June 5, 2016 Comments Off on ‘Holy Hell’: How One Man Documented 22 Years Inside a Sadistic Cult
‘Holy Hell’: How One Man Documented 22 Years Inside a Sadistic Cult
Former cult member’s documentary details over two decades of mind games and torture inside an L.A. cult
By Jason Newman May 27, 2016
He was grooming me. I didn’t see it then, but it’s so obvious now. I wanted a mentor; a teacher. When I got around him more, that’s when I was like, ‘Oh my God, he’s an asshole.'” For 22 years, Will Allen immersed himself 24/7 in Buddhafield, a Los Angeles cult with hundreds of members and a narcissistic, sociopathic leader named Michel Rostand. The group would live, work and meditate together, banishing all ties to their family in the hope of finding greater enlightenment. Their spiritual guru would, in turn, psychologically torture and brainwash his disciples on a daily basis….
His insider document of two decades of life inside the cult, entitled Holy Hell, combines home movies and official footage from these years alongside new interviews with former members detailing the sadistic, predatory nature that lay behind their leader’s ostensibly gentle, omnipotent façade. Buddhafield’s service-oriented, off-the-grid approach to attaining peace and harmony — “It was our little utopia in the middle of this big giant city,” says one former member in the film — disguised its leader’s iniquities, ranging from total mind control and forced abortions to alleged widespread sexual abuse and rape. The carrot dangled to all adherents was “The Knowing,” a ritual in which Rostand would “transfer his energy” to the participant so they would truly know God.
The resulting doc, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last January, acts as both an extreme cautionary tale and a personal exorcism. In 2012, five years after leaving the cult, Allen, like many former Buddhafield members, was still suffering from PTSD and trying to move on….
It’s easy to see how Buddhafield members got initially sucked in by Rostand’s charisma; even the ones who now hate him describe him at first glance as “ethereal,” “magical,” “otherworldly” and “beautiful.” “I was floating walking home,” admits Vera Chieffo, who left the cult in 2009 after 27 years. “But he was also friggin’ weird.” The man known mainly as “The Teacher” would parade around the compound in speedos and Ray-Bans, demanding his disciples to be in peak physical and mental health through rigorous exercise, meditation and abstinence from sex, alcohol, drugs, caffeine and red meat.
But while he was outwardly preaching asceticism, Rostand would prey on young men like Allen, “promoting” the filmmaker to be his personal driver and masseuse before allegedly sexually abusing him and other members on multiple occasions. “Some of them are still figuring it out that it was rape because it didn’t seem like that,” Phillipe Coquet, who spent 24 years with Buddhafield, says. (Rostand has not been charged or arrested in connection with the abuses.) Members would often receive mixed messages, with their leader often noting, for example, the joys of sex before immediately rebuking it as “simple” and unhealthy….