I’ve always been fascinated with cults. Who starts them, who joins them, who leaves them, and why. Though I ultimately didn’t spark to HBO’s NXIVM series The Vow, I’m looking forward to HBO Max’s upcoming docuseries Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults based on the trailer that was released this week.
The four-part series from director Clay Tweel uses never-before-seen footage to offer a thorough examination of the infamous UFO cult through the eyes of its former members and loved ones. The cult began with the disappearance of 20 people from a small town in Oregon and ended in 1997 with the largest suicide on U.S. soil — one that changed the face of modern new age religion forever.
While Tweel is best known for directing Gleason, which was shortlisted for an Academy Award, I know him first and foremost as the director of Finders Keepers, a documentary about an an amputee trying to recover his missing leg from a man who found it in a grill that he bought at an auction. The incident was bizarre to say the least, and it doesn’t get more bizarre than Heaven’s Gate, which makes me think he’s the perfect person for this particular project.
I can only imagine the number of media requests that the ex-members of Heaven’s Gate and the families of its late members have received over the years, but here’s hoping they shared something new with Tweel, who has certainly proven himself to be a compassionate filmmaker as well as a sensitive storyteller. I doubt he’s looking to exploit this tragedy, but rather, aims to illuminate this mysterious confounding group by focusing on how they lived, not just how they died.
Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults was produced by CNN and Campfire, whose CEO Ross Dinerstein executive produced alongside Tweel and Shannon Riggs, while Chris Bannon, Eric Spiegelman, Peter Clowney and Erik Diehn executive produced on behalf of the digital media company Stitcher, which also released a podcast about the cult.
Tweel previously worked with Dinerstein on Netflix’s six-episode true crime docuseries The Innocent Man, based on Josh Grisham’s only non-fiction book. The Heaven’s Gate series will debut on HBO Max on Thursday, Dec. 3. The streamer just released the true crime documentary The Mystery of D.B. Cooper, and you can click here to watch the trailer, and click here to read Matt Goldberg‘s enthusiastic review.