[Please Note: This is a major update and revision to an article originally published April 20, 2014]
The big buzz within the ex-Jehovah’s Witness community over the past eighteen months has been news about Gregorio Smith and his documentary film “Truth Be Told.” Smith, a professional film maker, and the documentary he produced catches on camera the sobering but true life stories of former Jehovah’s Witnesses who were unduly influenced as children.
In recent months, other than additional preview screenings of the film in major cities in North America, there have been very few updates about the current status of the documentary until now:
Huffington Post article by Danielle Tumminio (12/02/2014)
Before I announce more updates about the film, I want to share some personal information about Gregorio Smith, the 40-year-old film maker.
As a child, he was raised by an over-zealous JW mother and a father who played along to keep their family together – until his father was disfellowshipped when Gregorio was in his teens.
Unfortunately, Gregorio’s mom was obsessive-compulsive about over-protecting him from worldly influences. Forced to stay inside for much of the time, Gregorio led a sedentary lifestyle. He ballooned to 400 pounds by the time he was in his late teens.
Raised within a legalistic and a high-control religious environment, Gregorio now admits that he was NEVER “a true believer.” When he was eleven, he knew for sure that his days as a Jehovah’s Witness were numbered when an elder told him to stop playing with toys like “Transformers.” The elder reminded him that “Satan was the first Transformer.”
“Some of the toxic residue from my JW childhood still lingered,” Gregorio recalls, “because during my junior year in high school I had no interest in SAT prep and submitting college applications. But I vividly remember a day when something in my gut said ‘You had better submit some applications’ – so I did.
“I applied to Hunter and Baruch Colleges and was accepted by both schools. But since Baruch was the first to respond, I decided to attend the City University of New York at Baruch College.”
Several months after enrolling in college, Gregorio became acutely aware that for the first time in his life he was learning to think for himself. And since his class schedule overlapped with his JW Kingdom Hall meeting schedule (probably a deliberate decision on his part), he found it easy for him to simply “fade away.”
College life also provided Gregorio the freedom to be more independent and mobile – which ultimately led to his losing weight.
Fifteen years after graduating (with honors) from college, Gregorio has achieved success as a writer – drafting screenplays and producing documentaries. Many of his productions have been selected to appear at national and international film festivals.
His first movie, “The Staten Island Catapult,” was a micro-budget mockumentary that earned him an award for best documentary short at a New York City film festival. His last film was a documentary short called “Birds.”
After completing “Birds” in 2010, that’s when “it” happened..
Eager to start a new project, Gregorio’s business partner, who was raised Catholic, suggested that Gregorio do a documentary on “The Jehovah’s” (what JWs were called in his neighborhood when he was growing up). You’d hear neighbors say, “Quick! Get away from the window! The Jehovah’s are coming!”
In Gregorio’s words, “My partner was serious, but I hesitated long and hard. Why would I want to revisit that unpleasantness? What could I possibly add to that kind of visual conversation?
“After watching over twenty ex-JW testimonials on YouTube, I realized I still had a lot to unpack emotionally and psychologically. For years I thought I was immunized from anything JW-related, but there I was feeling an instant and tragic kinship with total strangers who were raised just like me.
“These testimonials, albeit powerful, were beyond the comprehension of anyone who hasn’t been there – done that. Only an ex-JW would understand. If however, there was to be a discussion beyond the ex-JW community to expose millions of people to anything meaningful that now goes under the radar of rational scrutiny, something was needed that offered more of a historical understanding of the JW experience and a glossary of JW jargon like ‘worldly, disfellowshipped, the society, field service’ and, of course, ‘the Truth.’
“Lastly, as I watched YouTube testimonials I realized there was an emphasis on context–the stories related–over formalistic elements like picture quality, shot composition, lighting, editing, scoring and sound design. Production value counts. After giving the project much thought, I felt that I was in a good position to produce a documentary that would synthesize individual stories with the help of professional-grade aesthetics and technical elements.”
However, as is true with any documentary, working behind the camera and filming is the easy part. Gregorio would need lots of viewer response before deciding how and what to cut and edit. For the film to be financially successful and to become a film that would capture the hearts and minds of the non-JW world community, he needed input from non-JWs. He got it. But because so many former Jehovah’s Witnesses were in attendance at his pre-screenings, he also found them more aggressive and vocal with their advice.
When I asked Gregorio what he had learned from the ex-JWs who watched his initial cuts, here is what he told me: “I actually learned a lot from people who refused to see the film. At several screenings there were TBT ticket holders who would not enter the theater. Upon arrival they chain-smoked and paced nervously on sidewalks and parking lots. Some made it in. Others walked away.
“In one social media, an ex-JW posted that he had no interest in seeing this ‘blah, blah, non story’ of a documentary – that ex-JWs, on balance, need to stop whining and ‘get over it.’ Another person suggested that it was a Watchtower production since people in the documentary shared positive aspects of their JW experience.
“We’ve had several people storm out of screenings. One guy punctuated his departure with a slam of the theater door. I believe these behaviors illustrate the hurt, distress and damage that for many are part and parcel of the JW experience. And while TBT endeavors to tell a collective story, trauma is a very subjective thing and can present itself in ways that are at once unpredictable and idiosyncratic.
“During the Q&A in every single screening, a show of hands revealed that more than half of the former JWs in attendance had either been in or sought therapy, and half of those admitted to contemplating or attempting suicide.
“The reaction from spouses who were married to JWs, but who did not grow up as JWs, was particularly revealing. Many of them have approached me after the screening to express their gratitude for finally being able to ‘get it’.”
It’s been a long process, but Gregorio has been cutting and editing TBT so that it will appeal to and educate the non-JW person who is curious about the JW experience for children. He is currently assessing market response to make sure that the final product will be a “Truth Be Told” documentary that is available on a variety of platforms including VOD (Video-on-Demand), DVD, and eventually DRM-free downloads (Digital Rights Management).
The ultimate financial success for TBT is contingent on efficient, worldwide distribution. Any successful documentary film must be available globally. For that to happen with TBT, it will require time and special resources – like getting people to translate TBT into other languages.
Should the film become successful, Gregorio will have the incentive to create a second, more in-depth documentary about the clear and present dangers of undue influence from high-control religions like Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Many ex-JWs have expressed their gratitude to Gregorio for making this film. Others have told him that he needs to do more, to find additional ways to engage the audience emotionally.
All of that advice has had a major impact on Gregorio. While he is an attentive, introspective listener, he confessed his frustration at times: “Conceiving, producing and getting objective market input on TBT for the last three and half years has taken a toll on me beyond time and money.”
But still, Gregorio’s goal is to make this film a success. When the final editing and cutting is all said and done (which should be completed by the end of the year), he believes “Truth Be Told” will be a compelling and watchable film that helps millions of non-JWs become informed – and hopefully angered – by Watchtower Society polices that rob Jehovah’s Witness children of their basic human rights.
While chatting with Gregorio after his last pre-screening of TBT in NYC on April 14, 2014, he commented, “The self-discipline that I discovered through losing significant body weight and keeping it off for fifteen years drives everything I do. This includes conceiving and completing ‘Truth Be Told.’ So now, it’s time to finish the job.”
Gregorio’s documentary will be available for downloading on December 19, 2014, at his website, www.hereliesthetruth.com.
A Call to Action
When I asked Gregorio what the call to action should be for those watching his film, he looked at me with a big, wry smile and a disarming twinkle in his right eye, and said, “I believe in my bones that the call to action in ‘Truth Be Told’ is just one word: ‘FORGIVENESS’.”
“And not forgiveness in the maudlin, magnanimous, ‘turn-the-other-cheek’ hippie sense either. I’m talking real introspective forgiveness that begins with ex-JWs forgiving themselves – releasing the negative emotions they harbor internally, owing to their experiences within the organization.
“A strong argument can be made that this is exactly why rallying ex-JWs around any cause is tantamount to ‘herding cats.’ You’re only as strong as your weakest link…and how can any initiative begin in earnest if the rank & file have not sorted out their own psychic and psychological trauma?
“Furthermore, a ‘call to action’ – at best – urges people to take decisive and immediate action, and at worst foments a desire for revenge. Speaking to the latter, I’m reminded of the Confucius quote: ‘Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.’
“This is why I believe that most ex-JWs are stuck in this vicious cycle of revenge fantasies and transference. I understand that it is difficult to revisit whatever deficits that led to either their joining the JWs or staying under the thrall as long as they did.
“My Jewish girlfriend reminded me that the Memorial night TBT screening was also the first night of Passover…when the Jews commemorate freedom and escape from bondage. There is a freedom attendant to forgiveness…and it begins with people ‘giving up the desire or power to punish’ themselves. And this message rings true in the final moments of the film.
“That’s all for now.”
Huffington Post article by Danielle Tumminio (12/02/2014)
PDF of Huffington Post article
Official trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4nqYtzDaGE
Teaser trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1lk60is5z8
The most current press release: View
Thank you for this write up and honest appraisal of the TBT. All ex jws look over the wall and have a peek as to what is being said. You are right the emotions run high, why? Because this documentary film pushes all the trigger points, . Hence many JWs find it hard in a few words to say “yes I agree”! Talk to them later in a restaurant over a glass of wine and most will say , , , Wow ! You are on point Gregorio ! Believe in this ! You have got this far , you have broken down barriers, between the outside world and those that have mentally escaped the slavery of WT. For that dear brother we love you. Now we push on ! We are just getting started. 🙂
Is there a way to capture the emotions of NELSON Mandela when he could watch his children being destructed by their mother who became a Jehovah Witness just to destroy her family especially her children.
In his Autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom”, he dedicated chapter 24 to describe the troubled life with his wife, Evelyn Mase after she became a Jehovah’s Witness! What a sad story for their children in the book!!
“A strong argument can be made that this is exactly why rallying ex-JWs around any cause is tantamount to ‘herding cats.’ You’re only as strong as your weakest link…and how can any initiative begin in earnest if the rank & file have not sorted out their own psychic and psychological trauma?”
I think that this quote from Gregorio shows why it will be great if he can continue to be a loud voice in the JW, ex-JW, and friends and loved ones community. Nothing is so simple that we can truthfully blame all our problems on a religion. Part of healing is dealing with what we have brought along with us into it.
What did you bring into it? Trauma like this ? (see this link: http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/302014011?q=soldier&p=par)
From Child Soldier to Regular Pioneer
I WAS 16 years old when rebel soldiers forced me to join their army. They supplied me with drugs and alcohol, and I often fought in a drug-crazed state. I fought many battles and committed terrible atrocities. This I deeply regret.
One day an elderly Witness preached at our barracks. Most people feared and despised us rebels, yet he was reaching out to help us spiritually. When he invited me to a meeting, I accepted. I don’t remember what was said at the meeting, but I clearly remember the warm welcome I received.
When the war heated up, I lost contact with the Witnesses. Then I was seriously wounded and was sent to a rebel-controlled area to recuperate. Before the war ended, I escaped to a government-controlled area and entered a program to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate combatants into society.
I desperately wanted spiritual help. I attended Pentecostal meetings, but the church members called me the Satan in their midst. So I started searching for Jehovah’s Witnesses. After I found them, I began to study and attend meetings. When I confessed to my wicked deeds, the brothers read to me Jesus’ comforting words: “Healthy people do not need a physician, but those who are ill do. . . . I came to call, not righteous people, but sinners.”—Matt. 9:12, 13.
How those words touched my heart! I handed my dagger to the brother with whom I was studying the Bible, saying: “I kept this weapon for protection against reprisals. But now that I know that Jehovah and Jesus love me, I don’t want it anymore.”
The brothers taught me how to read and write. Eventually, I was baptized and became a regular pioneer. Today, when I preach to former rebels, they say that they respect me for cleaning up my life. I even studied with the adjutant of my former platoon.
When I was a soldier, I fathered three boys. After learning the truth, I wanted to help them spiritually. To my delight, two of them responded! One of my sons is an unbaptized publisher, and my oldest son is now an auxiliary pioneer.
KINGDOM HALLS SHOULD BE CHANGED INTO MENTAL HOSPITALS!
Thank you for that. I have been intrigued for some time by the references to this film online. Your article has answered many of the questions I had and I eagerly await its release at the end of the year. I hope that many non JWs will want to see it as it still amazes me how little people in general actually know about Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I remain a big proponent of projects like this one and hope to see Truth Be Told at home someday, complete with extras and bonus content. Or even just on Netflix or PBS. 🙂 The stories about individual experiences with the film were brand new to me. I think it would be great is some footage of this were added, even as just a bonus, to help people understand how difficult the lives of XJWs can be. That includes any JWs who will, invariably, see the film despite WT warnings to the contrary.
Best of look to Gregorio and to the film.
Once again, thank you very much for this great documentary, Gregorio.
This film should be amazing! The thing the WT fears the most is publicity that puts them in a bad light. This film will just tell the truth and let the viewers decide. MY non- JW Mother used to say,Tell the truth and you have nothing to worry about? This fill will just tell the truth and the experiences of many, many Current and Former JW’s and expose the Real life of being a JW and the effect it can have on people. Also, it can explode into being a worldwide popular film. The WT must be getting nervous. They no doubt would like to try any means necessary to prevent it from being shown. Like they have done on trying legal maneuvers to shut down certain websites that expose them.
We all look forward tot he film. I can imagine how I will feel when I watch it and walk out of the theatre and say WOW! That is what I had experienced as well.
Saw the film last night and have to say, I am preplexed that some exJWs would feel negative towards this production. The film accurately portrayed experiences of growing up in the shadow of the Watchtower and I could relate to many aspects. The images of Armageddon looming forever in the background were well done without hitting you over the head with the word. There were laughs of recognition with some of the experiences as a lot of the audience understood exactly how ridiculous and silly some of the rules were…and still are. For me, there were also a couple of goose-bump moments with some of the comments. This is not an expose of the Watchtower…this is an honest account of what it is like to grow up in the stifling atmostphere of the Kingdom Hall. In my opinion, its an important piece of the puzzle and I hope the exJW community will get behind Gregorio and spur him on to perhaps do a more hard hitting sequel. Well done!
I am very excited to see this documentary…I am an excommunicated JW…it truly has affected my life in ways that are hard to explain. Seeing the excerpts of the movie brought me back to those dark days in my childhood! I thank you for putting this on the big screen…people need to know that its ok to move on with or without your family.
No its not cool at all.in newzealand this is just been a tease for x jws when is this coming out here?from the trailor of your muvie touches great topics and the emo side of distance from the world.but we need it. And if u have any clue to the imagination of deep jw teachings…..deep deep over zeolous yesss than release the bludy thing!!!!please brotherly love yours truely damon feuu lol
” tantamount to ‘herding cats.’” Hey! I could have sworn that was taken from Atheists!
I had the privelege to go with Eric (aka JJ) to the second screening ever in San Francisco and it was a privelege to meet and hang out with Gregorio and be able to speak with him and I think he really achieved the goal he set for himself when he decided to make this film. I want everyone to know that this film does not bash the JW’s in any way and simply lets ex jw’s speak their mind and their experiences as jws and for most of us it was like someone else telling our story. Alot of us shared the same experiences. i am going to pre order my copy this week and have an idea of the people I want to share it with.
Where in SF was it playing? Do you know when or if it will actually be in theatres soon?
I live near SF and would like to go see it if it was playing somewhere.
He Holy Conolli. Gregorio has been for the passed few months having one night only screenings all over the country it just so happened that the second showing (after the one in new york) was here in the city at the amc on van ness but that was over a year ago. Alot of people came from all over…and i think now we will just have to pre order it its coming out next week which is cool i think its a special film everyone has to watch.
I enjoyed watching the documentary, for the most part, and I appreciated the perspectives that weren’t all just negative this or that. Not all ex-JWs harbor major resentment about holiday “deprivation” or disagree with the bible-based belief that ones faith and love for God is supposed to outweigh family ties. Some of us still believe in much of the doctrine, but disagree with some tactics and hurtful practices. Some of us would even return if those things were changed.