HBO Max. “We simply wish to ensure that we will permit sufficient time for the story to progress and the investigation to pursue some solutions and provides us time to interview all the topics. With a restricted docu-series, if there’s ever an opportunity to have a second half, I believe it’s one thing that individuals are likely to get enthusiastic about.”
Ms. Zenovich is a documentarian who has spent most of her profession specializing in males like Roman Polanski, Lance Armstrong and Robin Williams. However the world of evangelical faith was new terrain, one she determined to embark on due to the compelling character on the story’s heart.
“It’s deeply upsetting,” she mentioned. “However I made a decision to do it as a result of I used to be fascinated by Gwen.”
Ms. Lara, who skilled as a dietitian, started her Weigh Down Workshop in 1986. It was a eating regimen plan that put aside widespread well being pointers and as a substitute centered on a reliance on God, urging members that with a purpose to perceive true starvation they need to eat solely when their abdomen growled. By the mid-2000s, her recommendation had develop into very fashionable inside non secular communities, and Ms. Lara’s books bought thousands and thousands of copies. She parlayed that success into Remnant Fellowship, a church she based in 1999 together with her husband on the time, David Shamblin, after splitting with the Church of Christ. The Weigh Down philosophies remained a central tenet of her new congregation.
As ex-members describe it within the documentary, the church was much less a spot of worship and extra an all-encompassing energy that took over each side of their lives, from the place they labored and the way they dressed to whom they married. Physique picture and appearances had been central parts, and the documentary chronicles Ms. Lara’s personal transformation, from a bubbly younger dietitian with girl-next-door seems to be into a really skinny, closely made-up avatar whose hair appeared to develop in top in relation to her energy.
Ms. Lara’s broader recognition ultimately started to wane partially due to her rejection of the Holy Trinity, views that prompted a Christian writer to cancel her upcoming e book and others to cease selling her weight reduction program.
“Gwen’s complete management is utilizing misogyny towards different girls,” Ms. Cappello mentioned, including that Ms. Lara was one of many few feminine non secular leaders within the evangelical Christian motion however had a wholly male management group. Ms. Lara additionally demanded that her congregants adhere to conventional familial gender roles with a purpose to preserve their standing within the church.
Among the many allegations raised in “The Manner Down” are accusations that people unable to drop some weight had been marginalized by the church neighborhood and that members had been inspired by Remnant management to cease taking prescribed medicine together with contraception and psychiatric medication.
Now the filmmakers are scrambling to inform a extra complete story of the church, its founding and its affect on Brentwood.
“It was by no means about not persevering with,” mentioned Ms. Zenovich, who is especially compelled by the tales of those that left the church. “It’s about shifting how we had been going to inform the story.”